If I Ran the Presidential Elections

As I’ve been talking about the upcoming presidential election here this week, I was asked by a pal of mine: If I were given Constitutional leave to remake the presidential election system here in the United States, how would I do it?

Well, there are lots of different ways to do it, all of which are flawed in one way or the other. That said, what I would want to do in remaking the election system is to try to balance the popular vote with the (I think) legitimate need for state representation via the Electoral College, and to minimize the influence of money in creating electoral choice. So here’s one way to do it.

1. The presidential election is to be non-partisan. A candidate may belong to a political party, but would not be running as that political party’s candidate and would not be allowed to coordinate their campaign with that party.

2. No one other than individual humans may contribute money to a presidential candidate’s campaign. The amount would be no more than $2,000 per candidate per election, indexed to 2012 dollars.

3. Those wanting to run for President must announce their intention by July 1 of the year prior to the election and file such intent with the federal government by that date.

4. Between July 1 and December 31 of the year prior to the election, they must gather signatures from at least 1% of each of no less than two-thirds of United States (i.e., 1% of the population of each of 34 individual states). This is to ensure the candidate has widespread appeal. The signatures must be from US citizens of voting age. Each person may offer their signature to only one potential presidential candidate.

5. From January 1 to June 30 of the election year, all candidates who have met the qualifications outlined in point 4 will be official presidential primary candidates. The US government will allot a television and radio channel in each media market reserved entirely for the airing of information by the candidates about their positions. In addition, a similar channel must be carried on all cable/satellite services. All candidates will have equal allotment of time on these stations, with the times allotted generated randomly on a daily basis. Likewise, all candidates will be offered equal access to the Internet to create sites to carry their information. Additionally, all qualified candidates will be allowed equal space in a voter’s information packet, printed by the government, to be mailed to every household in the United States by May 15.

6. On June 30, the United States will hold its primary presidential election. Registered voters in all states will choose up to three candidates for the office of President. The results will be tallied and the three top vote-getters nationwide will be declared Final Presidential Candidates. The nationwide balloting ensures the people have a say in the final candidates.

7. From July 1 through the first Monday of November of the election year, the Final Presidential candidates will make their case to the people. The US government will again allot television, radio, internet and print access to each candidate in the manner described in point 5. Additionally, each candidate will be require to participate in no less than three debates with the other two candidates, of no less than two hours length, to be made widely available through all media. Final Candidates must choose their vice-presidential candidates no later than August 1.

8. Election day, the first Tuesday of November, is a national holiday, to allow the largest number of voters access to the polls. All voters who cast ballots will have the option of ranking the Final Candidates by preference, in an instant runoff style. The votes shall be tabulated first in first-past-the-post style: Whichever candidate in each state has the highest number of votes shall be awarded the electoral votes for that state. If by tabulation in this manner one candidate reaches the sufficient number of electoral votes to be declared winner (currently 270), then that candidate will be the next president.

9. However, if no candidate has a sufficient number of electoral votes after the first counting of the votes, then the candidate with the fewest number of votes nationally will be dropped from the ballot, and their votes reapportioned to the two remaining candidates in a manner consistent with instant runoff voting. The ballots will then be recounted, with the highest vote getter in each state winning that state’s electoral votes. Whichever candidate reaches the sufficient number of electoral votes will be the winner.

10. In the event of a tie in this case, the vote is then thrown to Congress in a manner consistent with the Constitution.

Complicated? Sure. More complicated and insane than the current electoral process? Probably not. I figure it would be worth a shot anyway.

Thoughts?

217 thoughts on “If I Ran the Presidential Elections

  1. Sounds like an improvement, although I am surprised that you kept the Electoral College. Surely a popular vote should replace an institution created in the time of horseback travel.

  2. Wait, why in the world would you keep the electoral college if you were the all-powerful election-poobah? Surely just going by national popular vote would be more sensible? There’s even a not-completely-implausible means to get there (states pass laws saying that they will give their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, but only if enough states to comprise a majority of popular votes pass equivalent laws). You could still keep the IRV bit, just have it trigger if no candidate has 50%.

    Though, if I was in charge, I’d prefer a Condorcet method over IRV (which has the possibility of giving weird results in response to tactical voting). Or we could keep ballots and ballot counting really simple and just use approval voting, where you can vote for as many candidates as you want. This can be tabulated on even the oldest mechanical voting machines (since a lot of local races have allow multiple votes for multiple seats).

  3. As I was channel-surfing, I saw something, I think it was the Rat Pack movie, that mentioned JFK announcing his candidacy on January 2, 1960. Those were the days, eh?

    Just for the sake of discussion, I don’t see how you can remove candidates from the parties, especially with such a high nomination requirement. The party machinery will collect nominations from their favorite, or maybe two to keep third parties off the final ballot. Eliminate the party primaries and you just hand the candidate selection to the party internal leadership. Also the high signature requirement increases the need for candidates to be well-known, which requires them to start campaigning (unofficially) earlier.

    If the party leaders lost control on one side, one could imagine the divided party fielding several candidates while the more organized party organizes its candidates and voters to put three favorites forward. Then all three favorites are from one party.

    Another scenario has the organized extremist crackpot squeezing out a field of more moderate candidates. The one who pulls in 25% pushes aside the five similar candidates who get around 15% each. 75% of that party’s voters might have preferred any of the moderates, but they are stuck with the whackjob,

    The parties are resilient and will adapt to whatever rules emerge. People support parties because parties are good at organizing people around common principles and leaders.

    Limiting contributions to individuals is a great idea. I might set it at a month’s full-time minimum wage. ;)

  4. No, national popular vote means that the people in Wyoming get the same vote as people in NYC. Currently, a Wyoming vote is worth about 3.5 times an Ohio vote, for example.

  5. First-past-the-post is still a terrible election method. I also agree with Devin about winner-take-all states being a bad idea. Here’s my election reform:

    1) All elections will use range voting (see http://rangevoting.org/)
    2) Congressional districts will be determined by algorithm (end gerrymandering).
    3) For presidential elections, maintain an electoral college-like system but move to the system Nebraska and Maine use: each candidate receives one electoral vote for each congressional district they win, plus two for each state they win. Also, eliminate the electoral college middle-men and have the results of the election be binding.
    4) Election day shall be moved to Saturday and/or made a federal holiday and/or polls shall be open for an entire week. Every hour of the day must be open for voting at least once during the voting period to accommodate people with non-traditional schedules (i.e., day sleepers).
    5) There will be no limit on campaign contributions, but all contributors must be disclosed, with a possible stipulation of the top X/contributors over $X must be included in the disclaimer of all advertisements.
    6) A limit of 14 on the number of years a person may serve consecutively in Congress.
    7) All assets of people serving in Congress must be put in a blind trust similar to that used for sitting presidents.

  6. Devin – explain? National popular vote means your vote counts wherever you are. Right now, a blue voter in a very red winner-take-all state (or vice versa) might as well not vote in the Presidential race, even if the nationwide popular vote is running 51%-49%.

    I’m curious about our esteemed host’s reasons for wanting to continue with the college, but maybe that’s a other post.

  7. I’ve never understood the argument that a national popular vote would mean that only the major cities would matter. Aren’t most states ignored in the current system due to there only being a handful of swing states? Besides, in a popular vote, we wouldn’t have the winner-take-all system so Democratic voters in Texas and Republican voters in California can actually feel like their vote counts.

  8. Nationally, I would make early voting a thing, either giving voters the whole week before election day (still a holiday) or several other options (a few earlier weekends or designated days) where polls were open.

    Also, in related news, congressional districts should be generated by an algorithm which limits the perimeter to area ratio of the district (while including certain geographical boundaries like rivers).

  9. Also, in Australia we have postal voting, drop in voting centres for at least a month before the election, and elections are always on Saturdays so that the majority of people can get there to vote. Compulsory voting (with an independent electoral commission running things and drawing boundaries) means no efforts to stop people voting!

  10. I’d offer one small refinement, from our Australian system: the winner has to get the votes of 50% of the population, plus one vote extra.

    Now, under Australian law, what this means is there’s a slight increase in the actual proportion of the voter public you have to have on your side in order to win a seat (assuming about 10% of total votes cast are going to be invalid for one reason or another[1], which would mean a simple majority would need 45% of the vote to win, the requirement for 50% means you need approximately 61% of the population on your side in order to succeed). Under US law, with your lack of a requirement for voters to actually turn up and vote in the first place (and thus the lower participation rate) it would require candidates for the presidency to actually get out there and enthuse people enough to vote in the first place. Alternatively, if less than 50% of the population bothered to get up and vote (for reasons other than “massive natural disaster causing havoc all over the place”) the election could be called invalid. All candidates from an invalid election would be required to refrain from participation in the next election cycle (or the next 2 election cycles), which would run on a reduced and tightened timetable.

    (Another little innovation I’d suggest for the US Presidential Electoral Cycle – put a time limit on it. Heck, in the UK and Australia, we have a six week upper limit on campaign times for the entire electoral process from go to whoa. As it stands, this current US electoral cycle has been groaning on for the better part of two years, and I don’t know about you folks, but I’m certainly sick of hearing about it – and I live in Australia!).

    [1] Oddly enough, that number corresponds pretty neatly with the illiteracy/innumeracy rate here in .au

  11. I would just amend this to moving declaration date back to May 1st. From that date to July 1st the candidate and all family members must live on the average income of the candidate’s home state. If family have servants, the servants will be given two months paid vacation. The goal is for the candidate to experience first hand how average Americans live. At least once during that time the family must lay out the cash for some major car repair leaving the family without a car for a minimum of three days.

  12. The US needs preferential voting like Australia. That is where you vote for each candidate running in order of your preference. If your first choice has the lowest vote after the first round of counting then their votes are transfered to the second choice. This continues until one candidate has over 50% of the vote. While it may sound odd it works great for 3rd party candidates in two ways. First off people are not afraid to waste their vote on minor parties as they know their vote will still count. Secondly the main parties moderate their positions to try to get those third party candidates to recomend giving your preference to the main party candidates.

  13. According to the latest census data, the U.S.A. has ~311 million people. If you take the statistics of just the top 10 largest cities, there are over 81 million people — just over one-quarter of the population right there.

    There are voting differences in every city, but in general in today’s climate, urban centers tend to vote differently than rural centers. As an example, I live near Seattle, which tends to dominate the politics of Washington state along with Tacoma and Olympia. The rest of the state doesn’t have enough population to counter-balance the voting bloc here in the Puget Sound metro area. At times, this has resulted in taxes being levied state-wide that really only benefit the folks in the Puget Sound area.

    Color me crazy, but I don’t think it’s a necessarily sound policy on principle to elect leadership based solely on raw popularity. The Electoral College, while imperfect and in need of an overhaul, is still a method to inject some level of compromise into the process that allows for some level of balance that the tyrrany of the majority is not likely to provide.

  14. That is a hellishly long campaign cycle. Over in the UK, the election campaign lasts about six weeks, which is much easier on everyone. Really, the bit of the US system you want to keep is the sixteen-month rolling campaign?

    And see above on the electoral college. I’d expect that, as an Ohioan, you’d embrace NPV on “let them go and bother someone else for a change” grounds…

  15. Deeply flawed. (Sorry.)

    1. How do you stop coordination? How do you even identify it? What’s the penalty for engaging in coordination? Who decides? What checks and balances prevent that entity from assuming direct or indirect control of the executive branch permanently, simply by finding “coordination” in the evil deeds of candidates not part of its preferred slate?

    2. Fundamentally in violation of the First Amendment, or fundamentally toothless. Do donations in-kind count? (If they don’t, the provision is meaningless.) I spend $2,500 out of my own pocket putting up billboards reading “Scalzi for President”. Do I go to jail? Do you? Is your candidacy over? Do we pull down the billboards? If I go to jail, then there is no more freedom of speech. How is advocacy valuated? If I stand on a street corner saying “vote for Scalzi” to passersby, is that a contribution? If it’s not, can Bill Gates hire 50,000 people to stand on every street corner reciting his ad?

    3. Unobjectionable in and of itself.

    4. This is an overwhelming obstacle for a Presidential candidate to meet. Even assuming the legitimacy of a low-balling technique (picking the 34 smallest states) you are talking about maybe 1.5 to 3 million signatures. Typical signature-gathering efforts can cost as much as $10 per signature; $1 is not an unreasonable figure to expect. You don’t have to have $1.5 to $3.0 million in cash on hand to start running for President now; you need a few thousand bucks to form an exploratory committee. And raising funds for an effort which might not even get you into the process is going to be difficult; it’s hard enough for candidates now to raise funds in the primary. You will inevitably end up with nothing but Romneys on the ticket, with a sprinkling of established pols with enough residual campaign machinery to launch what is in essence an up-front full-fledged national campaign.

    And with that said, who is going to vet the one-signature-per-citizen rules? The Secretaries of State of the various states? They’re going to love that unfunded mandate. Some will just refuse to do it. Those states then lose representation in the process. Others will see an opportunity and will “vet” with a very loose hand so that their state becomes more important in the process. EVERYONE files in Corruptistan, where the SoS has been known to help you gin up a few extra signatures if you find yourself short at the last minute…meanwhile the citizens of Virtuestan wonder why nobody ever calls.

    5. Is the government going to be paying for the airtime and print runs thus mandated? If it is not, then it is stealing from the people who built infrastructure under an understanding that in the United States, the government pays for what it uses. If it is, then I (and tens of millions of other citizens) object VIOLENTLY to having to pay for airtime for your deviant Scalzyite musings. I would sooner shoot you than pay for your political propaganda, even if I agree with you.

    That said, producing the quantity of audiovisual content that the campaigns will be expected to produce will be enormously expensive. Either the production values will be low and the programming thus unwatchable, or it will be professionally done, simultaneously massively increasing the campaigns’ need for funds AND gutting the existing punditry/advocacy issue of its talent just as that talent is cyclically needed most.

    6-7, obstacles as listed above.

    8. A national holiday to maximize voting, eh? You know, most infrastructure workers get the day off on national holidays. Bus drivers and train operators going to be excluded from the make-it-easy-to-vote effort?

    9-10. Unproblematic. Whatever Bizarro-world billionaire self-funding candidates have lurched through the process, boring the piss out of every single voter with their marathon cable run (“we’re here in hour 921 of the Scalzi election drive…dear God, I need sleep…but first Candidate Scalzi demands that I speak of the virtues of bacon…though he hastens to say that no coordination or funding from the fine people at Hormel are involved in these pronouncements….bacon, oh how I love thee…”)

    You may have answers (glib, substantial, or stupid) for some or all of the objections I’ve raised; they are the objections that immediately leap into sharp focus as being the most obvious and huge problems. Respectfully, you commit the fallacy of over-regarding the executive functionality of law; you imagine that the state can say “X is forbidden”, and thus X will not occur, and thus processes which are X-phobiur shiny new electoral system and send its parts spanging in fragments over the horizon, leaving a smoking hole and a lot of very well-meaning people going “but why?”

    To put it more bluntly, you live in a world where we cannot eradicate the rape of children through state power. And yet you think it possible to set things up so that I can’t spend an extra marginal dollar trying to get someone elected? Most, though not all, of the failures of your system (and I am afraid it would be an utter, utter failure) stem from this particular error.

    That all said, it’s an interesting set of ideas.c may proceed unhindered. Alas, humans don’t work that way. X goes underground; X disguises itself; X finds a way to be redefined by the legislature as Y, and goes on its merry way. There were reasons for X’s presence before the law, and the law did not meaningfully change those reasons. At enormous expense and tremendous focused effort, states can near-eradicate some X, where X is something so foul that nearly everybody finds horrible and wrong – and even there, fragments of X will persist. And those fragments will work their way right into the machinery of yo

  16. Devin L. Ganger: Just to play devil’s advocate, why should only urban versus non-urban be the guide for limiting the tyranny of the majority? Should racial minority’s votes count more than whites? (Decreasing the worth of urban voting by the Electoral College would already seem to further diminish the value of minority votes.) What about religious minorities?

    The Electoral College is a system designed to pick which type of minority get a larger voice relative to the majority, and I cannot see that as a valid reason for keeping it.

    On the other hand, the current system of election does simplify the process of vote counting making it a lot faster. Think if there were close to a tie in the popular vote, how many recounts would be needed throughout the country and how long that would take. The Electoral College means certain districts that are not in doubt do not need to be scrutinized even in close elections.

  17. Last couple paragraphs got mangled, sorry. (I blame agents of the Scalzi Fascism Party.) I think you can probably work out what I meant. No edit button, alas.

  18. Popular vote basically means if you don’t live in a large media market, you are disenfranchised. Anyone who isn’t reached easily by major media and easy feet-on-the-street doesn’t get reached by six contacts, won’t vote for you, and therefore gets ignored.

    This is how elections still work regardless of the Internet or anything: any voter who is most intimately contacted six times votes for that candidate. A friend who advocates for the candidate. A knock on the door. A house party. A compelling debate. Whatever the six most compelling *emotional* impacts are, those are the most influential pulls on the average voter and that is how he or she will vote.

    As a result, you see the environment of election by marketing and propaganda splayed out around us. It’s engineered and studied by game theorists and marketeers in detail, psychoprofile, and statistics. Analytics are pinned up on walls. It’s been like this since Clinton and Gingrich made it all scientific, and convinced their respective parties that you could say anything and chase the middle to win elections and it didn’t matter anymore.

    It sucks but it’s all part of the obscurantist attitude in politics even in a modern democracy. I know, I was democratic state committee in Oregon, and ran a Portland mayoral campaign, and was a key volunteer staffer for Dean, and chair of budget/finance for Multnomah County (PDX). Among other bits. And Oregon was such clean politics compared to the Boston area where I had lived and live again.

    Anything you engineer will be gamed. Propose me a system and I’ll tell you how it will be gamed — and people craftier than I am will come up with far better means than I can come up with to game it given time and a bit of collusion.

    You are dangling something approaching the earthly limits of absolute power here. You know what that implies. Give up. The only hope is to engineer better checks and balances, and prosecute the living hell out of corruption — none of which we’re doing a good job on at the moment, because we do not educate people on how to watchdog their democracy or why, and people don’t participate, they just blog.

  19. Rather than argue about the many problems I think your plan would cause I’d like to make a couple of changes. The candidates would still still run under party affiliation but neither the candidate nor the party would be allowed to fund raise for the campaign. Since the government is already allotting TV, radio, print and internet space (I’d add mailings to make it complete) make this the only forum for the campaigns – no ads! I’d also require each candidate produce a 1 hour video for distribution to all those above mentioned outlets where they read their parties platform and explained how each plank would be implemented and how they thought this would make the country better off. Finally, while the debates are a nice idea I would also like to see each candidate do one-on-one interviews with a person selected by the other parties. Instead of the softball carp the current DC press corpse toss these should be adversarial – heck maybe the interviews should be done by trial lawyers!

