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Electoral College Is A Necessary Safeguard

Updated on March 12, 2012

Countering any October Surprise

Our Constitution wisely provided what is now perhaps our only safeguard against a fraudulent "October Surprise" (a last-minute revelation so negative, yet false, that at the last moment before voting is scheduled that revelaton sways enough voters' votes to give the victory to a candidate who benefits from the surprising falsehood.)

That safeguard is the Electoral College.

Without the Electoral College, a fraud of such proportions (even if proven to be false shortly after the voting ends) would have no mechanism for undoing the intended harm.

Next summer and fall there will be a renewed call for doing away with the Electoral College. The common complaint will be that "the Electoral College is outdated" or "it's a relic from a time when elitism was in fashion, and no longer applies today!" Those who would do away with the Electoral College most often call for the presidential election to be decided simply "by the will of the majority, the plurality of the votes cast."

If we understand the dangers of doing away with the Electoral College which presently can protect against a bogus October Surprise, we would still do well to examine how its votes are likely to be awarded to the candidates in the next presidential election.

How are Electoral College Votes Awarded?

A few states, such as Maine, award their votes in the Electoral College based on which candidate wins a majority of the votes in each of their electoral districts. A candidate who won the most votes in only one of Maine's districts would still have that Electoral College vote. Most states, however, award them all as a bloc based on which candidate won a plurality of the popular vote in that particular state.

What is the matter with that system?

If you have heard the terms "Red States" and "Blue States" you probably know that they refer to states which are predominantly inhabited by eligible voters who vote fairly consistently for one or the other of our two major political parties, the Republicans or the Democrats.

In many of those states the Electoral College votes are presently awarded to that dominant party's candidate, despite the votes of that state's voters who voted for the other candidate. When that happens the Electoral College cannot reflect the true national popular vote.

To illustrate this point: California voters in the 2008 presidential election largely favored the Democrats' candidate and that candidate was awarded all of California's votes in the Electoral College. Utah voters in 2008 largely favored the Republicans' candidate and that candidate was awarded all of Utah's votes in the Electoral College. A minority of voters in California (still a significant percentage of that state's voters) voted for the Republican candidate, and a significant percentage of Utah voters voted for the Democrats' candidate. But, because a majority in California voted for the Democrat, the Republican candidate received no Electoral College votes from California. Likewise in Utah, the Democrats' candidate received none of the Utah votes.

In California it was clear, even before the voting took place there, the Democrat voters so outnumbered the Republican voters that there would be no Electoral College votes from California for the Republican candidate. In Utah it was similarly clear before the voting that there would be no Utah votes in the Electoral College for the Democrats' candidate.

If you were a discouraged Republican voter in California, and a discouraged Democrat voter in Utah, it would be easy to adopt the conclusion that, whether you voted or didn't vote, your vote would not be a factor in the voting in the Electoral College, and that fact could be sufficient justification for many of those groups of voters to not even vote!

When enough voters come to that conclusion, or for any other reason don't vote, the final popular vote tally may not reflect the real preference of the nation as a whole. In fact, in 2008 only 56.8% of eligible American voters actually went to the polls and voted for any presidential candidate!! Contrast that with the 2011 vote in Tunisia where 90% of eligible voters were reported to have voted!

Utah's Democrats and California's Republicans deserve to be a part of the decision on who governs them at the national level.

The present "winner takes all" system discourages their patriotic participation. and the participation of concerned voters in all but what politicianss admit are "a few key states' which in 2008 determined this great country's post-election future.

By all means keep the safeguard of the Electoral College, but let's improve the validity of the Electoral College voting by accurately reflecting the true sentiments of every voter in every one of the states.

The State of Maine is the first American state to see the sun rise on a new day. Its example can help America see the sun rise on a safe and more inclusive new day.

© This work is licensed under a Creative Comments Attribution-No Derivs 3.0 United States License

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      oldgulph 6 years ago

      The current system does not provide some kind of safeguard against a fraudulent "October Surprise." There have been 22,000 electoral votes cast since presidential elections became competitive (in 1796), and only 10 have been cast for someone other than the candidate nominated by the elector's own political party. The electors are dedicated party activists of the winning party who meet briefly in mid-December to cast their totally predictable votes in accordance with their pre-announced pledges.

      If a Democratic presidential candidate receives the most votes, the state's dedicated Democratic party activists who have been chosen as its slate of electors become the Electoral College voting bloc. If a Republican presidential candidate receives the most votes, the state's dedicated Republican party activists who have been chosen as its slate of electors become the Electoral College voting bloc. The winner of the presidential election is the candidate who collects 270 votes from Electoral College voters from among the winning party's dedicated activists.

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      oldgulph 6 years ago

      Under National Popular Vote, every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election. Every vote would be included in the national count. The candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC would get the 270+ Electoral College votes from the enacting states. That majority of Electoral College votes guarantees the candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC wins the presidency.

      National Popular Vote would give a voice to the minority party voters in each state and district (in ME and NE). Now their votes are counted only for the candidate they did not vote for. Now they don’t matter to their candidate.

      With National Popular Vote, every vote, everywhere would be counted equally for and directly assist the candidate for whom it was cast. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in the current handful of swing states. The political reality would be that when every vote is equal, the campaign must be run in every part of the country.

      Now, more than 2/3rds of the states and voters are ignored.

