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That Electoral College thing

by Ron Holdraker
October 3, 2020

A bit of history, mixed with a bit of reality. Let us return to unsanitary conditions, no air conditioning and thorny questions debated to and fro at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Toilet paper was nonexistent and to make things worse the Founding Fathers (FF) had been debating for months.

Some wanted the position of the President picked by Congress, since the FF thought most common people were either too stupid, or could be easily swayed. Others thought that maybe in a self proclaimed democracy, perhaps a ‘democratic’ popular vote was the way to go.

In the end no one won and we ended up with the mish-mash Electoral College. Everyone pretty much said it was far from a perfect solution, but no one wanted to stay cramped up for more months trying to figure a real workable answer.

So, what is the Electoral College?

Most elections in the United States are winner-take-all where like minded voters elect representatives in proportion to their actual numbers.

According to a piece written by David Roos for the History Channel; “The system calls for the creation, every four years, of a temporary group of electors equal to the total number of representatives in Congress. Technically, it is these electors, and not the American people, who vote for the president. In modern elections, the first candidate to get 270 of the 538 total electoral votes wins the White House.”

There you go, a workable system. Let’s everybody go home and let some future bureaucrats come up with something better.

It was the semi-perfect system that continued the practice of slavery and was the end all answer to somebody’s prayer. Yeah, all the assumptions of a well-oiled voting machine really ended up screwing both voters and candidates in the future, but hey, it was 1787 and there was no toilet paper.

Now, remember, there were none of those pesky political parties back then and the FF thought it was a way to still prevent the peasants from knowing any better. The elected college people would still vote at their discretion, thus overruling any take-over by the actual voters...stupid bastards.

There was a quandary on just how the states should allocate their votes once they were selected, leaving the question of who actually won still up in the air.

The FF also thought that most elections would be settled by neither the actual voters, or by the electoral college. Yup, according to the constitution it would probably come down to the House of Representatives to sort the whole mess out. If no single candidate won a majority of the electoral votes, the decision goes to the House, where each state gets one vote. Seems democratic enough for me, but then again now we have toilet paper.

George Washington had no problems as the first president under the new rules. Everybody just figured the system was gold. Future elections for the top job would feature gobs of go-getters who would divide that electoral college into bite size pieces, giving the pathway for Congress to pick the winner. Yes, that is democracy at its best.

But then pesky opinions and differences of goals and outcomes got in the way. Soon political parties were formed to mucky up the water and the presidential pool of real candidates shrunk like cotton underwear in hot water.  

Votes were counted (no machines back then) and only two U.S. elections have been decided by the House and the last one was in 1824.

The apportionment of electoral votes is based on the congressional representation for each state, meaning that each congressional seat equals an electoral vote. Since the House of Representatives is set at 435 seats and the Senate currently has 100 members, changes in electoral votes with every 10-year census are often very minute. Therefore, the number of people per electoral vote in one state is very different than the number of people per electoral vote in another. Whoa, wait, don’t forget the District of Columbia has three electoral votes.

Now remember, although U.S. territories can vote in presidential elections, residents of U.S. territories don’t get electors in the Electoral College.

So, the electoral college wasn’t sliced bread, but by then nobody wanted to shake the bath water of something that quasi seemed to work.

To make things even more confusing, Montana has 59% more Electoral College votes than it would if Electoral College votes were allocated on the basis of  age-eligible citizen population. Meanwhile, Colorado had fewer Electoral College votes

So, why does the very confusing, not really the answer electoral college still exist? Simple answer, the two major parties swap spit and knows the party with the most umph benefits. The minority party has  an uphill battle upending the apple cart.

Of course the political climate changes with the wind, Democrats have their time and Republicans yell all types of failures are due to the ruling party. Then the Democrats plan their revenge by doing the same thing for the next election.

The whole mess gets a bit nasty when the popular vote is close, or  the actual winner wins without the popular vote. Since the electoral college exists, there is a double check on a run-off vote.

The popular vote is put on the back burner since every state with its number of electoral votes rule, or rue the day. On five occasions, the winner of the popular vote did not capture the presidency. That happened in 2016 when Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by over three million votes, but since we don’t use the ‘most wins concept’, electoral votes can pile up in other, smaller states to pick the top dog.

Hillary won the popular vote with 2%, but it would actually take about 3% to ensure an electoral victory.

That makes key states where parties and candidates spend a lot of money and time very special. You see, two states, Nebraska and Maine do not have a winner take all electoral system. To complicate the issue even more, on very, very rare occasions the electors do not have to vote as pledged.

Although there have been over 700 proposals in Congress to reform, or eliminate the electoral college, remember, the ruling party really has no incentive to give up that power. It came close in 1970, but again, no cigar.

Yes, there are those still working to do away with the present system. Hollers of ‘bring in the popular vote’ as the end-all system usually follow the political barometer.

It would take a constitutional amendment that requires a two-thirds super majority in Congress to get the process moving before being put out for ratification by three-fourths of the states to replace the electoral college. 

In short folks, don’t hold your breath waiting for a real winner take all democratic vote. 

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