  20. Sounds good. As a picker of nits, I will point out that the election day in #8 should be the Tuesday after the first Monday of November. The first Tuesday will, in some years, be 6 days before the first Monday from #7

  21. I’m not sure that I buy the major-media-market or Big City concern. I do think media buying is the only real way that major cities could be overrepresented, but I don’t think it will be that dramatic.

    The reason is that broadcasters are not fools, and so they charge more for advertizing in major media markets (roughly in proportion to the market’s size). It may not quite be 1 to 1, since the fairly flat production costs will add on to the costs of airtime, but I suspect that if a candidate had a message that was sufficiently appealing to rural voters, they’d be able to drum up a lot votes with lots of cheap ads in “flyover country” for the same cost as a big-city politician could rally urban voters with a few expensive ads in the New York/Chicago/LA markets.

    Going to a national popular vote would certainly have some interesting dynamics. It would be worth while for candidates to do more rallying of the base in states where they are sure to win under the current system, since every vote would count equally.

    I think this would be better than any electoral college system. If we went to an electoral college based on congressional districts rather than states, there would still be something like 70% of the country where the race would not be competitive. Most house races are not competitive now, and only some of this is because of overt gerrymandering. Its simply going to be a fact that most of New York City is going to vote for the Democratic party’s candidates and most of Kansas will vote for the Republican candidates. If we keep the electoral college in almost any form, both areas (and many, many others) are going to be ignored in every presidential election.

  22. You have far more faith in procedure than I do; I think that fundamentally, if there’s enough democracy in the system, then people will find a way for the talents that matter in doing what they really want done to rise to the top, and/or to prevent the talents that would do things they don’t want from rising too far. Eras when presidents were mostly useless third-rate nonentities have coincided with eras when there were decisions the country couldn’t/wouldn’t face up to; “great president” eras tend to coincide with times when the country has decided to do something or other (for good or ill; sometimes one era’s great president is another’s monster). This will happen regardless of the rules of the game (unless the rules become that the Shogun-or-General-Chairman-equivalent picks the President and arranges the confirming election ). When the people rule, however imperfectly and however incompletely, much of the time nothing gets done because there’s a majority coalition for “nothing” in preference to any of the alternatives, and they’ll find the guy (or girl, or AI) to do the nothing. Changing the rules is probably not pointless, but it won’t change much in a get-this-done era and it will change even less in a “just don’t change anything that ticks anyone off” era.

  23. There’s no reason election day shouldn’t be a holiday, unless you believe in disenfranchising voters.

  24. Approval-by-petition where people can only sign one petition doesn’t work, practically, and is a bad idea. The problem with petitions, which I learned while petitioning “professionally,” is that most people will sign anything a pleasant, charismatic person puts in front of them. If that pleasant, charismatic person is also attractive, they will sign without reading it first.

    I wish I was kidding. -_- The small portion of people who think about what they’re signing, or ask questions about it, or that would even be aware that they could only sign for one candidate, is very low. The end result would be a prohibitively large number of disqualified signatures, which would be a PITA.

    I concur with others about getting an IRV system. I disagree about needing to do something similar to the electoral college-1 person, one vote. States only matter insofar as they represent the people living in them. The state doesn’t need a separate vote from the people.

    I don’t think separating presidents from parties is a good idea. Parties, as a concept, are useful, especially for low information voters (ie most voters). I do think we need MORE parties, and the best way to make those viable is IRV, and less money.

    So: No campaign advertising. At all. Candidates will have 4 debates, aired on public or network television, and radio. Each debate will have a theme (IE welfare policy, economic policy, etc) Also, all candidates get equal press time, either by conference or interviews. Voters get to know actual candidates, with less spin. There will be a public election fund that will pay for travel expense (including food, lodging, etc) for candidates so each candidate has an equal shot to travel to each state. Townhall questions can not be vetted by candidates or parties, only by neutral moderators.

    And that’s elections in The Republic of Jess =)

  25. How about every adult is automatically registered to vote at 18? We would then need more than a day, I think. Two weeks? And how about shifting everything or compressing it so that election day is in the late summer instead of November?

  26. Personally, I would also reform the voting *process*. Mandate paper ballots, possibly coupled with an open-source electronic reader. If voters in a precinct have to wait longer than (say) fifteen minutes in line to vote, then the precinct needs to add more voting machines. Nation-wide same-day voter registration. All citizens above age 18 are eligible — and expected to — vote, regardless of a criminal background. States or locals in which *fewer* than a certain fraction of eligible citizens have voted will be placed under investigation for potential voter suppression — which, if found, will result in felony charges for the election supervisors.

    With regards to corporate advertising, if it’s not possible to eliminate corporate donations, I think the best solution is to apply the new regulations placed on unions: Any corporation wishing to advertise in favor of an particular candidate or for or against a proposed regulation must first obtain approval from a majority of *all* shareholders for each such advertisement.

    Finally, the *only* solution is nation-wide popular voting. I have voted in three states now (soon to be four). In only two of those states has my vote been particularly important.

  27. I’ve always been intrigued by the “winner-take-all” form that your Electoral College takes. Moving it to a more “district” based approach would be a shift towards parliamentary traditions where the Prime Minister is, in theory, selected by the majority of the lower house and has to maintain their confidence. A presidential system could eschew the confidence rule as they’d be running on their own ticket, so to speak, as opposed to being, theoretically, selected by their peers.

    I don’t quite get formal primaries, though.

  28. A variant on item 2 is already in effect in Canada at the federal level. Not sure about the exact donation limit right now.

    Our current government may have thoughts about abolishing that.

  29. I love your voter information packet idea. That helps solve a somewhat intractable problem in US National politics: Low Information Voters. (What good is a vote, anyway, if it’s not based on accurate information? Everyone should be entitled to their opinion – and vote – but voting without a real understanding of the candidates and issues degrades the quality of the election.)

    I already favored an Instant Runoff style ballot after learning how those work a few years ago – I think they’re far superior to the current system, and actually enable third party candidates to be viable, which eliminates the strangle-hold the two major parties have on national politics. (This was something that certain Founding Fathers reportedly wanted to avoid – a goal they clearly failed to achieve in the constitutional design they eventually settled on.) I, however, would not limit the Final Presidential Ballot to only 3 candidates. An Instant Run-off almost isn’t necessary, really, with only 3 candidates, and leaves too much power in the hands of the 2 parties. I’d expand that final ballot to include up to 4 or 5 candidates.

  30. Here’s my slightly tongue-in-cheek suggestion: Require all candidates to speak in specifics and a disqualifying act if they utter generalizations. Make it mandatory for them to say “I don’t know” if they can not speak in specifics.

    No need to change anything else with those rules in place.

  31. I don’t have a problem with it. I’m not sure how effective making it non-partisan would be but I especially like the idea of sending everyone a primary information packet.
    I think Congress is where things are broken though.

  32. @Shava Nerad – interesting. I wonder if my Dad knows that and that’s why he keeps calling me to try to convince me not to vote for Obama. Unfortunately for him, he’s having the opposite effect.

    Proportional allocation of state electoral votes would be my biggest wished-for change to the current system. I’d have to think long and hard before proposing a complete, different election system.

  33. If I haven’t missed some checks and balances …

    First failure mode: There is a not insignificant chance that the three candidates in the final stage will have 2 aligned with one major party, and 1 aligned with the other major party. Combining this with first past the post and the electoral college means that the major party with the one candidate wins, regardless of party support nationally. So, one of the candidates from the other party has to fall on their sword and beg their supporters to vote for the other candidate from their party, by which point youall are more or less back to the current system.

    Second failure mode: If one section of the political spectrum throws up more candidates than the other, that section might not get through to the second stage. Imagine that the Democrats put up Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton and Joe Biden, and the Republicans put up this year’s field, with a result of about 15% for Obama, 10% each for those the other two, 6% each for half a dozen Republicans, and the rest of the votes split among a dozen minor candidates. (The requirement for a million signaures to get on the ballot for the first round may be sufficient to prevent this failure mode happening.)

    I suggest that if you want to retain the electorial college you adopt instant runoff by state.

  34. The hostility to parties goes back to our founding, but it was never practical. I suspect you are suffering from the delusion of the imperial presidency, when in fact presidents are and must be creatures of the political parties that populate the house and senate.

    Progressive reforms often stem from an urge to remove the politics from government, that is always a mistake. Democratic government’s purpose is to balance different interests, when you restrict politics you distort those interests ability to advocate for and express themselves publicly.

    That said, contribution limits have worked decently in the past and tend to focus political parties on the interest of people rather than institutions.

  35. And I would make Inaugaration Day the first Sunday after the election is certified; there is no reason to leave the nation without effective government for 2-1/2 months.

  36. The only change I’d really make is that I would nix all political contributions from organizations and individuals and just give everyone the same amount to work with. This way, candidates can quit wasting their time fundraising, and, instead, focus on ideas to convince people to vote for them.

  37. David:

    You have to allow for transition. We can’t expect an incumbent to pack up and get ready to leave in a week.

    Not to mention, you need those months to get the next Prez up to speed. Once elected, they start the process of learning all those neat secrets presidents get to know.

    This also gives the outgoing president time to tie up some loose ends.

  38. I have issues with 8, 9 and 10. I think the electoral college can do what it was designed to do if the media would give more / equal air time to the non-Dems and non-Repubs. Make the media give equal air time in TV/Cable/Radio/Internet/Print to all candidates, regardless of party, across the board for free. Not just presidential candidates. House and Senate candidates, too. Which would effectively do away with the need for #2 as you have it. Except I’d turn #2 into the government imposing an election tax to pay for said “free” media. with limits on how long any one candidate can have their message played and at what times so the “underdogs” aren’t airing their message at 2am. (this could also be used to exhort the masses to go to the poll. “You’ve paid for the right, so vote already.”)

    As for the rest. I’m okay with it, only I’d be tougher on the candidates and only give them three months to collect petitions. I’d say start it all Jan 1 of the election year, but those kind of logistics are beyond most people.

  39. I think the huge, complex primary election is a mistake. If the idea is to narrow down the field of candidates, just have a two-stage election, with the top two candidates in the first round going through to the second round.

    This is the approach taken by France and Russia, the only “big” countries I know of with direct election of a president. It can still lead to anomalies, such as the French election of 2002 (final runoff between centre-right Chirac and neo-fascist Le Pen, effectively disenfranchising the 40% or so of the French population to the left of Chirac). Allowing instant-runoff voting (ie. ranking candidates in order of preference) in the first round could mitigate this.

    (You could of course just have a single round with instant-runoff, but the two-stage process lets the voter know what the final two candidates are, and calibrate his or her preference accordingly. Incidentally, the gap between election rounds in France is on the order of 2 weeks rather than 5 months, and they seem to manage.)

    The primary process you suggest also eliminates one of the few saving graces of the existing system — the early primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire. These are small enough states that the way to succeed is for the candidate to go out and meet individual voters. This is a good experience for the high and mighty candidates, and allows those with less money and name recognition at least a chance to break through. It would be nice to try and keep something like this feature in a new system.

    Finally, I’d like to point out that the US Constitution says nothing at all about primaries — these are purely inventions of the political parties. Enshrining them in the Constitution would be quite a radical change in its own right.

  40. @Jess Totally agree on the petition problem. I’m one of the small percentage of people who do ask to read what they’re signing, and not once has the nice person with the clipboard been able to produce the wording of petition in question. Often they can’t even produce a brochure purporting to summarize what I’m signing. While this gives me an easy and inarguable excuse not to sign a petition, it frightens me that people ask to *read what they’re signing* so infrequently that it’s not worthwhile to even provide it to volunteers.
    I don’t see that petitioning is a very good method of gauging popular support of anything.

  41. I’d like to hear your justification for keeping the electoral college without any significant changes. The way it stands now, the smallest states have 3 times as many electoral votes per person as large states. The winner-take-all system hurts voter turnout, since it makes a vote in a heavily biased state practically meaningless. It also magnifies the effects of voter suppression in swing states. I can’t think of a single good reason to keep it.

  42. I think the huge, complex primary election is a mistake. If the idea is to narrow down the field of candidates, just have a two-stage election, with the top two candidates in the first round going through to the second round.

    Isn’t this what California is doing with its elections this year?

  43. All these improvements and you stick with the Electoral College winner-takes-all result?

    Whether the Electoral College should be kept, with its screwball voter weighting effects giving more voting power to people living in small states than big states, is one issue I *might* be able to agree with, rather than punting the whole mess and going with a popular vote system.

    But Democrats living in Texas, and Republicans living in Massachusetts, both have no observable effects in the final tabulation of the presidential elections. They have no incentive to vote other than for the “principle” of the thing. The most important, most visible political office in America, and a large proportion of voters essentially have no incentive to vote.

    If you’re going to keep the Electoral College small-states-favored-status, at least punt the winner-take-all approach and award candidates electoral votes proportional to the popular vote within the state.

    This still gives the Federalists what they want, but empowers every voter for the biggest political office in the country, rather than discouraging the minority parties in each state from even bothering to vote.

    The “disadvantage” is that there are no longer “swing states”. Every state makes a difference in the election. And the candidates must deal with the entire country’s vote, rather than having the entire election mathematically hinge on the undecided voters in Ohio district 7. I don’t really see this as a negative.

    The only real downside to this is that it means voter fraud can occur anywhere and have an effect. But I think with the entire population empowered with franchise, every vote actually makes a difference, then I think people will find a solution that works.

    Do you think fraud would be a bigger problem than I’m seeing? Or was a different reason for staying with the winner-take-all-electoral-votes approach?

  44. @emeraldcite: Why? Transition time in France is about a week. In the UK it can be less than 24 hours.

    Also, the CIA currently provides intelligence briefings for the major candidates, which start months before the election.

  45. And I would make Inaugaration Day the first Sunday after the election is certified; there is no reason to leave the nation without effective government for 2-1/2 months.

    Why is it ineffective? The government runs as usual (since only the top members are appointed rather than hired), and both legislative and the executive branches still fulfill their legal obligations. Meanwhile, the new President has to create both a transition team and a new or almost-new Cabinet, which is not something that can be done in 5 days.

  46. The government is ineffective during the transition because the outgoing president has no political capital, the major part of a president’s power. And if the incoming president hasn’t the ability to do two things at once — campaigning and creating a transition team — than he or she is most assuredly not up to the job. There’s also no reason cabinet members cannot be required to stay on until replaced or rehired. And, as others have said, this is common practice in many nations, surely we can manage to do the same.

  47. @Talisker: In the UK the adminstration (cabinet) is made up of Members of Parliament, who before the election would have been on the parliamentary commitees, and holding shadow portfolios, and generally being up to speed in what’s going on in the relevant departments. That enables a faster transition time than would be possible with the US system.

  48. I like that system, especially that everyone in the country would have the choice of the same primary candidates, but I would add a few tweaks.

    The candidates must have had political experience. At least one full 4-year term as a state governor, one full six-year term in the US senate, or 2 consecutive 2-years terms in the House of Representatives is required.Any candidate who drops out during the primary race is banned from ever running for any political again. Nobody can enter just to be a stalking horse for someone else.

    The political ad station will accept no negative ads. You say what you think needs to be done, and how you will do it. You speak of your past record. Any ad saying anything like “My opponent would ruin the country by … ” is pulled from the station and the candidate responsible for it loses 10% of his time for the next month.

    No political ads are allowed except on the channel allocated from them.

    During the debates, if any candidate tries to answer a question by evasion and answering a different question, his microphone is shut off. When he realizes this and stops talking, the next candidate in rotation gets his/her chance.

    No candidate may mention any political party affiliation in any advertising, over-the-air, online, or in print.

    The political station shuts down when the first polls in eastern time open for business. Other channels are not allowed to broadcast any predictions or results whatever until the last polls in Hawaii/Alaska have closed. After the primary election, the political channel may start up only after the three final candidates are decisively chosen.

    I would not make the whole election day a holiday. If it is a holiday, too many people will use the time to make short trips or have parties and voting would probably decrease. Rather I would encourage early and by-mail voting, perhaps require them.

  49. Electoral College grumbling may be a bit difficult to have in this thread without getting off-topic, Are we arguing about the Electoral College in the current system, or in Scalzi’s hypothetical? In reality, whether or not you want an Electoral College with winner-take-all is going to vary by state, which makes sense, because the constitution provides for states to choose their own electors in the manner they decide. A low population state with fewer electoral votes will prefer winner-take-all to splitting because it makes it more likely for candidates to actually pay attention to those states. A densely populated state could easily go with splitting electoral votes and benefit from greater attention. Different states have different interests, so they determine their electors differently. Prolly why it’s in the constitution.

    Scalzi’s hypothetical is more of a federal top-down approach, and implies constitutional language about the federal government having purview over federal elections. My guess is it might diminish the reasons for an electoral college, but doesn’t eliminate them. One thing the Founding Fathers feared about a direct popular vote was susceptibility to demagoguery. If you were afraid of that in 1789, I don’t see why you wouldn’t be afraid of it now (any difficulty in reaching large audiences brought on by a much larger country is negated by innovations in communications).

  50. An interesting slate of changes, to which I have only one major objection: the timeline is MUCH too long. Seriously, a year and a half of campaigning out of every four? There’s no reason all of this shouldn’t be condensed into 6 months, leaving 3 1/2 to actually, I don’t know, govern?

  51. Creative and not the usual proposal.

    The first problem I see is that the citizen can sign only one presidential petition; if H is acceptable to me, and T is acceptable to me, why should I be forced to choose between them at this stage of the game? I want to see them compete against each other, and the rest of the alphabet of candidates, before voting. I may not want to vote for either of them, after all is done, and it’s possible that none of those I sign a petition for may even be on the ballot. Plus, the comparison problem, although collecting full name and SSN would aid in that.

    Some fixed limit for each individual voting citizen to donate to candidates before the primary, and a second round of funding for the election. Skip the indexing.

    Fancy voting systems … :facepalm: All voting systems can be “gamed” and all can deliver unwanted results.

    If you want the voting power of those who live in Wyoming, move there. It’s a beautiful place. Live there late spring, summer, early fall, move back to The City for the winter. Of course, if lots of you do that, it will probably cease to be a beautiful place, and when you leave the beauty will not return. Humans being humans, that destruction will probably happen anyway. I’m grumpy this morning.

    At the moment, I’m attracted to the idea of selecting Electors (an indeterminate number of them) by State, with each State allowed a maximum of 10 + ceiling(registered voters/30,000) Electors, who are chosen by signed petition, each voter being allowed to sign one and only one Elector’s petition (changes allowed up until one week prior to the Electors’ voting.) Electors may support candidates but are not bound to them. Electors continue to vote by secret ballot until one candidate has at least 1+ 50% of the ballots cast in that final round of balloting. Yes, that’s a crowd.

  52. @Stewart Hinsley: I know that. As it happens I’ve lived in the UK for the last 20 years. ;-)

    24 hours might be a little too fast for the USA, but a week should be plenty. With modern communications there’s no need to take 3 months.