      States have the responsibility and power to make their voters relevant in every presidential election. The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for president. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

      In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support for a national popular vote is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in virtually every state surveyed in recent polls in closely divided Battleground states: CO – 68%, FL – 78%, IA 75%, MI – 73%, MO – 70%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM– 76%, NC – 74%, OH – 70%, PA – 78%, VA – 74%, and WI – 71%; in Small states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE – 75%, ID – 77%, ME – 77%, MT – 72%, NE 74%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM – 76%, OK – 81%, RI – 74%, SD – 71%, UT – 70%, VT – 75%, WV – 81%, and WY – 69%; in Southern and Border states: AR – 80%,, KY- 80%, MS – 77%, MO – 70%, NC – 74%, OK – 81%, SC – 71%, TN – 83%, VA – 74%, and WV – 81%; and in other states polled: CA – 70%, CT – 74%, MA – 73%, MN – 75%, NY – 79%, OR – 76%, and WA – 77%. Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.

      The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers, in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in AR, CT, DE, DC, ME, MI, NV, NM, NY, NC, and OR, and both houses in CA, CO, HI, IL, NJ, MD, MA, RI, VT, and WA. The bill has been enacted by DC (3), HI (4), IL (19), NJ (14), MD (11), MA (10), CA (55), VT (3), and WA (13). These 9 jurisdictions possess 132 electoral votes -- 49% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.


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      oldgulph 6 years ago

      Nationwide, there are only 55 "battleground" districts that are competitive in presidential elections. 88% of the nation's congressional districts would be ignored if a district-level winner-take-all system were used nationally.

      If the district approach were used nationally, it would be less fair and less accurately reflect the will of the people than the current system. In 2004, Bush won 50.7% of the popular vote, but 59% of the districts. Although Bush lost the national popular vote in 2000, he won 55% of the country's congressional districts.

      Awarding electoral votes by congressional district could result in third party candidates winning electoral votes that would deny either major party candidate the necessary majority vote of electors and throw the process into Congress to decide.

      Because there are generally more close votes on district levels than states as whole, district elections increase the opportunity for error. The larger the voting base, the less opportunity there is for an especially close vote.

      Also, a second-place candidate could still win the White House without winning the national popular vote.

      A national popular vote is the way to make every person's vote equal and matter to their candidate because it guarantees that the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states and DC becomes President.

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      oldgulph 6 years ago

      The leadership committee of the Nebraska Republican Party adopted a resolution requiring all GOP elected officials to favor overturning their district method for awarding electoral votes or lose the party’s support. While in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, some Republican legislators insist the states must change from the winner-take-all method to the district method, while most are opposed or not commenting.

      And up in Maine, the only other state beside Nebraska to use the district method, earlier this year, Republican leaders proposed and passed a constitutional amendment that, if passed at referendum, will require a 2/3rds vote in all future redistricting decisions. Then they changed their minds and wanted to pass a majority-only plan to make redistricting in their favor even easier.

      Obvious partisan machinations like these should add support for the National Popular Vote movement. If the party in control in each state is tempted every 2, 4, or 10 years (post-census) to consider rewriting election laws and redistrict with an eye to the likely politically beneficial effects for their party in the next presidential election, then the National Popular Vote system, in which all voters across the country are guaranteed to be politically relevant and treated equally, looks better and better.

      Dividing a state's electoral votes by gerrymandered districts would magnify the worst features of the system and not reflect the diversity of the state.

      The district approach would provide less incentive for presidential candidates to campaign in all districts and would not focus the candidates' attention to issues of concern to the whole state. Candidates would have no reason to campaign in districts where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind.

      Due to gerrymandering, in 2008, only 4 Pennsylvania districts were competitive.

      In Maine, the closely divided 2nd congressional district received campaign events in 2008 (whereas Maine's 1st reliably Democratic district was ignored)

      In Nebraska, which also uses the district method, the 2008 presidential campaigns did not pay the slightest attention to the people of Nebraska's reliably Republican 1st and 3rd congressional districts because it was a foregone conclusion that McCain would win the most popular votes in both of those districts. The issues relevant to voters of the 2nd district (the Omaha area) mattered, while the (very different) issues relevant to the remaining (mostly rural) 2/3rds of the state were irrelevant.

      When and where votes matter, presidential candidates vigorously solicit those voters. When and where votes don't matter, they ignore those areas.

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      oldgulph 6 years ago

      A survey of 800 Maine voters in 2009 showed 77% overall support for a national popular vote for President.

      By political affiliation, support for a national popular vote was 85% among Democrats, 70% among Republicans, and 73% among others.

      By gender, support for a national popular vote was 82% among women and 71% among men.

      By age, support for a national popular vote was 79% among 18-29 year olds, 67% among 30-45 year olds, 78% among 46-65 year olds, and 82% for those older than 65.

      By congressional district, support for a national popular vote was 78% in the First congressional district and 76% in the Second district.

      By race, support for a national popular vote was 79% among whites (representing 94% of respondents) and 56% among others (representing 6% of respondents).

      In a follow-up question presenting a three-way choice among various methods of awarding Maine’s electoral votes,

      71% favored a national popular vote;

      21% favored Maine’s current system of awarding its electoral votes by congressional district; and

      8% favored the statewide winner-take-all system (i.e., awarding all of Maine’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most votes statewide).

      * * *

      A survey of 977 Nebraska voters conducted on Jan. 26–27, 2011, showed 67% overall support for a national popular vote for President.

      Support by political affiliation was 78% among Democrats, 62% among Republicans, and 63% among others. By congressional district, support for a national popular vote was 65% in the 1st congressional district, 66% in the 2nd district (which voted for Obama in 2008); and 72% in the 3rd District. By gender, support for a national popular vote was 76% among women and 59% among men. By age, support for a national popular vote, 73% among 18–29 year-olds, 67% among 30–45 year-olds, 65% among 46–65 year-olds, and 69% among those older than 65.

      In a 2nd question with a 3-way choice among methods of awarding electoral votes,

      * 16% favored the statewide winner-take-all system (i.e., awarding all five electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most votes statewide)

      * 27% favored the current system

      * 57% favored a national popular vote