    You could defend the long delay on the grounds of providing continuity if there’s a seriously disputed election result (eg. Florida 2000), but I don’t think that bringing cabinet ministers up to speed is a consideration. (Also, one would hope that the chosen cabinet ministers had some sort of relevant knowledge and experience *before* the election took place…)

  53. Systems that require signatures and have restrictions on the signatures is a way to make lawyers very rich. There would be huge law suits in just about every election cycle, resulting in bitter partisanship (with widespread allegations of fraud) and huge costs to verify signatures. Assuming it is necessary, there needs to be a way to accomplish the goals of that step that is not subject to so much dispute, and doesn’t require as much manual verification.

  54. BTW Brazil also has a two-round presidential election, with a 4-week gap between the rounds of voting. Seems to be the method of choice for big countries with a directly elected president.

  55. Here’s a radically different approach that I think would produce far better outcomes. Perhaps some of you remember Isaac Asimov’s story “Franchise”?

    1. After an unrestricted campaign (anyone can run, spend as much as they want, and coordinate with anyone they want) lasting until November 1, the US supreme court randomly selects 100 voting-age Americans for “voting-jury duty”.
    2. These Americans are all brought to DC and sequestered along with the candidates until November 6. Only the supreme court can “excuse” a voter from jury duty; if so, no replacement is brought in.
    3. A budget of $1M is allocated to cover the absence of each candidate from their homes (hire childcare, pay for temp work replacements, etc.).
    3. Six days are devoted to intensive meetings between the top candidates and the jury. Format includes one-on-one meetings, town-hall debates, small-group discussions. Each candidate may bring in “witnesses” (experts) on various topics to testify (under oath) and provide information. Non-partisan government organizations like the congressional budget office will also be available for consultation.
    4. Each voter receives a budget of $1M for research, which can be used to bring in whichever individuals or sources of information they wish (subject to supervision by the court to prevent misuse of funds).
    5. On November 6, the jury votes. In the event of a tie, a coin is flipped.

    I believe this will produce far better elections. 100 people is a sufficiently large representative sample that they will tell us with great confidence what the entire US population would have done if they went through the same process. The small sampling error will only flip the election if two candidates have almost identical support, in which case it doesn’t really matter which one is elected. The tiny population and the large budget allocated to each individual will eliminate the role of money (and advertising) from the campaign, and instead force candidates to actually talk to the voters about the issues. There have been many studies of how voters’ opinions evolve when they are given time, information and an opportunity to discuss those issues with each other; as far as I can tell the conclusion is that those voters tend to shift in sensible directions. The total cost of the exercise to the public will be at most $300M, peanutes.

  56. Hmmmm, large signature campaigns require a huge grassroots effort, but can be subverted by large quantities of money, much like now. Here in the Other Washington, we have a lot of nut bar initiatives funded by large hunks of money. Sadly, some of them win.

  57. Love point #8. To allow the maximum number of people to exercise their right to vote, Election Day should be a nationwide holiday.

    But I rather like everything as it is now, except that the elections seem to start right after the President is inaugurated. I prefer the much shorter Canadian elections (if I recall correctly, Canadian elections only last for around 45 days).

    Also, I agree that political donations should be capped at $2,000 and should only be allowed from individuals.

    I like the fact that the President runs as the head of his party. Clearly ties him to certain positions and goals.

  58. “8. [ ... ]Whichever candidate in each state has the highest number of votes shall be awarded the electoral votes for that state.”

    Whichever candidate in each Congressiona District has the highest number of votes shall be awarded the Electoral vote for that District.

    The way it sposed to be … and once was.

  59. I really like points 1 and 2. Especially 1. I hate the party system with a passion. I’m pretty sure that partyless George Washington had it right and the Presidents that followed him needed to follow his example. My only other critique (to echo other posters here) is that the election cycle still seems really long. Maybe it could be a one year cycle – four months to get the signatures, etc. to be on the primaries ballot, four months of campaigning for primaries and then four months of campaigning by the final candidates?

    I would also like to see at least one debate where the moderator has the ability to turn off a candidate’s microphone. Candidates would be given X minutes to answer a question, and at the end of that time, their mic goes dead. They can keep talking, but nobody would be able to hear them. I think that our current candidates (all of them) really need to learn how to answer questions instead of filibustering until everyone has forgotten what the question was.

  60. @Stencil: so what do you do with the two “senatorial” electors from each State? or DC, for that matter, which doesn’t have districts?

    Remember: Electoral college votes = congressional districts + 2 senators per state, DC gets the same as the least populous state.

    Maine and Nebraska allocate the “senatorial” electors to the winner of the state-wide popular vote, which (modified to use IRV or a Condorcet method) is probably the most sensible compromise, but they have also been in the constitution since the start and need to be accounted for; and that can’t be done without breaking the direct link to congressional districts.

  61. I don’t at all like winner take all by state electoral votes. Much better if you want to keep the electoral system at all, have all votes count by splitting all states’ electoral votes by proportion to the candidate support in that state. Otherwise 40-49% of the people in that state might as well not show up to vote, which is the current state of things, which sucks eggs.

  62. IRV, as you designate in points 8 and 9 could easily lead to a situation where a candidate from one ideological pole opposed by two candidates from an opposite ideological pole could easily win because the two candidates would split votes. Most IRV schemes require a 50% threshold for this reason, i.e. if no candidate gets 50% of the vote, the lowest is dropped and votes reapportioned. This would have to happen at the state level (the individual vote level), not the electoral college level, as you suggest.

  63. Well thought out ideas, I have to say, except for #5.

    The radio and television media markets in some parts of the country have only ONE channel in use! Also, who pays for this continuous broadcast of what is mostly useless repetition and meaningless gumflappery anyway? Better to provide a mechanism to share the existing radio/TV market channels on a fair (e.g., random as you suggest) way. Perhaps the segment of time reserved should be something like 30 minutes randomly allocated such that most – but not all – fall within normal waking hours with emphasis during the various well-known media peak times such as the “good morning” time, daytime radio/TV, and evening “prime time”. I believe the cost for these broadcasts should be borne by the air-based broadcast media themselves as a public service. It might be done as a pool of money paid into by each station every month or other period of their operation, drawn down at a reasonably discounted rate by the actual broadcasts when they are randomly scheduled.

  64. 1) There’s a lot of weird jerry-rigging of the current system in proposals here, both in the OP and in comments, aimed at picking the “right” kind of person for president – a non-partisan, broadly supported, wise and experienced person, etc. If I were king for a day, redefining the office itself – its role, powers, and limits – would be my tactic for ensuring continued better outcomes, instead of setting a lot of new rules for how this person is to be chosen.

    2) Justifications for the electoral college, when not flat-out wrong (e.g., only citizens of LA and NY will matter!), are rooted in a sense of Americans having strong geographically-localized interests. Which they do, of course. But in the 21st century they also have interests they share with people across the country (and around the world, though their non-American brothers and sisters don’t get to vote). Which set of interests are growing and likely to continue to grow in importance? I’d argue the non-local ones. And local interests are still addressed by more local levels of government, don’t forget.

    3) I really recommend rethinking the anti-party focus of the OP. Political parties are not only useful, they’re probably essential to government in a large, reasonably democratic nation-state. Unless we radically redesign government (I’m thinking anarchist collectives or something equally unlikely), citizens are going to need to rely on parties to signal policy preferences and allow for accountability based on policy outcomes. (A stronger party system has to be a multiparty system, though.)

    It’s much more realistic to expect good outcomes by letting political parties take power, enact an agenda, and be held accountable than by setting up a bunch of criteria that will ensure we have a philosopher-king at the head of the executive branch. We can look to modern democracies around the world for inspiration here – they may not be perfect but there are plenty that work a whole lot better than we do.

    Tl;dr: Multiparty parliamentary democracy, please, and we can worry about the details of elections later.

  65. David Karger:

    100 jurors is too small a sample for a population the size of the United States’. National polling agencies generally use a sample size of around a thousand to get a sample error of ~4%, and as you increase the sample size further the error decreases (I’m not a statistician, but maybe 3k people will get you an error below 2%).

  66. @montsamu
    Unless you live in a state with a small number of electoral votes, in which case you have no incentive to give the next president even less of a reason to care about your state. If your state only has 3 electoral votes up for grabs, splitting the vote just guarantees less interest. With two major candidates, you’ll prolly snag 33% of the vote without even trying. Winner-take-all makes a 3 vote state worth 3 votes. Splitting means the “winner” gets 1 vote over his or her opponent. Now, large, populous states would benefit from splitting, but it’s hard to imagine the party in control of said state wanting to do so.

    @past
    That’s not a bug; it’s a feature. The framers didn’t want a parliamentary style government, so they took steps to avoid one. It was worried that letting Congress have that much control over the Presidency would lead to insider politics (good job avoiding that one…). It also skews the division of power over to the legislature, and if there’s anything the constitution was concerned with, it’s division of power.

  67. Why keep election day on Tuesday? If you want to make it a national holiday, give us a 3 day weekend and put it on Friday or Monday! :)

    Also, very few service industry employees (cashiers, waitstaff and the like) get national holidays off with the common exceptions of Christmas and Thanksgiving so making it a national holiday won’t really be helping many lower income voters make it to the polls.

  68. Hell, I’d settle for (2) and a modified version of (8), in which the Electoral College count is replaced by the popular vote.

  69. I think the widespread antipathy to partisanship among sensible people is one of the worst features of US politics, in part because it cedes ideological control to the completely crazy who are the only ones willing to be unabashedly partisan.

    Part of the problem is that, because our FPTP presidential elections tend to drive the country toward a two-party system, the parties tend to be ideologically diffuse and fractious coalitions. Currently we’re in an unusual moment in which the Republicans have actually become quite unanimous and disciplined while the Democrats are left with a squabbling crowd of everyone else, but I think it’s an unstable situation.

    I’d try to change voting systems such that a larger number of ideologically sharper parties can coexist without throwing elections through spoiler effects.

  70. Thomas Jefferson didn’t think everyone had the right to vote. I agree. If you derive your income from Government, say at least 15% or more, you do not get to vote. If you haven’t given at least two years to serving your country in some manner, you do not have the right to vote. Pretty simple. As to how you serve your country, military service/peace corp/some other program that makes you work towards making the country a better place.

  71. I love @DavidKarger/Isaac Asimov’s idea. It might be more interesting to make the selection process more specific though, rather than a truly random sample. Perhaps one person selected per congressional district? That would give them each a built-in infrastructure to use for their research (the staffs of their representatives, or even the representatives themselves). Alas, I doubt the Supreme Court as it is currently organized would have the capability to run such a process, at least without substantial help from other parts of the government (the Census Bureau, for instance).

    Anyway, for anyone interested in how we might actually get a different voting system in the not-too distant future (without John taking over the world, I mean), read up on the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. I mentioned it briefly above: it’s basically a way to get rid of the Electoral college without needing any constitutional amendments (which are nearly impossible to get passed on any topic). It’s already about half way to where it needs to be to go into effect (132 of 270 electoral votes). This might be something worth mentioning if you contact your state legislators at any point in the next few years.

    The biggest downside of it that I see is that is it so decentralized that there is basically have no hope of getting any additional reforms added on (such as IRV/Aproval/Condorcet voting). A centralized solution via federal law (or Scalzi imperial decree) would at least be changeable in a single place, rather than needing dozens of states laws to be altered.

  72. 1) Get rid of election day, period.
    2) All voting is done by mail, Oregon style. (Home vote the way they currently do in Oregon, I am sure they have a rational solution.)
    3) I like the method of getting on the ballot in the first place. The current system, requiring a candidate to get on ballot in all 50 states is a silly one.
    4) I understand the rational of the electoral college. I don’t like it, but I understand it. I like the National Popular Vote initiative to get around it.
    5) Why do we continue to have geographic districts? We need a better way to populate the people’s house. And we need more representatives. We need more female, more GLTBA, more minority representatives. And we need to stop gerrymandering once and for all.

    Alas, in the end, we are stuck with what we got because the people in power will fight to the death to prevent changes.

  73. It’s possibly worth noting that all of Scalzi’s suggestions could be enacted by Congress and / or the States without the need to actually amend the Constitution. Some of the suggestions made by other people – changing the makeup of (or abolishing) the Electoral College, for instance, cannot be brought in except by a full Amendment.

    I don’t know if that was our host’s intention, but it’s certainly something that seemed obvious to me.

    Whether or not the Constitution actually needs amending in this area is a matter for the jury, m’lud.

  74. OK, the things I would add:

    Absolutely no party affiliation allowed for the people running elections. There’s something wonderfully admirable about the US love of democracy in electing your policemen or dog catchers, up to the point that the person deciding what kind of people get to vote should be an electoral office. The kind that party representitives stand for. After that corruption is pretty much inevitable.

    A simple, easy, federally definited photo id card which grants the right to vote. as far as I can tell voter fraud is an obvious red herring designed to exclude the wrong kind of voters, so engineer that out of the system.

  75. Although I’m sure the newest Incumbent Protection Act (more deceptive and popular name TBD) will be overwhelmingly popular, it seems like there’s still a chance of a real challenger getting into the public eye without the support of a media conglomerate to get around the contribution limitations in (2) and in spite of the “must already be in the public eye” catch-22 in (4). Could we interpret the “offered equal access to the internet” warm fuzzies in (5) in such a way as to punish anyone who ends up having “unequal access” due to disproportionate support on others’ websites? That has to be the expected effect, right? Other than a parole-violating anti-Muslim or two, it’s not like there are politically involved people who are sitting on their hands right now waiting for someone to finally offer them internet access.

  76. @emeraldcite says:
    “You have to allow for transition. We can’t expect an incumbent to pack up and get ready to leave in a week.”
    I think you’re just not used to the idea. Here in the UK we expect the defeated incumbant to be out of Downing Street by noon on the day after the election.

    “This also gives the outgoing president time to tie up some loose ends.”
    It also allows them rather too much time to pardon criminals or start the country on paths they really shouldn’t. The US intervention in Somalia in 1992, which lead to Blackhawk Down and the like, was popularly known over here as “Operation Drop Clinton In It”

  77. @Kevin Williams: I agree that 100 people will introduce a couple percent sampling error, but still think it’s a better choice than 1000 because (i) 100 people really give the candidates the chance to interact personally with all of them; 1000 would not and (ii) I think it would actually be healthy for us to recognize that shifting from 40.9% to 50.1% of the vote doesn’t suddenly give you a “mandate”. If the election is close enough for statistical fluctuations to affect it, then both candidates have a pretty much equal claim on the office. According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Checking_whether_a_coin_is_fair , using 100 people will get me within 10% of the “correct” proportions 95% of the time.

  78. I agree. If you derive your income from Government, say at least 15% or more, you do not get to vote. If you haven’t given at least two years to serving your country in some manner, you do not have the right to vote. Pretty simple.

    I think the word you were grasping for is “simplistic”.

    The thing about rights is, you don’t earn them. You have them, unless they are taken away from you, ideally by due process of law. Nobody would say “You have the right to freedom of speech after two years in the Peace Corps” or “Sorry, if you have a government job, your property is not protected from unreasonable search and seizure” and expect to be taken seriously, unless they were a complete and utter doucheclock who failed eighth-grade Civics.

    People-should-earn-the-vote satisfies our need to be smug, and to fantasize about disenfrancising people we don’t like or who behave in ways we don’t approve of. As real-world propositions they’re embarassing.

  79. Mr. John Scalzi,
    That is it, this needs to happen. With a read through and some editing (nitpicking), it could be made so. I haven’t read any of the other comments yet because I love what you wrote so much I just wanted to get it out. Now I’ll go drop my jaw at the first person to say it’s a bad idea, and ponder over their reasons.

  80. David: If you haven’t given at least two years to serving your country in some manner, you do not have the right to vote. Pretty simple.

    And pretty unneccessary.

    White, land owning males thought only white, land owning males should vote. But the country didn’t NEED only white land owning males to vote in order for the nation to survive. It was an arbitrary rule created to disenfranchise what they considered the “rabble”. Owning land doesn’t make you a better voter.

    Two years of national service doesn’t make you a better voter. And the country doesn’t *need* everyone to give two years of service for the nation ot survive. If you need a draft, institute a draft. This is nothing more than a poll tax, an attempt to create an arbitrary requirement for voting in an effort to weed out the “undesirables”.

    It’s a horrendously bad idea.

  81. I would drop the electoral college, which protects the power of unpopulated states at the expense of populous ones. I would also ditch the national primary day in favor of a short (two month) primary season, scheduled via lottery.

    The rest seems okay, though.

  82. Just a brief note to the people who were objecting to John making radical changes to the earlier stages and then keeping the Electoral College – I think he’s going for the strongest solution that doesn’t require a constitutional amendment.

    There are also good arguments for the Electoral College, based on the sovereignty of the States, but they’ve been largely irrelevant since the Seventeenth Amendment passed.

    Of course, by this time in an election year, I’m usually wondering which royal house to call in. Habsburg? Hohenzollern? Windsor?

  83. Very interesting discussion. I am far from an expert on elections and politics, but since Mr. Scalzi has so kindly opened up this venue for opinionating … here I go.

    I think … the electoral votes should be apportioned based on the popular vote per state (to re-energize minority voters, e.g. Democrats in Kansas). I don’t like winner-take-all because the whole point of having multi-candidate elections is to prevent a dictatorship, right? It’s important for people in Florida (e.g.) to feel that their president represents them as well as California, Ohio, or Texas. If a state’s electoral vote all went against the candidate who actually wins, the state’s voters are going to have a bad attitude for the entire term, which will make them obstructive, cranky, and less inclined to pay attention to the multitude of issues which involve both the national and state government.

    I don’t mind party affiliation per se. But I do think one debate ought to be devoted *entirely* to questions on the official party platforms. One ought to be devoted to questions on U.S. history and citizenship. And one ought to be devoted to questions on world history, current events, and foreign policy. Not a single word ought to be permitted concerning “my opponent.” The moderator can damn well say “uh, sorry, sir, that was fictitious.”

    The election timeline is way too long. I favor declaring candidacy (with all that entails) the December preceding the national election, a primary in May, and the final election in November as it is now. As to qualifying for candidacy, I agree with someone above that previous executive experience is required – a governorship or national Senate term, at least. And frankly I’d like to see public service, whether as a public lawyer, a public safety officer, a military record, a local government post … *in addition to* aforementioned executive experience.

    A national holiday to vote sounds nice but wouldn’t necessarily function as intended. I’d prefer a two-week voting period with polls open continuously for the final four days. Obviously this would create a huge burden for the local election apparati which rely on volunteers, so the polling places would have to be places that are already open 24/7, e.g. police stations and grocery stores, and would have to be staffed at least in part by public employees. Having a longer voting period everywhere would also mean procedures could be set in place for people to obtain an up to date voter ID, within the voting period.

    I like the cap on contributions and requiring them to be from individuals. Might help to simply say all contributions must be made *to the party* and not to the candidate. The party would then be responsible for ad buys, production, etc for all its candidates. I avoid network television so I don’t even know how bad the advertising gets, but I can assume it is pretty smelly. I think limiting political ads to the nightly news hour (6 to 7 p.m.) would give everyone plenty of time.

    The voter information package concept seems essentially a duplication of the sample ballot used in California … and there is ample information provided by the state online. What is needed is a method for getting that information in front of voters easily, because people are so lazy that they won’t even Google, apparently.

    So I would propose that every citizen is automatically registered to vote on his/her 18th birthday or on passing the citizenship exam; every citizen is required to provide and maintain a valid email address; and each registered voter then get regular automatic e-mail alerts concerning election dates, hours, polling places, candidates, measures or propositions, etc, which would contain links directly to the pro/con arguments and analysis as well as to the voter’s current representatives’ sites.

  84. For #4, I’d also add that signatures from foreigners be acceptable. This would be qualified with the requirements of a percentage based on world population, and, possibly, that only foreigners’ signatures from ‘preferred nations’ be acceptable.

    This is only to qualify as an official candidate, so it would be a means for someone with world appeal to have a good chance to become a candidate. Why? The planet has gotten smaller and it will get smaller still. Interdependence is the norm, regardless of antiquated concepts of nations.

  85. @David Gustafson: “The government is ineffective during the transition because the outgoing president has no political capital, the major part of a president’s power.

    Actually, you have it backwards. A lame duck president is beholden to none, which means he can do uncharacteristic things, unless he really feels committed to safeguarding his party. The 20th Amendment is all about making sure the president and Congress don’t have long periods where they are can act without being concerned with their futures…and likewise officials waiting to be elected don’t have to spend as long waiting for their opportunity to act. (And the converse is that a lame duck candidate could prior to the 1933 act, chose to do nothing and make a crises the next guy’s problem…see the Civil War, the Great Depression, etc.) The most obvious example are presidential pardons, usually made at the very end of a candidates term, though there are plenty of other examples, such as last minute trips abroad to broker peace initiatives or trade deals or Reagan’s Family Support Act, which was passed a month before the 1988 elections in the last year of his second term.

    In other words, yes, they lack capital, but they also have nothing to lose. A lame-duck president can be free from worrying about opinion polls and approval ratings and no amount of capital can take away some of his powers, like nominating a supreme court justice or vetoing bills.

  86. How about an Election Week, instead of an Election Day? Bear in mind that some of us cannot have holidays off. People like firefighters, police, EMTs, ER surgeons, soldiers, the incumbent POTUS, and security guards will be working or at least be on call on any given hour on any given day. An single day Election holiday could skew participation towards white collar folks and away from the people who protect us.

  87. Thomas Jefferson didn’t think everyone had the right to vote.

    His slaves, for instance.

    On the other hand, whites in the slave states got extra electoral representation proportional to 3/5 of the nonvoting slave population, and this fact was instrumental in Jefferson’s election. I admire many things about Jefferson, but I’m not sure I want to use him as an arbiter of who gets democratic representation.

  88. WizarDru: Reagan’s Family Support Act was passed before the election, which to my thinking was not after the election, which is when a president is a lame duck.

  89. I second the suggestions for extended early voting everywhere, including evening and weekend hours (this already exists in many US states), and nonpartisan election authorities instead of elected state secretaries of state.

    I think we’d do well to have a centralized federal election board, officially nonpartisan in the approximate manner of the Federal Reserve or the civil service. If people want to insist on voter ID, there should be a national free voter ID that is trivial to get. In fact, it really ought to be the election board’s responsibility to register voters.

    Australian-style mandatory voting might be nice too. Not because I really want to force everyone to vote, but because mandatory voting would help remove any excuses for obstacles to voting.

    In general, I think the whole idea that it should be difficult to vote as some kind of IQ or commitment test is pernicious, and rife with potential for abuse.

  90. On the subject of Election Season length, since a lot of people have brought it up. Scalzi’s timeline is reasonable, and fits in with the current concept of how long an election campaign is in the minds of the American public and some people didn’t like that.

    We didn’t just all get together and say, “Hey, let’s have election season be a year or two long!” An election season is as long as political parties and candidates want it to be. Canadian and British elections aren’t short because they looked at those silly Americans and said, “Let’s have short elections.” Short elections are a feature of parliamentary governments. You can’t just shoehorn short elections into the American style government, at least not without trampling first amendment rights and State’s rights. If you have an arbitrary date of when election season starts, how do you enforce it? And what’s to stop me from saying, “I’m running for President,” months before your start date?

    Andrew Jackson started running for president in the 1828 election immediately following his loss in the 1824 election. He was nominated by the Tennessee legislature in 1825, 3 years in advance of the election. Would you want to be the one to say, “Sorry, Mr. Jackson, but you’re no allowed to run for President yet.” He’d be likely to beat you to death with his “walking stick.”

  91. @kevinmarks: I think there’s a reason they got rid of that as quickly as possible. For one thing, in the presence of any kind of political factionalism, having the second-place candidate as Vice-President is just asking for a violent coup d’etat.

  92. “Thomas Jefferson didn’t think everyone had the right to vote. I agree. If you derive your income from Government, say at least 15% or more, you do not get to vote. If you haven’t given at least two years to serving your country in some manner, you do not have the right to vote. Pretty simple. As to how you serve your country, military service/peace corp/some other program that makes you work towards making the country a better place.”

    Hehe. Requires government service to vote, doesn’t allow people serving the government to vote.

  93. I could go on about what I think a good voting or a bad voting system would look like, but I’m just going to put one out there:

    Move Election Day to the 15th of April (or whenever taxes are due), such that you’d be paying your taxes and voting on the same day. As a reminder that there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, or a free politician’s promise.

  94. …about the second-place candidate becoming VP, in practice I seem to recall that how it worked out was that, in 1800, the parties ran President/VP tickets anyway, and the election ended up as a tie to be broken by Congress, which included Federalists who wouldn’t play ball and tried to vote for the intended VP candidate (Aaron Burr) for President. To make matters worse, it turned out the guy kind of liked the sound of that.

    Eventually they did confirm Jefferson as president, but it was way too big a mess, and the 12th Amendment was drawn up in response.

  95. I object to number 8. Of course, I also object to the current system.

    Given the ability to rewrite everything, why stick to the current calendar when a slight change can make things so much better? I suggest making election day a two-day event and national holiday (so that people who must work in essential services, such as ER doctors and firefighters and the guys monitoring the computer systems that keep the power grid running, can vote…)… and instead of keeping it on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, making it the eleventh and twelfth days of the eleventh month, with perhaps a small prize for anyone casting his/her ballot at 11:11AM (local time) on the first of those days.

    That is, Veteran’s Day, as marked by Armistice Day, should be Election Day, and vice versa. Ultimately, that’s what veterans put their butts on the line for, so it only seems right.

    — A veteran

  96. David Karger’s draft proposal doesn’t go far enough… instead of using Asimov’s Franchise as the model, why not Lafferty’s Polity and Custom of the Cameroi instead?

    “Congratulation, Mister John Scalzi of Bradford, Ohio
    You have been randomly selected by computer to serve as Senator of the United States for your state.

    Please report to Washington, DC within the next 7 days for orientation on pain of arrest.”

  97. Ealier: If you haven’t given at least two years to serving your country in some manner, you do not have the right to vote

    Later: paying your taxes and voting on the same day. As a reminder that there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch

    Ugh. Heinlein’s worldview was wrong, about as wrong as Ayn Rand was wrong. (i.e. really, really wrong).

  98. Move Election Day to the 15th of April (or whenever taxes are due), such that you’d be paying your taxes and voting on the same day.

    April 15 is not Everybody Pays Taxes Today Day. It is the deadline by which your tax return must be postmarked, assuming you have to file one on that day and/or pay (as opposed to not having to file one at all, or not being one of the folks who files quarterly). That date is also extended if April 15 falls on a weekend or a legal holiday.

    Early voting plus mandatory time off to vote is way better than trying to cram everybody into one day. Mandatory mail voting is great in smaller states like Oregon, but it’s a nightmare in larger states, and frankly I get the attraction of actually going to the polls to cast one’s vote instead of dropping a ballot in the mail and hoping it gets there.

  99. I think I must echo the protests about the effect of the steep initial requirement, and the maintaining the electoral college. Though overall it still sounds better than what we have.

    The steep initial requirement would all but guarantee that only plutocrats and already successful public figures (also mostly plutocrats) could attempt to run. This seems like a really big problem to me. I think the run off election would be enough with a much more mild initial foot in the door requirement would serve the same purpose without limiting the election to celebrities and rich people.

    Though as a bit of an aside, there are days when I would really prefer a formal cursus honorum in which you need to have held one of a list of other executive branch governmental positions first before being eligible for POTUS. I am thinking Governor, Mayor of city with population over a certain number, and possibly also appointed offices like general and admiral and secretary of state. The legislative branch isn’t on that list because I don’t see how being a senator or representative actually prepares you in any way to run a country, Judicial is not on the list because Judge should not be a job sought by people who want higher office, and private offices like CEO isn’t on that list because being in charge of a company prepares people to care about money than people. I cannot see such a change happening, though, even if I would love to see it.

    The electoral college being maintained also seems misguided to me. Why should any vote mean more than any other vote? If we are going to have a popular vote system, then we should have a popular vote system rather than an amalgamation of a states rights system and a popular vote system.

    That said, as a system that I would find more ideal, I would actually prefer a less populist system in which rather than voting directly for presidential candidates you voted for your electoral college members. That is, a local district would vote for their elector(s), who would then go to Washington for a week and personally meet with all of the candidates and ideally receive reams of material about each candidates past positions and political goals. They would then, after these meetings, decide which one they supported. This combined with a rejection of the party system in the executive branch and a wider pool of final candidates (in my ideal world that pool would be the people who were “qualified” by having held prior office, see the cursus honorum paragraph above) would do a lot to remove the media circus that has become modern politics. I know its not really a workable option, because it would effectively require all of the states to be completely reorganized and then people would have to figure out how to avoid the corruption issues inherent in a smaller body picking the president. Still, if it were possible to do I would love to see a system that moved the decision making away from the talking heads on TV. If it were combined with the cursus honorem concept, maybe then we might develop a government in which long term planning was actually possible in at least one branch of government.

    But, that sort of change isn’t going to happen (and quite probably shouldn’t) and that I want that sort of radical change is probably the best illustration of why I should absolutely never try to be a politician!

  100. Heck, combine the income tax return and the ballot. The candidates must be chosen by end of the previous year, and then on the forms, there’s a ballot. You can opt not to vote on the form (a none of the above option) but the returns must be sent in, so everyone theoretically votes.

    My idle thought is that everyone who announces their candidacy for president is put under oath and remains there until the election is over. You lie, it’s perjury.

  101. @gleonguerrero : you do understand this disenfranchises the homeless and people who are not internet-literate , right?

  102. I don’t see the need for the primary if we have instant runoff — the hurdle of collecting that 1% of signatures is big enough that we probably won’t have a ridiculous number of candidates on the ballot. I agree with the previous commenters (Stephen A. Watkins and Talisker) that we should use instant runoff in the primary as well if there is one, and allow for more than three candidates to be on the final ballot.

    Here in California we have a “top two” nonpartisan primary now, and I think it’s a dismally bad idea. For instance, suppose on a 0-100 scale (imagining that political views can be distilled to a single number) we have a region where 70% of the people’s views are at the 0-50 end of the scale and maybe 30% are in the 50-100 end, so we get candidates at 10, 20, 25, 30, 40, 60, and 100. So maybe the bulk of the people whose views are at the low end of the scale split their vote among the candidates who are also on that end of the scale, and we end up with it being quite possible that the 60&100 candidates are the two who survive to the general election despite the fact that they’d be a lot of people’s last two choices.

    Instant runoff is not perfect but it’s a lot better than what we have now! At least we definitely need something where you get to communicate some information other than what your first choice is.

  103. @mythago Mandatory mail voting is great in smaller states like Oregon, but it’s a nightmare in larger states

    Not sure how this follows. I live in California (the largest state) and am registered as a permanent mail-in voter, as are about 42% of my fellow Californians. It seem to work pretty well; I get my ballot about 3 weeks before the election, have plenty of time to look it over and research the candidates/propositions, and drop it in the mail sometime prior to election day. If I forget, I can drop it at any polling place or the Regstrar of Voters on election day. Seems to work pretty smoothly; I live in San Diego, and have never seen a line at any polling place or heard of any problems tabulating votes.

  104. How about flintlocks at ten paces? Winner takes all.
    Seriously, the American election system was designed in the horse and buggy era, and it works about as well as a stagecoach on the Interstate. Throw away the electoral college and registration with party affiliation, but most importantly – get the money out of politics. It is a poison that corrupts everything.
    In Canada, you register to vote when you pay your taxes, and election campaigns are a maximum of six weeks long, by law. I bet that sounds good right about now.

  105. #4 – Seems like, as a matter of finances and practicality, signature-gathering for initial candidates would not occur in the ten most populous states. This strikes me as (to an extent) replicating the current process, in which the rest of the country chooses a winner from among the candidates selected by Iowa and New Hampshire.

    @NotSMOF – “Please deposit three fingers of your left hand as a surety.”

  106. Devin: At times, this has resulted in taxes being levied state-wide that really only benefit the folks in the Puget Sound area.

    Well, the current system has resulted quite often in small states getting lots of federal aid but paying in less in taxes, so, it’s not like the system isn’t rigged in that direction already. Cause, you know, it IS.

    There is this entire house called the Senate which is entirely based on STATES, rather than POPULATION, and therefore, in the Senate, the tiniest state in the union has as much power and influence as the biggest state in the union.

    Folks proposing an end to the Electoral College aren’t looking to get rid of the Senate. They’re just sayign that in the case of the president, that maybe it could be more democratic of a system.

  107. I agree with getting money only from people, no corporate donations allowed. I would also propose making “attack ads” illegal. All election ads must be, “These are what I think are the most important issues” and “What I will do about these issues.” If you don’t think your stand on issues is good enough to get you elected then you have no business running IMO.

  108. My thoughts:

    1. The Constitution was written assuming non-partisan elections. That bit of idealism didn’t last long. There are good reasons for this. Better to rejigger the rules to allow a true multi-party environment (anti-monopoly laws applied to political parties?)

    2. A fine idea for the primaries. For the general election, I prefer public financing and equal time laws.

    3. Hell no. The election cycle should be limited to at most 6 months, including primaries.

    4. The numerous flaws with this one have been pointed out by several others. I am open to other ways of broadening the bucket of possible candidates. It would be nice to have a candidate that wasn’t a millionaire.

    5. What happens as the electorate’s attention migrates to newer tech? This is far too specific. A much better solution is public financing coupled with equal time laws. Figuring out better ways to USE the same size pot of money and equal media access should be part of the game. The information packet idea is interesting. Will the information be vetted and rated by independant fact checkers?

    6. I would prefer to extend both primary and general election to a minimum of two fourteen day voting periods with the same final election dates. If some states want a longer voting periods, great. The final date would be on a Monday and would be the often called for “Voting Day” federal holiday. All party primaries would be conducted simultaneously in all states during the same primary voting period. No early caucuses/primaries.

    7. I’m ok with the mandatory debates. I’d like to see live fact checking by a panel of non-partisan fact checkers after each round. The candidates must listen to this group veracity assessment, but cannot rebut.

    8. Since I don’t need to ride my horse and buggy to the county seat, move Election Day to a Monday and make it a national holiday and preceed it by at least 13 days of early voting nationally. Move back the election to the first of September so that the incoming administration has a bit more time to get their house in order before they assume office. Instant Runoff or any of the less gameable variants would be acceptable. And by George Washington’s ivory chompers, get rid of winner-take-all states. Each elector represents a district. They should get to vote the way their district wants. Wild Alternative: forget voting for the candidates, put the electors on the ballot and let people vote for them to choose the best candidate.

    9. Sure, use IRV all way up.

    10. Where a lovely constitutional crisis will fill us all with angst and high media ratings.

  109. Screw the Electoral College. Why SHOULD a vote in Wyoming count more than one in NY?

    One person, one vote. IPV. Stupid archaic EC. The tyranny of the minority isn’t a great idea either.

    Good luck explaining Instant Runoff to America. Sure, it works on the Hugos, but those are people who read and think.

    And “you can’t vote if you don’t serve” is a fundamental betrayal of the idea of the popular vote, the whole idea of democracy. Not everyone can take off two years to go elsewhere. Some people are the only source of income and support for their family. Some are single parents who have to look after their children — they don’t get to vote till the kids are out of the house? My mother would have been over 50 before she could vote in that case! Some people aren’t physically able to — Stephen Hawking couldn’t ever vote (I know he’s not American, but you get the idea). It’s evil.

  110. There is a big advantage to not having elections at exactly 4 years apart, which means that every 2 years people are, in truth, campaigning. In the UK the government can call a general election ANY TIME within a 5 year period, and campaigning then is limited to the period when parliament dissolves and the election date, a matter of weeks.

  111. IMO, the largest problem of the current system is the political parties. By having primaries and allowing each party to nominate a candidate, you ensure that the candidates represent the (relatively extreme) party viewpoint. If we could eliminate the nomination as it stands today, things would be greatly improved. Currently, the candidates must appeal to their own party leaders and partisan voters to even get to the final round, ensuring we have no candidates with universal appeal to the general populous.

    I’m sick of both the Republicans and the Democrats. I want a centrist candidate representing the best ideas from both parties!

  112. I don’t care if instant runoff is difficult to explain, it would make a huge difference.

    I’d also limit the contribution to 5% of the lower of mean or median household income of the poorest state as of the last census. Watch how hard they try to push numbers after that.

  113. One other thing I would add to your list is to make voting mandatory. I know Australia and some European countries have that policy. I think irrespective of the feasibility of any of the points Scalzi makes, Citizens United needs to be smitten from the face of the land. Limiting contributions should help by not making candidates beholden to a select few, and would force them to actually get out there with the electorate to convince to part with their hard earned money.

  114. @Mythago – Oregon also has drop-boxes outside the courthouses which are exclusively for ballots. I imagine, or at least hope, that they have them outside town halls or post offices in the remoter parts of our huge counties. One county has Massachusetts’ area and a population of 6000 if you don’t count the cattle.

  115. @Helen – With regards to the UK calling an election any time within a 5-year period, this is again a feature of a parliamentary government, not just because they felt like it. A parliamentary system requires that you have a majority to form a government, so when an election is called, it’s because you don’t have a working government and need to form a new majority. Not sure if you can implement an any-time election without changing the form of the US government.

    About political parties… Not sure how you get rid of them without tearing apart free speech and assembly. And while I’d like to see some viable third parties, there is one distinct advantage that a two-party system has, you almost always have a president elected by a majority of the country. Considering the number of people in this thread clammoring for the end of the electoral college, not as many are bothered by the idea of electing a president with 38% of the popular vote, meaning a majority of the country -didn’t- want the candidate.

  116. I actually like your idea of a three-tiered candidate selection process, but others have already pointed out why a 1% petition is problematic. Instead, I would propose to have an initial election cycle in which it was a total free for all (a bit like California’s post-recall governor’s election a decade ago when you had people like Gary Coleman and the naked guy of Berkeley running along side Grey Davis et al).

    Essentially:
    1) Anyone who can put together the paperwork proving they are eligible for the office and file an intention to run gets on the ballot, but the final ballots are pared down to the names that meet the minimum requirements (ie. on the ballot in 25 states – see more below). That last bit is just to get rid of the disorganized and delusional.
    2) Paper mail-in/drop-off ballot, every voter gets to pick their top 5.
    3) The candidates that are in the top 10 in at least 25 states move on to the primary and get to actually campaign.

    Limiting it to a fixed number like top 10 may not work – maybe anyone to get at least 5% of the vote in each state, across a minimum of 25 states? I’m picking these numbers out of my ass – the actual targets should be chosen to balance wide spread appeal against having a reasonably large number of candidates advance to the real primary election. Someone with some knowledge of voting behavior and statistics would be able to chose better than me – maybe the threshold should be prorated to the number of people on the ballot?

    My guess is that the turnout would be extremely low in this type of election – but that’s ok, this is just an initial round to get the candidates names on the primary ballot, and it has the advantage of not favoring those who can organize and fund a major signature campaign, which would require a lot of money and party support.

  117. Item 2 seems reasonable as long as taxation rules are the same, low caps and individual humans only. I assume Item 2 excludes unions as well as corporations. Item 5 seems designed to destroy a broadcast outlet in each market. Who would listen. Item 5 also seems to be more than a little fascist in the control of private resources. And finally, item 8 is counter productive. We have far too many people voting now who are not qualified to decide on a choice for lunch. We need better decision making not a strengthening of the lowest common denominator.

    Cheers,
    Rod

  118. I approve of this plan. I think some form of system in which third parties have a chance is really needed, but since it could disempower the Big Two, methinks it will never happen. California just moved to an even more regressive system, in which you can’t even vote for someone who isn’t in the top 2 finish of the primaries. So third parties can never win here.

  119. @Matt W: Feel free to correct me if I’m looking at the wrong number here, but I believe the 42% is not the number of California voters registered to vote absentee but the percentage of ballots cast absentee in the last election. It’s certainly not impossible to do – and as Bob P points out, one can bring one’s absentee ballot physically to the polling place – but California has a huge number of voters and, I would hazard, would have a bigger problem with lost ballots, voter fraud, and uncounted ballots than Oregon if we went to mandatory vote-by-mail.

  120. I like Joel DS’s Cursus Honorum idea. Actually I’d amplify it by requiring an examination to be completed before participants in the ‘Presidential career path’ could begin their official rise, testifying to their understanding of US government and civics and basic principles of leadership and management. Instead of voting for who we want to see in an office, we’d be voting people out of office if we sufficiently disapproved of their work. And to pick new people to fill an opening at each tier, I like the Asimovian idea of selecting a representative sample of people to review the candidates. Almost completely eliminates general campaigning, and puts the emphasis on building one’s resume of achievements.

    As exciting as it might be to imagine we’re voting for “mavericks” and “rebels”, when the pedal hits the metal, we want to know the people in office are competent to do their job and view it as a position of great responsibility, not an opportunity to pillage and schmooze.

    It’s the Executive branch. It’s there to execute our laws. The big changes in our country’s direction are supposed to be coming from our Legislature.

  121. Although you say “The VP should be an ally not an opponent” your discussion does not mention a VP otherwise. The VP holds the office of President of the Senate, which means they have a non-ceremonial operational interaction there, as tiebreaker at the very least, and they also run the joint Senate/House committee that counts the electoral votes.

    Unlike California’s Lieutenant Governor (which may have changed) they hold no direct executive power unless the President dies or is sufficiently disabled as to pass on the office of President (as with Mr. Reagan during the several days after he was shot.) So there is no danger that they will be sabotaging the Presidency. So with that in mind, it’s probably OK if the VP is not of the same political party as the President, as long as the partisanship is not crippling – and we honestly need to get over that ridiculously sophomoric inflexible partisanship.

    The whole “only if you earn it” citizenship idea was one that Heinlein pushed in _Starship_Troopers_ and he at least had the good sense to show objectively that it was a move away from universal enfranchisement to an elitist exclusion. He also showed that it was not necessary to be a citizen to use social support systems, which is part of the “I, Me, Mine” attitude that seems so popular in certain right-of-right-wing movements.

    This is a derailment: I would love to see if there were a way to figure out how to make public service as a member of the legislature, judiciate, and executive branches be a job for which one would be drafted by random drawing, and not able to join without “losing” the draft call.

  122. Mythago – the number of actual voter fraud situations is smaller than the smoke-and-alarums-mongers would have one believe. I won’t say zero, because I cannot cite evidence, but I’ve read the independent and non-partisan fact-checkers and they cite very low numbers of voter fraud.
    There are, however, a large number of ELECTION fraud situations, where the use of rigged voting machines, gerrymandering, and sweeping disenfranchisement of voters in selected districts for whatever reasons are convenient, have been used to sway national elections. And on the local level, there have been fraudulent petitions, resulting in the placement of measures before voters that should not have legitimately been considered.

    I’ve lived in Oregon for 31 years now as a registered voter. Since we went to full vote-by-mail, fourteen years ago, the only time I’ve EVER seen a problem has been with people complaining that they wanted to CAST their ballots, and they CAN do so: by dropping them at the County Elections Office on voting day.

    The complaints by anti-tax-activist and professional fraudster Bill Sizemore (perpetrator of some of the aforementioned fraudulent petitions) caused a systematic analysis of voting patterns, including polls, where people were asked if their votes were influenced; the results were that the few who said their votes were influenced also said that they were influenced similarly when balloting at a precinct office. Sizemore also complained (it helps to think in a whiny, nasal spoiled-brat voice) that the idea of voting by mail presumed that most people are GOOD and HONEST and wouldn’t cheat.

    Well, DUH, Bill. Why would you want to live in a place where they were not?

  123. Just to make things interesting, cap campaign contributions to 1 month’s worth of minimum wage salary. $1160.

  124. Since your analysis allows changes to the constitution, Sir Scalzi, then let’s go whole hog. Just transform our republic into a parlimentary system like in the UK with a Prime Minister whose government must serve no more than five years without calling an election. Once called the election happens in a five week time frame. The new Prime Minister takes power within a day of the election result being certified. Do this, and electing your local congressman becomes really important, as you never directly vote for the Prime Minister.

  125. In spite of having been a politically active Libertarian for a quarter-century, I have also worked on actual professionally-run political campaigns :-) My parents were politically active Republicans, doing state and local politics in Delaware (so it’s still somewhat small-time, and you could know all the players.) Back in the 1970s, it was still possible to be a moderate or liberal Republican, not only left of Barry Goldwater, but even left of that pinko Richard Nixon, though of course neither of them would be acceptable candidates in today’s Republican party. (Their well-liked ex-gov Mike Castle was the one who lost the Republican nomination to Tea Party Christine “Not a Witch” O’Donnell. I don’t remember if my mom voted for her in the general election or not; she certainly didn’t vote for Bush, or his father, or McCain, and didn’t like Reagan either.) I worked on a couple of Russ Peterson’s campaigns (won the primary, lost the general, did a lot of Federal environmental work later.)

    While a lot of things have changed in forty years, some things haven’t. If you want more than a few hundred thousand petition signatures, you need a large well-organized campaign, which means you either need a lot of money to hire paid petition-gatherers, or you need a lot of ideologically-motivated grass-roots volunteers with a core of paid staff. There’s a name for the latter type of organization – it’s called a “political party”. It doesn’t have to be as large or permanent a party as the two current big US parties; your “1% of the population” is about the same percentage as a California ballot petition drive, so it’s possible for an insurance company to astroturf one into existence, or for a bunch of stoners with minimal budget to get together to put medical marijuana on the ballot, but if you want a national organization to get a single politician elected as President, you’re still looking at a political party, or a similar political organization like Ralph Nader’s.

    And let’s talk about the First Amendment, if we may. When politicians want to ban pornography or anti-Muslim cartoons on the Internet, they say “Oh, no, the First Amendment isn’t about that, it’s about protecting political speech!” But when you talk about campaign financing, which is clearly political speech, a surprisingly similar group of politicians will tell you “Oh, no, elections are way too important to let just anybody say or print just anything they want, without any limits or adult supervision!” Or they’ll tell you “Money isn’t speech!” – but even if it’s not exactly speech, it’s certainly “press”.

    IRV and its relatives? I like them, though some are too susceptible to gaming, which means you may have to game your vote to make sure the wrong lizard doesn’t get elected instead of voting for the candidate you want. I don’t like California’s new “top 2 primary” system, which effectively bans third parties from the general election, though it does mean that for some offices I effectively get to vote in a Democratic primary in November without being a Democrat.

  126. @foomf: We actually pretty much agree. I am thinking more of logistics than fraud, but I also believe (and I’m happy to be set straight if I’m off base on this) that issues of coercion and actual fraud, in the sense of “I sat there and made sure my husband voted for the right people” or “Grandma won’t mind if we do this for her”, are probably less likely when voting by mail is not mandatory.

  127. The thing that strikes me about the US Presidential election system is how bizarrely complicated it is. Why not scrap all the palaver and:
    1. introduce compulsory voting for everyone of adult age (with a few exceptions such as those who are mentally incompetent and serving a sentence in prison) with fines for those who do not comply either by not registering or not voting so making every voter relevant.
    2. make the electioneering phase – and that includes election advertising – last a set and relatively short time – say six weeks.
    3. have preferential voting where the voter can list all candidates in order of preference so every vote has significance.
    4. have absentee voting available for any voter who applies for it – by mail or by permitting those out of their home voting area to vote at any other polling station thus ensuring no-one is disenfranchised.
    5. require that all donations over say $2000 must be registered and have the information easily available to the public.
    6. restrict election advertising to the period of electioneering.
    7. provide the opportunity for all candidates to take part in at least one televised debate.
    8. quarantine any gain from personal financial transactions (such as share trading etc) apart from a reasonable amount for living costs for the six week electioneering period.
    9. have the changeover from old to new President happen within two days of the poll being finalised. That way the out-going President has to have everything up to date by the election – an advantage whether he/she is incumbent or not.

  128. @Mythago @BobP Oregon has ballot collection boxes at the county election offices, city hall, public libraries starting around 3 weeks before the elections; ballots have usually been mailed out a week or so earlier. They can also be returned by mail, but must be in by 8:00 pm election night, when the “polls” close. In general the system has been working well for years now, and voter participation is up slightly, even in little weirdo local elections in May.

  129. Here’s a radical idea. On the first Tuesday of November, every eligible voter casts a ballot. The candidate with the most votes wins. Thoughts? Too complicated?

  130. BornInOz: Thoughts? Too complicated?

    Laissez Faire elections? So monopolization of the process due to overwhelming money is not a problem in your book? Corporations are people?

    Either you forgot to account for some issues, or your libertarian slip is showing.

  131. @ David Moody: I derive my entire income from the government and have spent my entire almost-15-year career working to make the country a better place. Which side of your line do I fall on?

    I’ve never understood how the winner take all system of electoral votes got so entrenched. If electoral votes a apportioned according to representation in Congress, why aren’t the votes of each Congressional district awarded to the winner in that district? But, to be honest, I’ve never cared enough to look into the history. As for the two electoral votes representing the senate, I say let that be a winner take all statewide race.

    If I may offer up my own crazy, half-baked, hasn’t-thought-through-the-details idea, let’s limit the Presidency to a single, 8 year term. And to appease any convinced that a bad President could do a lot of “damage” in that time, how about this: Every two years between Presidential elections (when we’re electing the entire House and 1/3 of the Senate), have a nation-wide referendum on the current President. Up or down, yea or nay, does the President get to keep the job. On a supermajority down vote (at least 60%, better 2/3rds, possibly 3/4ths), the President is immediately removed from office. The Vice President is sworn in as acting-President. A new President is then appointed by Congress, nominated by the Senate, elected by the House (this is the part I really haven’t thought out). The new President would be ineligible to run for the Presidency in the next regular election, unless appointed for only the last two years of the current term (thus limiting any one individual to a total possible 10 years in the position, just as we have now). The high bar for the referendum, combined with ceding authority to elect the President to our elected representatives, should restrict a successful recall of the President to the vanishingly rare case where the current President is unequivocally incompetent or evil.

  132. If we were to eliminate the Electoral College it would be necessary to standardize the presidential voting system. We would need a federal government run and overseen voting process all across the country separate from state elections, with mail-in options and standardized voting machines and ballots (with the same names in each state). People from other countries may not get that these differ (sometimes drastically) from state to state.

    Currently in most states, the primary elections are for the sole benefit of the two major parties. They use state resources (in the form of election infrastructure and official government sanctioning) to fulfill their needs. If the Democrats and Republicans want to have a primary, they should get no government resources (including use of official polling places). In addition, all candidates should have to fulfill the exact same requirements to get on a ballot, no matter their parties (Dems and Reps currently are automatically on the ballot if they win their primary or have reduced requirements for getting on the ballot).

  133. David Moody, so no scientists, doctors, nurses, etc., etc., etc. who work for the government should have the right to vote? Ditto contract workers, I assume? So the people who build and maintain security systems for government computer systems couldn’t vote, for instance? And do you include state and local governments? So no clerical staff, security staff, food service staff, or the like, if they work for the government or derive at least 15% of their income from government? In your system, nobody in the public works departments–you know, the people maintain streets and highways and traffic signals and who collect trash. Mail carriers, no vote. Prison guards, no vote. It seems very brutal, your system.

    And would you also, out of fairness, support the concept of no taxation without representation, so that these same people who would be denied the right to vote for their elected representatives also would have to pay no taxes? If not, why not?

  134. Further thoughts on my solo defense of the Electoral College.

    Some have said population centers wouldn’t dominate elections in a strictly popular vote? They wouldn’t? What about your own recent history? In 2000, George W. Bush won 80% of the country by land mass, but lost the popular vote. (And won the election…) Those seem to be numbers in favor of population centers.

    Next comes… So what if population centers are important? It’s unfair for someone’s vote to count for more, so everyone’s vote should count the same, and if that disenfranchises rural voters, sucks to be you. An odd ideological alignment of Democrats and Libertarians, here. To the Democrats with this opinion: you already live in a country where things get weighted differently depending on circumstances, and protections exist in order to protect minorities. People below the poverty line don’t pay income tax. Handicapped access is built to accommodate people with disabilities. Is it a coincidence that the only minority (rural people) Democrats don’t seem to care about tend to be politically Republican? Cities already benefit from the government just because of population density. (Not out of any sense of maliciousness, mind you, but federal programs to help people are more likely to be based in cities because there are more people there that can be helped. More bang for your buck.) And if you don’t believe that in a government of culturally, economically, and geographically diverse peoples that industrialized populous centers will game the system to take advantage of less industrialized, areas, you haven’t been paying too much attention to the E.U. over the past few decades.

    “I live in a blue state and am a red voter (or vice versa), so we should do away with winner-take-all or the electoral college!” As someone currently living in a red state that went blue for Obama in 2008, I think it might be unwise to make electoral policy based on the current political alignment of wherever you may live. (This would make you no better than when parties re-district to their advantage, btw) Politics change. The Solid South isn’t so solidly Democrat any more, right? There’s no reason to believe wherever you live will always be the way it is. Make electoral policy based on what is solid electoral policy.

    Unrelated to Electoral College issues, but it keeps coming up. “Why not go Parliamentary?” I assume — Sorry if I’m stepping on your toes, here — that Scalzi didn’t just shuck the current system for a parliamentary one in his hypothetical because he didn’t want one. There is nothing innately better about a parliamentary system of government over a democratic republic with strong executive branch. It’s just different. It has both good qualities and bad ones, just like America’s system.

  135. Jeff: To the Democrats with this opinion: you already live in a country where things get weighted differently depending on circumstances, and protections exist in order to protect minorities.

    Dude. As someone who grew up on a farm in the middle of nowhere that was hours away from a major city, I’m feeling ever so slightly insulted at the idea that people in rural areas need to be treated like a protected minority.

    Blacks have discrimination against them just for being black. Women have discrimination against them for being women. People in rural areas don’t have discrimination against them simply for living in a rural area, and furthermore, blacks can’t stop being black, but people in a rural area can simply move. “Rural” is not a protected minority.

    “I live in a blue state and am a red voter (or vice versa), so we should do away with winner-take-all or the electoral college!” As someone currently living in a red state that went blue for Obama in 2008, I think it might be unwise to make electoral policy based on the current political alignment of wherever you may live.

    This doesn’t even make sense. People are suggesting we drop the winner-take-all because winner-take-all disenfranchises minority voters in a state. It’s not related to being democrat, it’s related to being in whatever minority party is associated with a particular state. If you are a republican in Massachusetts (a solid democrat state), then you’re vote for president doesn’t get show up in the electoral votes. If you’re a democrat in Texas (a Republican state), then same thing, your vote doesn’t get reflectd in the electoral college numbers.

    And it’s the electoral college numbers that determine who wins. having ALL of your states EC votes ignore your individual vote disenfranchises you, whaterver party you belong to.

    Make electoral policy based on what is solid electoral policy.

    Right. That’s what the “dump the winner-take-all” idea is doing.

    The problem is, Electoral College math is already severely screwed up. If you fix it halfway, it actually can get worse. if some states drop winner-take-all, and other states do NOT, then you could get even crazier results. If you want to talk about the “solid” policy, then the “solid” electoral policy would dump the EC entirely and have a popular condercet vote. Barring that, if you keep the EC, then EVERY STATE needs to drop the winner-take-all award of EC votes and do it by proportion, otherwise the math gets even more screwed up.

  136. @ Jeff: “In 2000, George W. Bush won 80% of the country by land mass, but lost the popular vote. (And won the election…) Those seem to be numbers in favor of population centers.”

    Only if you don’t know the meaning of population centers. Population centers being places of low geographical area with high population density. You just made a great argument that the Electoral College disenfranchises voters in population centers.

  137. Cities already benefit from the government just because of population density.

    And rural areas benefit from massive farm subsidies, which in all likelihood makes it a wash.

    Is it a coincidence that the only minority (rural people) Democrats don’t seem to care about tend to be politically Republican?

    You got any proof of this? Last time I checked, Democrats voted overwhelmingly in favor of the aforementioned farm subsidies.

  138. @Antongarou: “@gleonguerrero : you do understand this disenfranchises the homeless and people who are not internet-literate , right?” I’m not sure I follow you. What exactly disenfranchises the homeless and those not internet-literate? John’s election reform idea? Foreigners?

  139. I wonder if you’re not stopping short of some of the changes that are equally needed.

    Instead of making election day a national holiday on a Tuesday, why not make Election Day fall on either a Saturday in addition to declaring it a national holiday?

    Why not institute mandatory voting with a modest (~100$) fine associated with not voting? Australia currently does this.

    Why not prohibit private funds entirely? Any registered voter can flag 20$ or 200$ or fixed value, obtained from their income tax to be assigned to a candidate. Anyone can donate (200% tax deductible) to a fund from which students and unemployed citizens can draw from.

    But fundamentally, why does the electoral college remain?

  140. @ Greg. “but people in a rural area can simply move.” Thought someone might go for that argument. Is this particularly different from when turn their noses at folks in the “ghetto” and wonder why they don’t move? Or wondering why those dumb people in Louisiana didn’t evacuate from Katrina? Simple answer. They don’t move because they can’t afford to. And my apologies if I made it sound like specifically rural people need to be a protected minority. It’s more an argument that people who need government protections or services are at even more of a disadvantage if they’re rural. It’s worse to be rural poor than urban poor. If your a veteran, chances are you’re driving much farther to a clinic if you’re rural.

    “People are suggesting we drop the winner-take-all because winner-take-all disenfranchises minority voters in a state.” So now you’re worried about minority voters in states. Just only if they’re minority voters along party lines and not geographic ones. And mind you, I said “vice versa” in my example. There’s nothing that says Texas will forever be a red state, nor Massachusetts a blue state. Politics change. Just as when Scalzi talked about being an independent because parties change over time. And I’m not for winner-take-all over split-votes. I wrote in previous posts that winner-take-all is clearly better for certain states, while split-vote could work fine in others. I’m opposed to a top-down mandate of abolishing winner-take-all. And nothing is preventing any state in the Union from choosing to split electoral votes based on the popular vote. The Constitution specifically allows for states to choose electors in whatever fashion they want. A state could pass a law and, in theory, hold a lottery to allow one person the right to choose all the electoral votes for that state, and it would be perfectly Constitutional (though probably an interesting court case). This is why you also hear people say that the constitution guarantees a republic but not necessarily a democracy.

    @ Andre “Only if you don’t know the meaning of population centers. Population centers being places of low geographical area with high population density. You just made a great argument that the Electoral College disenfranchises voters in population centers.” My apologies, what I meant to say was that if the 2000 election had been decided on a strictly popular vote — as many are advocating in this thread — that the man who won 80% of the country by land mass would have lost the election. So in a world with a popular vote and no EC, candidates would focus disproportionately on population centers, and disenfranchise rural voters.

    @ Genufett Are you arguing that farm subsidies on one side are enough fo a benefit for rural voters — not all of whom are farmers? Rural voters benefit less from Medicare/Medicaid than urban voters (fewer medical options or longer commutes). Rural veterans have to travel farther to reach the VA than urban veterans. Any welfare program with attached job requirements are going to favor people who live in areas where there are more jobs to be had (Though in this case, I’m not sure if that’s balanced out by there being more job seekers in said areas). Also, rural voters aren’t the only beneficiaries of farm subsidies: lower food prices help urban voters just as much as anyone else.

  141. Are you arguing that farm subsidies on one side are enough fo a benefit for rural voters — not all of whom are farmers?

    That should have read agricultural subsidies, but yes. Not all urban voters are beneficiaries of welfare programs, either.

    Rural voters benefit less from Medicare/Medicaid than urban voters (fewer medical options or longer commutes). Rural veterans have to travel farther to reach the VA than urban veterans.

    I’d like to see actual proof of this, but that has nothing to do with amounts of benefits.

    Any welfare program with attached job requirements are going to favor people who live in areas where there are more jobs to be had (Though in this case, I’m not sure if that’s balanced out by there being more job seekers in said areas).

    This doesn’t make any sense. If there were more jobs to be had, there would almost by definition be less need for welfare.

    Also, rural voters aren’t the only beneficiaries of farm subsidies: lower food prices help urban voters just as much as anyone else.

    And conversely, urban voters aren’t the only beneficiaries of welfare programs regardless of any second-hand effects. And there’s a good argument to be had vis-a-vis things like prices for gas in the industrialized areas of the country vs those in the rural areas.

  142. If you make election day a national holiday, that just means that government employees get the day off. Most of the rest of us will have to work because our companies won’t honor it. All another national holiday does is give another paid day off to government people.

    you might want to google ‘national holiday’ you would be surprised how many days that government people get off. Most of us don’t get off columbus day, MLK day (not just the south), Veterans Day (this is the one in october, and others.

    You could say you will pressure companies to give the day. Good luck with that.

  143. In 2000, George W. Bush won 80% of the country by land mass, but lost the popular vote.

    I find myself wondering if you’re aware that land masses don’t vote. What you’re talking about as evidence is a graphical, rather than geographical quirk. If we modify the map so that the geography matches the population density (like this : http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/01494/usa_1494141i.jpg ), and overlayed a voting map, you’d find that Bush won almost exactly 1/2 of this “land mass”, less a fraction of a percent. By your logic, Alaska would pick the President.

  144. Ack, must refresh before posting.

    So in a world with a popular vote and no EC, candidates would focus disproportionately on population centers, and disenfranchise rural voters.

    There’s a difference between “disenfranchisement” and “losing”. Also, you’re using as an example of the supposed disenfranchisement of the rural population a twice(ish) elected President who was hugely popular with the rural population.

  145. Apologies for my previous post being rife with typos and there/they’re problems. Should proofread before posts.

    @ Genufett “I’d like to see actual proof of this, but that has nothing to do with amounts of benefits.”

    I agree, it has nothing to do with the amount of benefits. It has to do with access. As for proof, the best I can think of is plop Google Maps in the middle of a city and get directions to Planned Parenthood, hospitals, veteran’s clinics, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, etc. (Anything funded partially or fully by the Federal government that provides assistance to those who need it.) Then plop Google Maps in the middle of rural bumbleville and repeat. Keep going for various locations until you have a decent data set.

    A person in either location gets the same -amount- of benefits, but when you consider the cost of travel (both in time and money), the person in the rural location gets less -value- out of the benefits This isn’t out of any sense of maliciousness; if I were going to open a soup kitchen, I’d pick a location that would help the most people, too. But the reality is that a certain percentage of people will always receive less value from social programs because of logistics.

    Your arguments against my other points are valid. I fear the economics of subsidies are a bit above me.

    I was once vehemently against the idea of the Electoral College. I daresay quite a few people go through a self-impressed teenager phase where they learn a little about the constitution and rail against the idea that their vote doesn’t count they way they think it should. But if I try to put myself in the mindsets of the framers, I can see the value in both the EC and the Senate (not based on population, either). It gives every state, regardless of size or importance, a little skin in the game. I can see how this would be important for a growing country that wanted to add more states during the early history of the US. While a popular vote is, in theory, an obvious good, it has the side-effect of possibly alienating entire states within the union. Similarly, I’ve heard arguments along similar grounds against the Senate (sometimes by the same people). Hey, is it really fair that Delaware has equal representation in the Senate to California? Suppose you did away with that too, for sake of fairness. If you alienate entire geographic regions for a long enough period of time, why should they bother staying in your country? Why not just have the Eastern USA, Central USA, and the Western USA? These areas aren’t bound by a common cultural history. They don’t share the same geographic concerns. They don’t have the same economic interests. If America is united by a dream of the future, part of that dream is the ability for every state to be able to share and shape that dream. Which I think still makes the Electoral College and the unfairness of vote-weighting, a necessary evil.

  146. Instead of making election day a national holiday on a Tuesday, why not make Election Day fall on either a Saturday in addition to declaring it a national holiday?

    Because lots of people work Saturdays, and lots of people observe Saturday as a holy day.

    Cities already benefit from the government just because of population density. (Not out of any sense of maliciousness, mind you, but federal programs to help people are more likely to be based in cities because there are more people there that can be helped. More bang for your buck.)

    Jeff, while I agree with the general tenor of what you’re saying, this is rather overbroad, particularly as it ignores the ratio between contributions (ie. taxes) to federal programs and benefits received. If urban residents are receiving 75% of the value of a federal program but contributing 90% of the tax dollars necessary to support that program, I don’t think you can credibly argue that the rural residents are getting the short end of the stick.

  147. @Jeff: If there is a good argument for keeping the Electoral College, I think it may be that in the current design of the country’s voting system (very localized, with many variations) close popular vote elections (like Bush-Gore) would never be considered legitimate due to the sheer magnitude of the recount that would be demanded. Each state would have to allow a recount of its ballots (since it is the states and not the federal government that regulates voting) and determine the right way to do it and… well… think up to 50 different Floridas from the 2000 election.

    Right now, every vote doesn’t matter, so every vote isn’t counted. In the end, the Electors (who cast the Electoral College votes) provide a buffer for legitimacy by taking some of the votes out of the equations and simplifying the situation.

    If you were serious about popular vote, you’d need to totally change the way voting is done.

  148. @mythago: “If urban residents are receiving 75% of the value of a federal program but contributing 90% of the tax dollars necessary to support that program, I don’t think you can credibly argue that the rural residents are getting the short end of the stick.”

    So should poor areas receiving worse fire/police protection or significantly less per pupil funding for schools because you can’t argue because they aren’t paying less tax dollars than the rich? Sure, this happens in places as it is, but I think you can argue, credibly, that it is wrong.

    Remember that the cities benefit from rural areas of the country (and vice versa) so money spent one place benefits everyone if done right.

  149. Jeff: In 2000, George W. Bush won 80% of the country by land mass, but lost the popular vote.
    So what you’re saying is that people who voted Republican own 4x more dirt than the rest of us. That doesn’t mean you’re disenfranchised by being rural, it means that you’ve got more land than us dirt-poor urbanites. And the Electoral College means that those of you with Huge Tracts Of Land get more control over the Presidency per person than the rest of us.

  150. @Talisker: Allowing instant-runoff voting (ie. ranking candidates in order of preference) in the first round could mitigate this.

    The election with Le Pen and Chirac WAS a runoff, held in regular, slow-speed. Making this runoff occur instantly would not have just made the same result go faster without changing the outcome in the least. A Condorcet or Rating ballot system would have. An Approval voting system could have, depending on peoples’ cutoffs for approval.

    I’d go with a Popular Approval Vote for the president. Vote for any number of candidates. Whoever gets the most votes, wins.

    I’d also be thrilled if the popular-vote compact could be built. It’s a little frustrating that they went for a mathematical-proof degree of security. It wouldn’t be necessary for them to have >50% of the popular vote if it consisted of a large number of EVs including balanced numbers of safe EVs from each side. Practically speaking, CA + TX + GA (55 safe D EVs to 54 safe R EVs) would be enough. But it seems that the actual compact is getting nowhere in red states – and this weakened compact would be harder to swallow. Sigh.

  151. I’d like to trot out a few of my own hobby horses:
    Only allow election campaigning in any format from, say, 6 months before the actual election, outside of the announcement of a candidate’s nomination/running. Any electioneering prior to that will be unilaterally removed.
    Use 2% or so of any candidates’ war chests to produce a government printed and vetted fact sheet about the candidates and issues, factual statements only. Tailor it to local issues with inserts for specific states and/or municipalities. Make it available like tax forms used to be, at every post office, public library, and courthouse, and as a mailer. We were lucky, our local Board of Elections produced a plain-english pamphlet about local issues up for vote, which was very helpful.
    Several people have proposed open polls for several days preceding the actual election day, with 24/7 voting allowed for the 2 or 3 days leading up to Election Day. I like it; we do early voting here and it is very nice for people on odd schedules. Mail in voting and absentee voting are good as well. Thank you, whomever pointed out the difference between voter fraud and election fraud; it’s important.
    Only allow individuals to contribute directly to campaigns, with a fairly low cap. Disallow unions, corporations, Super-PACs, and any other money aggregating services. It’s too easy for deep pockets to game the system. Can you tell I’m not fond of the Citizens United ruling?

  152. @Bill Stewart: You must admit, insisting that land ownership should rightfully figure into who gets to choose the President is kicking it old school.

    (Though, actually, the fact that rural states have a lot of unoccupied land doesn’t mean voters there necessarily own all that land; having a grazing lease for your cattle isn’t ownership, nor is having a huge national park next door.)

  153. Time for the electoral college to go. CGPGrey says it better than I can on youtube, and faster on his electoral college vlogs.

  154. Jeff: @ Greg. “but people in a rural area can simply move.” Thought someone might go for that argument. Is this particularly different from when turn their noses at folks in the “ghetto” and wonder why they don’t move?

    Yes, it’s different, because you picked one phrase you could contest out of context and ignored a mountain of an argument that explained to you that “rural” isn’t a protected minority.

    Look, your argument is daft, cause it all boils down to this daffy strawman of people calling for an end to the electoral college:

    It’s unfair for someone’s vote to count for more, so everyone’s vote should count the same, and if that disenfranchises rural voters, sucks to be you.

    Dude. Check out this chart:

    http://mintaka.sdsu.edu/~dokter/ec.html

    Wyoming has a voting weight of 3.2. California has a voting weight of 0.9.
    Wyoming has a voting weight that is 3.7 times more powerful than California.
    Wyoming is at a HUGE advantage over California.
    Given that, you don’t get to call Wyoming a protected minority.
    Given that, you don’t get to call a push for Equal voting weight as disenfranchising voters who have a HUGE ADVANTAGE over other voters.

    Disenfranchising means someone’s vote does NOT COUNT. Disenfranchising someone means you give their vote a weight of ZERO, and everyone else gets a weight of ONE. When Wyoming has a voting weight that is 3.7 times more powerful than California, then it is California that is DISENFRANCHISED, not Wyoming. And calling for the weights to be equalized doesn’t DISENFRANCHIS Wyoming, it gives franchise back to California.

    You’re arguments aren’t based in math at all. It’s nothing more that “victimized billionaires” translated into voting. It boggles the mind.

  155. @ Greg Thanks for the link, it was informative. I never disputed in my above arguments that the electoral college weighted smaller state voters higher than larger ones. I don’t think I realized the extent to which it was skewed. That being said, I think the problem is with the degree of difference in the weighting, not that weighting exists, which as the writer in the link you provided could be mitigated by increasing the total number of representatives in Congress. That sounds okay to me. If the writer is willing to accept that the Senate exists as a method of protecting small states, why is he reticent to think the same of the electoral college? At one point he puts forth that the Senate protects small states enough, but he never really makes an argument as to how much protection small states require, or why the Senate is sufficient without the Electoral College’s help. The Senate protects small states and balances the power populous areas get with the House of Representatives, but that is only one branch of government. Given how inclined the framers were for checks and balances and a division of power, why would you not assume they were aware that the electoral college similarly protected small states with regards to the Executive branch? But to balance the advantage given to small states in this way, the framers then gave the ability to decide ties to the population-based House of Representatives.

    With regards to your other points, I think you may be getting a tad emotional, and I’m by no means arguing for victimized billionaires (Intentionally, anyhow. If I’m doing so by accident, then my apologies). It is my understanding, however, that disenfranchisement refers to both denying or revoking someone’s ability to vote entirely, and also rendering a vote less effective or ineffective. Given your numbers of 3.2 for Wyoming, and 0,9 for California with regards to voter weight, a strict popular vote would reduce Wyoming’s weight to 1, and increase California’s to 1, yes? That’s a decrease of 3.2 to 1 for Wyoming, and given population disparities, candidates will be more inclined to focus heavily on California as compared to Wyoming. Not sure what sort of numerical modifier you’d use to represent the campaign focus with regards to vote weight, but think of how little the candidates pay attention to Wyoming now, with its incredibly high vote weight. It’d certainly be even less in a world where a Wyoming citizen’s vote is worth 30% what it once was. Those are the grounds on which I call reducing the effectiveness of a Wyoming citizen’s vote disenfranchisement.

    I clarified what I meant by “rural” as minority in one of my above posts. Rural poor versus urban poor, in which case, rural is a minority within a minority, because rural poor face the same difficulties as urban poor, but with diminished access to support programs because of logistics (And honestly, if you really want to get into an argument over which minorities count as minorities and which don’t, that’s a whole other derailing can of worms).

  156. @ Mythago. The fact that many people work on a Saturday wouldn’t prevent them being able to vote. Have all polling stations open for extended hours say 6:30 AM until 6:30 PM so workers can vote before or after work and make postal and absentee voting available for those who find it difficult for other reasons. To ensure fairness have it come under Federal control and institute uniform voting procedures.

  157. @drachefly: No, the two-round election (2RE) is not equivalent to instant-runoff voting (IRV).

    In 2RE, you get to express a second preference, but only for one of the top two candidates in the first round. In IRV, you can express a second (third, fourth, etc.) preference for whomever you want.

    Taking the French 2002 example, the (centre-left) Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin fell narrowly behind (far-right) Le Pen in the first round of 2RE. But under IRV, Jospin would have received many more second preferences than Le Pen — there were 3 or 4 other left-wing candidates whose voters would have preferred Jospin to Le Pen or (centre-right) Chirac. So under IRV, the top two candidates would almost certainly have been Jospin and Chirac. (Exactly who came out on top would depend on the exact distribution of second preferences across all voters, including Le Pen supporters.)

    The reason I suggested a combination of 2RE and IRV (with IRV used to pick the final two candidates for a delayed second round of voting) was to provide a safety valve in case IRV throws up an anomaly, and some sort of unrepresentative fringe candidate makes it into the final round anyway. Suppose that in that same French election, the Green candidate somehow cobbled together enough second and third preferences to leapfrog Jospin and Le Pen. The voters then get to decide if they really prefer a Green or centre-right presidency — a choice which might not be at all clear in a single round of IRV.

    (Incidentally, this system would have had fascinating results in the 2010 leadership election for the British Labour Party, in which a final two-candidate runoff would have been between the brothers David and Ed Milliband. In reality, Ed squeaked to a narrow victory in a single round of modified IRV under Labour’s own peculiar electoral college.)

  158. Jeff: The Senate protects small states and balances the power populous areas get with the House of Representatives, but that is only one branch of government.

    Does the Judicial branch also have to protect small states and balance the power populous states get?

    Laws don’t get created unless they get approved by both houses. One house is the Senate which is entirely devoid of any population weighting and subscribes strictly to a one-state-two-votes approach. The Senate currently has a procedural rule called a fillibuster, which requires 60% of all Senators to vote in favor of a vote on the bill. This means that 41% of the Senators can stop any bill they want. If the 21 smallest states all oppose a bill, then that is enough to stop a bill from being passed in the Senate. The 21 smallest states represent ELEVEN PERCENT of the entire American population. ELEVEN PERCENT of the population can hold the Senate hostage and prevent any bill they want from passing.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/is-the-filibuster-unconstitutional/2012/05/15/gIQAYLp7QU_blog.html

    You want to tell me that THAT isn’t enough? You want to tell me that the least populous states need MORE POWER??? That they need weighted voting for electing the PRESIDENT as well?

    Good god, man.

  159. Wait. This is so wrong:

    Jeff: but think of how little the candidates pay attention to Wyoming now

    Lack of attention has nothign to do with Wyoming being small and everything to do with Wyoming being one of the reddest states in the country. And because the Electoral Votes are awarded in a winner-take-all method, if 51% of Wyoming votes Republican, then ALL of the EC votes go Republican. And since Wyoming is probably more like 80% republican, its pretty much a done deal that all Wyoming EC votes will go to Romney.

    Presidential campaigns don’t pay much attention to Massachusetts either. Not because Massachusetss is small but because it is solidly a blue state, and because the electoral college is winner-take-all, if 51% or more of the state votes Obama, then all EC votes go to Obama.

    The ONLY states that presidential candidates pay attention to are not the SMALL states or the BIG states, but the states that are “battleground” states or the “purple” states. States that have a nearly 50/50 republican/democrat split in their voting population are important to presidential campaigns because if you can just sway 1% of the vote your way, you get ALL the Electoral College votes for that state.

    Wyoming is ignored because it generally has a huge percentage voting republican, and a democratic presidential candidate would have to sway 30 or 40% of the state’s voters to vote for him. If the candidate only convinces 20% to vote democrat, then all that time, money, and energy was wasted because whether the vote is 80/20 or 60/40, all EC votes still go to the Republican.

    You’ve identified the wrong cause of the problem. States are ignored because the winner-takes-all approach means that the only states worth focusing on are the purple states. Big purple state or little purple state, doesn’t matter. It just has to be purple. If its a solid red or solid blue state, then the candidates ignore it. Big Red, Little Red, Big Blue, or Little Blue, doesn’t matter, the candidates ignore it because they have to spend a lot of money and sway a lot of voters before they’ll see a single result from all that work.

    If its a popular vote, then EVERY vote counts, and the candidates will want to focus on ALL the states. Even if you keep the EC, but award them all based on proportion of votes rather than winner-take-all, then you still get the advantage that the presidential candidates will want to focus on all the states, not just the battleground ones.

  160. Late reply/followup to Sean Sandulak @October 31, 2012 at 4:08 pm:

    In Canada, you register to vote when you pay your taxes, and election campaigns are a maximum of six weeks long, by law.

    Actually at the federal level you don’t have to register to vote in Canada it just makes things easier for you. There are a number of ways to get on the voter list including, but not limited to, ticking a box on your income tax form, ticking a box on your form you fill out for your driver’s licence and being on the voters list of many of the provinces. Elections Canada has a handy, dandy list of ways of get on those lists, how to check if you are on the lists, ways to opt out of the lists if you want your information kept private and ways to check (online) if all the information is correct http://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=vot&dir=reg/des&document=index&lang=e,

    Functionally for most people this means that once you are on the list you don’t have to do anything to stay on the voters lists when you move. For example, my (elderly) dad moved several years ago and, of course, sent in change of address slip for his driver’s licence and his government pensions. When next we had a federal election he got a card in the mail telling him where he voted now he had moved. That was it.

  161. @Greg You don’t have to shout, I can read your comments just fine.

    “Does the Judicial branch also have to protect small states and balance the power populous states get?” – Apparently not, at least in the minds of the framers. Installing protections in two out of three branches of government was enough. I’m not entirely sure why this was thought: perhaps something to do with the attempt to separate the Judicial branch from everyday politics? (Not that -that- worked out entirely.)

    I also understand what a filibuster is. I don’t much care for the current procedure for filibusters, myself, so I agree with you there — though my solution would be to get rid of the changes made to the cloture rule in the 1970s. You’re just describing the specific level of power small states have in the Legislative branch doesn’t actually answer the question of whether or not small states require protections in the Executive branch, though. You’re the one that wants to do away with the EC here. Isn’t the burden of proof as to how much protection small states require on you?

    I feel like we’re retreading old ground on some of this. Obviously, Wyoming being overwhelmingly Republican is another reason why it doesn’t receive campaign attention. but why would I bother spending a lot of campaign dollars on a state worth 3 electoral votes (current system) when others are available? If you get rid of winner-take-all, you’ve just reduced most 3 electoral vote states to 2/1, so you’re certainly not sweetening the pot for me to trudge out to Wyoming there. Going by population, what… 500,000? I’m probably looking at a worst-case scenario of a 350k/150k split, that’s not too bad, I can pick up 200k votes just by spending some campaign time in a few populous cities. Either way, you’re reducing the effectiveness of the average Wyoming citizen’s vote, so you’re not going to convince them to change.

    Speaking of which, do you have any expectation of getting rid of the Electoral College in the actual world? I realize in the hypothetical you can create whatever system you want, but you’d need a Constitutional Amendment to either get rid of the EC or force states to adopt split-voting instead of winner-take-all. The link you provided earlier had at least 20 states with a vote weight above 1.0, which is more than enough to block an amendment regardless of how you would go about it.

    Also, I’m not purposely ignoring your “big red, little red, etc.” section. I still just think focusing on the specific politics of various states with regards to elector policy, is the wrong way to think about things. No state is guaranteed to be politically locked in one mode forever. The South was solidly Democrat for almost a century before the Civil Rights Amendment. The 2008 election saw states changing that we didn’t think were in play. So while Wyoming may be mostly Republican for the next 100 years, nothing is set in stone about it. Its current political makeup shouldn’t be a factor in deciding how it determines its electors.

  162. Jeff: my solution would be to get rid of the changes made to the cloture rule in the 1970s. You’re just describing the specific level of power small states have in the Legislative branch

    With fillibuster, 21 states(21 smallest states is 11% of the population) can obstruct the entire country.
    Without fillibuster, 25 states (25 smallest states is 17% of population) can obstruct the entire country.

    Getting rid of the fillibuster still leaves a massive amount of voting power to the smaller states in the Senate.

    You’re the one that wants to do away with the EC here. Isn’t the burden of proof as to how much protection small states require on you?

    I provided the proof. No legislation can be passed without the Senate. Senators representing 17% of the US population can obstruct the wishes of 83% of the nation. To me, that is MORE than enough voting power given to smaller states. My question to you was simple: You want to tell me that THAT isn’t enough? You want to tell me that the least populous states need MORE POWER???

    And actually, now that i think about it, the Judicial Branch DOES give small states more voting power, because Supreme Court justices have to be confirmed by a vote of the SENATE. So, once again, Senators representing 17% of the population can obstruct the wishes of the remaining 83%. And to me that is MORE than enough state-based influence in government. And you’re telling me small states need MORE influence?

    So while Wyoming may be mostly Republican for the next 100 years, nothing is set in stone about it. Its current political makeup shouldn’t be a factor in deciding how it determines its electors.

    DUDE. Did you ever hear me argue that Wyoming should be treated differently because it was Republican? No. I said it is NOT a SWING STATE, and THAT is why presidential candidates ignore it. You tried to say Wyoming was ignored because it was SMALL. The reason I keep throwing CAPS in here is because you’re either not READING what I wrote, or you’re ignoring it. A BIG state would be ignored today just as much as a small state like Wyoming is ignored as long as the big state was solidly voting one way. i.e. if the big state is not a SWING STATE, then the candidates will IGNORE that BIG STATE.

    So, the winner-takes-all effect of the electoral college has teh presidential campaign pretty much ignore ALL STATES that are NOT SWING STATES. Wyoming isn’t some special snowflake for being ignored. Wyoming isn’t ignored because it is SMALL. It’s ignored because it’s not purple. ALL solid red and solid blue states are ignored. Big and small.

  163. I think you’re both/all forgetting something in the EC vs. PV. Each state has a fixed number of EC votes, but the percentage of registered voters who actually bother to vote in any state has nothing to do with where the EC votes go. In other words, it only 2% of Illinois votes and 100% of Wyoming votes, the EC would be heavily blue, but the PV would be Red. A better way to fix the electoral college might be to weight the EC votes by turnout in each state before adding them in to the totals.

  164. why would I bother spending a lot of campaign dollars on a state worth 3 electoral votes (current system) when others are available?

    If only there were a battleground state with a comparable number of electoral votes we could use to show that no candidate would spend time or money there. One with maybe, say, 4 electoral votes. Like, I dunno, New Hampshire, maybe?

    You’re the one that wants to do away with the EC here. Isn’t the burden of proof as to how much protection small states require on you?

    If I may…
    We may be relying on on CGP Grey a bit much in this thread, but he makes a good irrefutable point: it is mathematically possible to win the Electoral College with only 20% of the popular vote. That should not happen. Now, the actual odds of it occurring are extremely remote (it requires the winner to win only the smallest states to get to the required 270 electoral votes, to win those states by 50%+1 vote, and to loose the other states with 0% of the vote), but it is a serious flaw in the system that such an outcome is even possible. Would you accept a system where 1 person out of 5 could dictate the decisions of the group?

  165. controuble, I hadn’t even thought of that conundrum. I think that points to yet another reason to dump the EC. The EC winner-takes-all encourages voter apathy. Voter apathy means fewer people vote. Fewer people voting could result in a tiny percentage of the population awarding the EC votes for the entire state to one candidate.

    If you have voter apathy, and people aren’t voting, then the candidates really shouldn’t get that person’s EC vote.

  166. I’ve been thinking that between the announcement and the primaries each candidate should have to take (or retake) the GRE, LSAT, GMAT, and MCAT and make the scores public. Since they will have to be deciding on complicated issues in each area it would be nice to have some benchmarking for their aptitude.

  167. Doc: We may be relying on on CGP Grey a bit much in this thread

    I hadn’t heard of him until you mentioned him. Will have to watch some of his videos now.

    Thinking about my Senate example, it can actually be worse than I originally said:

    25 states (25 smallest states is 17% of population) can obstruct the entire country.

    My math assumed that those 50 senators all got unanimously elected. The reality is each Senator only needs 51% of the popular vote to win their senate seat. That means that in the absolute worst case, 0.51 * 17% => 9% of the US population could elect enough senators to blockade the entire Senate. It also means that 9% of the US population could elect enough senators to prevent a Supreme Court nominee from being confirmed.

    Holy Christ.

  168. Greg – That’s why I said weight them based on turnout. IL has 20 EC. If they have only 40% turnout for the election, only 20 x 0.4 or 8 of them are awarded to the winner. We won’t know the winning number of EC collected until all turnout percentages are calculated since the full 538 would not be awarded without 100% voter turnout. Like that’s gonna happen *snort* Of course that means we’re ALL going to have to deal with the political ads instead of just the battleground states. Hm, maybe not such a great idea, but that’s one reason I don’t watch TV.

  169. @ Greg “If you have voter apathy, and people aren’t voting, then the candidates really shouldn’t get that person’s EC vote.” Alternatively, you could say that the EC works in spite of voter apathy. The relative enthusiasm of a state’s voters does not impact its EC vote at all. And the candidates isn’t getting “that person’s EC vote.” They’re getting that state’s EC vote. Because in the actual world, it’s still states that vote for the President.

    @ Doc Rocketscience “We may be relying on on CGP Grey a bit much in this thread, but he makes a good irrefutable point: it is mathematically possible to win the Electoral College with only 20% of the popular vote.” Should we judge a voting system based on what is absurdly unlikely but theoretically possible? In a straight popular vote world, it’s theoretically possible for John Smith from RI to be the only person who votes nationally (Unprecedented voter apathy in that world, apparently, but hey, it’s mathematically possible). I realize that’s particularly silly, and the people in John Smith’s world might fall into the “if you don’t vote, you can’t complain,” category. Not that I ever really agreed with that statement. The right to vote and the right to complain are separate unto themselves.

    Good spot with New Hampshire, I’d forgotten about it. I’ll cede my previous argument about candidates ignoring states with small numbers of electoral votes. This doesn’t mean that in the hypothetical popular vote world that candidates would focus any more attention on Wyoming though. They’ll focus attention on whatever they’ve determined to be their path to victory.

    @ Greg “You want to tell me that the least populous states need MORE POWER???” Pretty much, yeah. Or rather, I think they should have the amount of power they currently have (minus already referenced filibuster changes). You want them to have less power. Or, ahem, excuse me. LESS POWER. I think it’s beneficial for all states to have a certain level of influence. I think it’s important for protections to exist for the minority in the government. (Regardless of how you determine that minority, be it political parties or as we’ve been discussing, small states versus large states) I think in a three-branch government, it is consistent with the constitution to have protections for those minorities in more than one branch of the government. I’ve already agreed with you that the filibuster has become too powerful, which is why I think it’d be a good idea to revise cloture rules.

  170. @Greg:

    “Holy Christ.”

    I’ve got 1787 on the phone. It wants its outrage about the great compromise back. Mostly, I think it wants letters to the editor. I may have given them a hint how the newspaper industry would turn out.

  171. Jeff: Alternatively, you could say that the EC works in spite of voter apathy. The relative enthusiasm of a state’s voters does not impact its EC vote at all. And the candidates isn’t getting “that person’s EC vote.” They’re getting that state’s EC vote. Because in the actual world, it’s still states that vote for the President.

    That’s a logical fallacy known as Argumentum ad antiquitatem. The example given for that fallacy is:

    “that’s the way it’s always been.”

    So, no, you can’t alternatively say the EC works in spite of voter apathy. All you can say is that the EC does what it does because that’s the way it does it. And if you didn’t notice, that statement doesn’t actually say anything about the EC being better or worse than non-EC methods. All you’ve said is that it’s older.

    yay.

    Should we judge a voting system based on what is absurdly unlikely but theoretically possible?

    Well, at least that judgement is based off of math.

    Saying the EC is good because good is the EC doesn’t really prove anything. To quote you back to yourself: Isn’t the burden of proof as to how much protection small states require on you? As far as I’ve seen, you haven’t proven anything. You’ve basically said “that’s the way teh Founding Father’s created it, that’s the way it’s always been” and proven nothing as to the actual merits of the current electoral college system. You assume it is “correct” and think everyone else needs to disprove it. Which brings us back to the Argumentum ad antiquitatem fallacy.

    Good spot with New Hampshire, I’d forgotten about it. I’ll cede my previous argument about candidates ignoring states with small numbers of electoral votes. This doesn’t mean that in the hypothetical popular vote world that candidates would focus any more attention on Wyoming though.

    If Wyoming was a battleground state, they would. As long as Wyoming is a solid red state, they won’t. If you’re worried about Wyoming being ignored, then you’re arguing against winner-take-all EC vote assignment. You’re arguing against your own position.

    Out of curiosity, are you from Wyoming? Because you don’t seem concerned about whether it’s a battleground state or not. You dont’ seem concerned about states being solid red or blue. You don’t even seem concerned about small states any more, because you just “ceded your previous argument” about candidates ignoring small states. The only thing you seemed really concerned about is Wyoming. And nothing you’ve said actually explains this fascination with Wyoming.

    I think they should have the amount of power they currently have (minus already referenced filibuster changes).

    You know why people here keep focusing on math? because statements like that look silly when the actual numbers are shown. You say you support fillibuster changes. Yeah? REmember these numbers?

    With fillibuster, 21 states(21 smallest states is 11% of the population) can obstruct the entire country.
    Without fillibuster, 25 states (25 smallest states is 17% of population) can obstruct the entire country.

    And then I pointed out that the Senators only need 51% of the vote to get elected, so really it could be 6% of the population can obstruct the senate with a fillibuster, and 9% can obstruct the senate if you remove the fillibuster.

    Why is 6% controlling the senate wrong enough that you would support getting rid of the filibuster, but 9% is OK that you don’t see any issues with that?

    . I think it’s important for protections to exist for the minority in the government.

    Oh my god. Now we’re back to circular logic. YOu start with a premise that can only lead to one conclusion: The minority has to have a larger say than the rest of the people.

    Hey, I got an idea. Why don’t we give black people more voting weight. They’re a minority, aren’t they? Or how about latinos? No? Well, then you don’t give a shit about minorities, do you? You are doing that thing you did before where you’re trying to make “people in small states” to be the same as groups people think of when you say the word “minority”.

    To quote the first time you invoked this phrasing: in order to protect minorities

    Protect them from what? If 81% of the country wants X, and 9% of the country wants Y, how exactly do you decide what happens? The 9% get their way and the 81% can go screw? I think at that point, one could argue that the 81% would need serious protection from the 9%.

    I can think of all sorts of scenarios where the 9% are a group of bastards and what they want is purely in their own self interest and at to the detriment of a large swath of the rest of the population.

    Oh, I know, like white plantation owners in the sparsely populated South getting their slaves to be counted as three-fifths of a person to determine how many congressmen and how many electoral votes they get, while denying their slaves a right to vote. A powerful minority used slaves to stack the congress and to stack the EC vote for their states, to the detriment of everyone else.

    That actually happened.

    Should we judge a voting system based on what is absurdly unlikely but theoretically possible?

    Well, here’s another crazy theoretical possibility: How about a bunch of small states with cotton plantations using their extra voting weight to keep slavery legal for a hundred years and then after a civil war that nearly tears the country apart, they use that same extra voter weight to enact Jim Crow laws to keep segregation in place adn keep a minority as second class citizens for another hundred years? That would never happen, eh?

    History shows what really happens when a small minority has extra power over everyone else.

    So, again, you’ve not shown any kind of merits for the current EC system other than that’s how we’ve always done it. And you’re criticisms against people suggesting changing it are to act as if the mathematical realities they point out, that a small group of people could potentially hijack the nation, could never really happen, that it’s just an absurdly unlikely thing. And yet, anyone who has studied the least bit of American history would know it describes a good part of what happened the first two centuries of this countries existence.

    And when pushed, the best you can do is attempt to portray these small states with more power than everyone else as a minority group who needs protection. In complete and total defiance of two hundred years of actual American history.

  172. Jeff, I’d say the biggest difference in our (extreme) examples is that yours represents an all-but-complete breakdown of the popular vote system (you only get your result if only 1 person votes), whereas in mine the electoral system functioned perfectly (I can get this result if everyone votes).

    I’ll also note that while you’re pretty adamant that rural states should have more power than urban ones, you haven’t demonstrated that they need more power.

  173. OtherBill: I’ve got 1787 on the phone. It wants its outrage about the great compromise back.

    yeah, I’m slow. I knew the system could be abused. I just never sat down and penciled out the numbers. But 6% to fillibuster, and 9% to shut the senate down, DOES explain how a small but determined minority group of assholes can fuck up the entire nation.

    So, it really IS that the power goes to land-owning white males. The low population, high land area, states, the states with the highest voting power, basically means that the more land you own, the more your vote counts. Maybe we should just call it what it is and make it purely mathematical and less bullshit spin trying to cover up what they really did.

    You get 1 vote per acre of land you own.

    Hm. That’s weird. There’s “Plutocracy”=>Rule of the rich. But there’s no word for “rule by land owners”. The only form of government that is tied to land ownership is… Feudalism.

    Hm.

  174. @Greg “That’s a logical fallacy known as Argumentum ad antiquitatem. The example given for that fallacy is…” No in fact, I wasn’t making an Argumentum ad antiquitatem, but thank you for putting words in my mouth. Here’s a break down of what I said.

    “It works in spite of apathy.” A state’s electoral power does not fluctuate because turnout was unusually high or unusually low, because the number of electors has already been set. You choose to see this as encouraging apathy, because voters think, “I don’t need to make it to the polls, because my vote won’t affect the state’s electoral power.” I choose to think that voters think, “My state’s electoral power remains consistent, even if I fail to make it to the polls.” Both are valid ways to frame the same data.

    I find it beneficial and timely that a state’s electoral power won’t be diminished for reasons outside of voter control. Like if you have a freak hurricane hit your state around election day. We’ll find out for sure in a few days whether or not the Northeast states have a poorer turnout because of Hurricane Sandy. In a Popular vote world, or having EC power weighted to voter turnout as described by someone above, those states may find themselves with less of a voice in this year’s election.

    And spare me any bullshit horror stories about mathematically possible scenarios where some event stops all the voters of one political strip in a state and as a result the opposing party wins all those juicy Electoral votes unfairly.

    When I said, “And the candidates isn’t getting “that person’s EC vote.” They’re getting that state’s EC vote. Because in the actual world, it’s still states that vote for the President.” I was NOT making an argument that it’s always been the states that voted for President, and therefore it’s good because that’s the way it’s always been. I was CORRECTING you, when you used the phrase “that person’s EC vote,” because a person doesn’t have an EC vote, a state does. I’m not making a value judgement on whether or not that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it happens to be the way it actually is. Wanting it to be different does not make it actually so. You’re practicing what I call the, “If I say it often enough and loudly enough it’ll be true” fallacy, popular with Republicans.

    @ Greg “Wyoming, etc.” Okay. *laugh* I used Wyoming as an example because you brought it up. Look back. You used examples of Wyoming versus California. I figured I’d stick with the example state you brought up. To be quite honest, when you first pointed out how much more valuable a Wyoming citizen’s vote was compared to a Californian’s, my first thought was, “Yeah, but they have to live in Wyoming.”

    “…And then I pointed out that the Senators only need 51% of the vote to get elected, so really it could be 6% of the population can obstruct the senate with a fillibuster…” Has any scenario like this ever actually happened? I mean, I could walk outside and get struck by lightning five times in a row. It’s mathematically possible (You seem to have a hang-up on what is mathematically possible, btw). But I’m not going to plan my day around it.

    I still care about small states, the argument I ceded was that presidential candidates would ignore a small state just because it was small.

    And we’re back to the minority argument. When I say protect a minority from a majority, I mean exactly what I say. I don’t care which minority is being protected from which majority. Be that small rural populations from populous urban centers. Small states from Large states. Ethnic minorities. Between the comment about blacks and latinos, white plantation owners, and Jim Crow laws, I think you’re drawing some rather bold and insulting assumptions about me personally.

    By the way, you’re wrong about the three-fifths section of the Constitution. Those Southern white plantation owners wanted each slave to count as a full person for the purpose of calculating population. Northerners didn’t want to count slaves at all for purpose of population. (Don’t kid yourself into thinking this was just because they were great humanitarians who bled for the slave’s plight. They wanted to keep the recorded population of the South as low as possible in order to maintain power over the South in Congress. Fights over legislative power having to do with population? Crazy, I know.) It was a Northern compromise to count slaves as three-fifths.

    Jim Crow laws were passed on a state-by-state basis. But it’s actually a representation of racist majorities in each state legislature passing laws to develop segregation and keep a minority as second-class citizens for roughly a hundred years. Hey, that’s actually ends up being one for my column. A clear-cut example of long-standing permanent majorities in state governments, using the power of that majority to abuse those with little or no representation..

    I figure I’ll just ignore your closing paragraphs where you lecture me about history, considering you didn’t get the above correct. Also, I’m starting to get a bit mean, so I think I’ll step away for a day or two, just to let things cool down a bit.

  175. @Greg and DocRocketScience:

    From @Greg:

    “So, again, you’ve not shown any kind of merits for the current EC system other than that’s how we’ve always done it.”

    Well, why do we have a Senate then? Your argument regarding the unfair weighting of votes calls for the abolition of the Electoral College. The Senate was designed expressly to placate concerns that population heavy states could exercise de facto dominion over population light states. Whether it does that effectively or not, I suppose is debatable.

    “How about a bunch of small states with cotton plantations using their extra voting weight to keep slavery legal for a hundred years and then after a civil war that nearly tears the country apart, they use that same extra voter weight to enact Jim Crow laws to keep segregation in place adn keep a minority as second class citizens for another hundred years? That would never happen, eh?”

    Well, that’s not exactly *how* that happened. And you’re running roughshod over something that’s been a legitimately argued position for something like 225 years in favor of rhetorical outrage. I think you’re conflating issues with the Electoral College and the apportionment of Senators as a result.

    From @Doc:

    “I’ll also note that while you’re pretty adamant that rural states should have more power than urban ones, you haven’t demonstrated that they need more power.”

    I think that since it’s enshrined in the Constituation and the argument is taught in its entirety from, like, the 6th grade and revisted every subsequent year, we can take as entered into the record some of the tenets of this position. Exclaiming (literally in Greg’s case) “Holy Christ! This could get out of control” and proceeding with shock, SHOCK, that someone would puport to support the smaller states concerns in the Great Compromise is not particularly pursuasive here.

    You’re arguing for a major change to the way we elect a President. Rhetorically, I can see some value in raising awareness by posing the direct question to people “Yeah, well, why do we need an electoral college?” Because, I can see that most people couldn’t substantiate – on demand – their position that the election process be run as it has been.

    Your calls for the change of the electoral process don’t really seem to have answered any of the concerns present during the complex puzzle that was the assembly of the entirety of our federal governing process. I think the onus falls to your side of the argument to explain why states no longer matter as functional entities in the make up of our federal government.

  176. OtherBill: Well, why do we have a Senate then?

    People suggested dumping the EC. Jeff tried to portray that as disenfranchising the poor picked on small state victims. I pointed out that small states would still have all the protections that are embodied in the Senate and dumping the EC doesn’t strip the small virtuous states naked before the big evil states.

    The question posed to Jeff was something to the effect of: Aren’t the small states protected ENOUGH by the Senate? Is the Senate such an insufficient protection for small states (9% of the populatoin bringing the Senate to a halt, 9% of the population obstructing a supreme court confirmation), that small states must also have 3 times more weight when they vote in the presidential elections?

    And apparently Jeff says yes. He never says why without resorting to emotional pleading or some other kind of logical fallacy. (It’s always been that way) But that’s the reason the Senate came up. Not to get rid of the Senate, but to point out that the Senate provides AMPLE protection for those oor, defenseless little states who have to beg for their farm subsidies, and often get more federal money than they pay in taxes. How they survive is beyond me. But the point is that somehow, magically I suppose, the Senate protects little states.

    . Exclaiming (literally in Greg’s case) “Holy Christ! This could get out of control” and proceeding with shock, SHOCK, that someone would puport to support the smaller states concerns in the Great Compromise is not particularly pursuasive here.

    I may have expressed shock, SHOCK, but I’ve also presented some actual arguments to show the EC disenfranchises whoever is in the minority party of each state (which creates voter apathy among many voters), that voter weights for presidential elections are 3.5 times bigger between smallest state and biggest state (which points out who is actually disenfranchised), and that the Senate provides plenty of protections for small states ( such that the Electoral College isn’t needed to protect the Federalist approach to govenment).

    Jeff’s posts have spanned the fallacy spectrum from a strawman suggesting this is just a democrat ploy to pick on rural republicans , to circular logic of protections exist in order to protect, to emotionally loaded strawman of democrats turningn “their noses at folks in the ghetto” (with “ghetto” being an emotional plea), to a strawman that demonizes people wanting fair elections as indifferent (sucks to be you), and that everyone having a voting weight of 1 is disenfranchising people who have a voting weight 3 times more that others. And besides making one form of logical fallacy or another, he hasn’t actually made any sort of logical argment for his position. “That’s the way its done” isn’t an argument.

    I think the onus falls to your side of the argument to explain why states no longer matter as functional entities in the make up of our federal government.

    Erm, who said “states no longer matter as functional entities”? Cause having you lecture me on the rules of rhetoric in the same post you make up this strawman is making my head spin.

    Again, the sequence was

    (several people): dump the EC
    Jeff: You’re disenfranchisging the minority voters that need protection. And you don’t care!
    Greg: The Senate will provide states with plenty of protection. They don’t need the EC too.
    Jeff: Could it be a democrat plot to disenfranchise rural republicans???? Enquiring minds want to know.
    Greg: (math)
    Jeff: nuh-UH!
    OtherBill: explain why states no longer matter as functional entities
    Greg: I’m a what? What am I?
    Ze Joan Wilder: You’re a mondo dismo. A man who takes money from stranded women.

    (paraphrasing, obvioiusly)

    I wasn’t saying “states no longer matter”. Just that all the negatives that come from the EC are enough to justify dumping it. Concerns about small states are still handled by the existence of the Senate. Abolishing of the EC is not the same as saying States don’t matter.

  177. @Greg:

    “You get 1 vote per acre of land you own.”

    As an aspiring Lex Luthor, I unequivocally support this measure. No take backs.

    “Cause having you lecture me on the rules of rhetoric in the same post you make up this strawman is making my head spin.”

    Heh. heh heh.

    “But that’s the reason the Senate came up. Not to get rid of the Senate, but to point out that the Senate provides AMPLE protection for those poor, defenseless little states who have to beg for their farm subsidies, and often get more federal money than they pay in taxes.”

    More seriously. That’s not how I read what you were wrote. I was teasing you a bit, and I do appreciate that you’ve gone back and unmuddied some of the references to similar problems with the Senate. But I kinda think your post at 8:49 was like a shotgun blast of sort of related nightmare (real and imagined) scenarios.

    “and that the Senate provides plenty of protections for small states ( such that the Electoral College isn’t needed to protect the Federalist approach to govenment).”

    I really don’t see where you were saying that. But, so stipulated. I admit, I’m more ammenable to that argument. However – he said in capital letters – I’m not sure how you separate the Electoral College unfairly weighting popultions from the idea that the Senate unfairly weights populations. I mean, that’s its fundamental design. Which is why…

    “Abolishing of the EC is not the same as saying States don’t matter.”

    I’m genuinely not sure that’s correct. The US prior to its current form was a lot closer to the EU under the Articles of Confederation. The notion of how closely the independent entities of states should come together for issues like trade and defense was the big argument of the constitutional congress. States rights – and not the dog whistle argument for institutionalized racism and theocracy – were a big deal. This was one of the drivers for the electoral college, proportional representation in the house and even representation in the senate.

    Direct popular vote election of the President is a decay of states’ power and representation in the executive branch. And, obviously, Presidents hold quite a bit of power (now with Executive Death Glider Action). In a popular vote scenario, urban centers and major cities hold the majority of power. The concern being that localized groups of people tend to identify similar problems, solutions and debates. Policy perspective is different in Rural Coal Mining Town, KY than it is in NYC. You’ve got large clusters of the national population living similar lives in big cities.

    I can’t see how removing the Electoral college on the grounds that it unfairly weights votes doesn’t lead to the abolishment of the senate and a diminishment of the sense of States in the United States. ::stops hyperventilating:: I don’t think it crashes the United States of America to go down that path. But, it does fundamentally alter some of its defining philosophies. I can’t see having a conversation about that which fails to openly acknowledge this as a long term effect.

    TL;DR: I didn’t realize four instances in our history of a popular vote losing to the electoral college ended our country’s ability to function democratically. It don’t seem particularly broke to me. Whatevs.

  178. I’m surprised to see a group of such educated and passionate intellectuals thinking so squarely INSIDE the box. Why must the solution be either keep the status quo or completely abandon the electoral college? Why not keep the electoral college and modify it to better represent the will of the people while still preserving the importance of voters from small states? I am a government teacher, and yesterday a 12th grade student proposed adding 20 electoral votes to the system that would be awarded to the winner of the popular vote. His argument was that in cases where the electoral vote and the popular vote yielded the same winner, there would be no problem with the extra votes. And in cases where the winner of the two calculations was not the same, a candidate would have to win the electoral vote by a fairly large margin to overturn the will of the people as expressed by popular vote. I thought it was rather brilliant – particularly for an individual who will only be eligible to vote in this election by virtue of having been born in the last week of October rather than the second week of November.

  179. OtherBill: But I kinda think your post at 8:49 was like a shotgun blast

    No, no, no. it’s like a shotgun, bang.
    what’s up with that thang. I want to know how does it hang.

    Mostly I was getting tired of Jeff doing nothing but making logical fallacies rather than presenting a case FOR the EC other than “that’s the way we do it”. So I started pointing out all the fallacies he invoked in his posts, which leaves essentially nothing that is actually a logical argument for his case.

    I can’t see how removing the Electoral college on the grounds that it unfairly weights votes doesn’t lead to the abolishment of the senate

    I think you could make some money selling lift tickets to anyone who wants to ski down that slippery slope.

    Policy perspective is different in Rural Coal Mining Town, KY than it is in NYC.

    yes, yes. and it can be reduced to more fundamental principles:

    He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them. … He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only. … He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

    in short, all politics is local politics.

    I didn’t realize four instances in our history of a popular vote losing to the electoral college ended our country’s ability to function democratically.

    Well, the issue isn’t seeing *some* need for states rights and *some* need for popular democracy. The issue is being willing to see when it’s not working well. Defining the centers of the definitions isn’t the problem. It’s defining where the edges are.

    I think fillibusters need to be completely re-evaluated because I think they’re broken.

    It don’t seem particularly broke to me.

    I didn’t even mention the four elections as what is broken about the EC. It’s an example of one problem with the EC, but I dont see it as the biggeset problem that the EC creates.

    The biggest problem I said the EC creates is that the winner-takes-all aspect of the EC creates a huge disencentive for minority party voters in all solid red/blue states. If you are a democrat in Wyoming or a republican in Massachusetts, your vote for president disappears and shows up in no measurable way in the tally that actually decides who gets to be president. By putting the EC between voters and the president, it disenfranchises those who would dissent, and dissent is the most important parrt of democracy. We don’t need free speech to let people cheerlead the government, we need free speech so people can criticize the government, disagree with the government. And the way the EC wipes out the votes of anyone who dissented from the majority vote in their state, is just horrible.

    So, the EC clearly needs fixing.

    And while we’re fixing it, having small states get bigger weight that big states is also a problem to address, so make it a direct popular vote. The other problem is that having a majority-vote-wins system naturally reinforces a two-party system. Ralph Nader took votes from Gore that could have made Gore president. If we had instant-runnoff or condercet voting of some kind, then we could have presidential elections where the two biggest candidates have competition from candidates similar to their beliefs.

    Right now, no progressive wants to criticize Obama’s assassination program too severely because they’re afraid it might cause Romney to win. They don’t want Romney to win, they just want Obama to stop murdering due process. Majority-vote-wins doesn’t allow criticism within your own party.

    I think Scalzi’s idea of limiting the candidates to 3 should be expanded to a total of 4. What will likely happen is you’ll get a fairly standard left/right mainstream politican, and you’ll also (hopefully) end up with two secondary candidates who can provide direct criticism to the two main candidates.

    i.e. if you had an election where the two “big” candidates were Al Gore and George Bush, and in that election you also had secondary candidates to provide legitimate criticism of both candidates, such as Ross Perot to criticize Bush, and someone like Raph Nader to criticize Gore, I think that sort of election would be a major improvement to what we have now.

    What we have now is whoever is the incumbent president doesn’t get criticized by their own party. Bush Jr was the worst president in history and Republicans got in line behind his reelection because they didn’t want to introduce a new candidate. Incumbency has its advantages. Bringing in a new candidate means you have to admit you made a mistake 4 years ago. and all of this is reinforced by the majority-vote-wins system.

    If it was an instant runoff system, this election might have Obama running for reelection, and some other progressive candidate could run near Obama’s position to provide criticism of stuff like the asssassination program, without the system requiring that votes for that candidate taking votes away from Obama.

    My focus of dumping the EC isn’t that some popular elections were tossed in favor of EC elections, though that’s an issue. My main focus of dumping the EC is that it disenfranchises dissenting voters in a lot of states so it needs fixing. And if we’re going to fix it, why not make it a condercet system where the two main candidates have similar-but-not-quite competition who can criticize the main candidates without worrying about stealing votes from the main candidates.

    Instead, the current system basically encourages a two party system with no dissent and no criticism from like minded people. People hated Nader for running against Gore not because Nader was a bad person, but because his run neccessarily meant he would be taking votes from Gore. Right now, there might be a progressive candidate out there who owuld be a legitimate progressive alternative to Obama, but because the EC reinforces a two party system and because a thirdd party progressive candidate would only take votes away from Obama and help Romney, there is massive disincentive to criticize Obama right now. No one wants to get too harsh on him in case it chases some undecided voters to Romney.

    Condercet voting would allow criticism during this election without requiring that votes for the alternative progressive candidate take a vote from Obama and help Romney win.

    tl;dr; The EC should be dumped because it disenfranchises dissent in multiple ways.

  180. Greg – I see this, but I’m on nights and am 90% sacked out at the moment. I’ll have a thoughtful response tonight when I’m back up. Just didn’t want to leave you hanging on a conversation that’s getting interesting.

  181. @otherbill
    So, what, it’s in the Constitution, therefore it’s perfect just the way it is? If the guys who wrote the Constitution thought that, then why did they include, and then immediately implement, a means of changing the bloody thing? So, who’s the one thats shocked, SHOCKED, that we might discuss changing it further?

    If you’d like my read on the Great Compromise, I have thought (since the 6th grade) that it was a weak-ass idea brought about because the members of the Constitutional Convention were convinced that all the other members were assholes. I’m also neither willing nor able to separate the Great Compromise from the blatantly evil piece of work that was the 3/5ths Compromise. So there’s that, as well. Frankly, I amazed that it took four score years for one side or the other to just say “Fuck y’all” and start shooting. And I fairly certain the only reason we’ve only had one civil war is because, between Sherman and the “Restoration”, the North set the South back about 50 years, and much of it is still trying to catch up.

    These issues aren’t that complex. They’re childish. And they bring out the very worst in people. When was the last time you heard a “state’s rights advocate” advocating for anything other than their state’s “right” to treat some portion of its citizenry like shit? The current system gives low population states the power to dictate to the rest of the country. Yet people still bleat about how unfair it is to live in a low population state, and how mean the high population states are, things that are “enshrined” (and, seriously, fuck that word) in the Constitution. Whatevs, indeed.

    I do think the Senate is a silly organization in concept and practice. And as much as I hate the policies of Congressional Republicans, I will give them this: they’ve made a strong case for the idea that the House is where the real power is. But I’m not suggesting that we rehash the entire Great Compromise. Just the part where the President is elected by a means that is, frankly, antithetical to the idea of “free and fair elections.” Pardon the fuck out of me.

  182. The only major issue I have with this is between points 3 and 4 … so you can’t be a coordinated member of a party, and you can’t get more than $2K per individual for financing, yet somehow you’ve drummed up support across a large number of states? Other than the ultra-rich and individuals who have huge support from lobbyists (these categories not being mutually exclusive natch), who could possibly run?

  183. @Greg:
    “Well, the issue isn’t seeing *some* need for states rights and *some* need for popular democracy. The issue is being willing to see when it’s not working well. Defining the centers of the definitions isn’t the problem. It’s defining where the edges are.”

    I could not agree with the spirit of this more, Greg.

    “I think you could make some money selling lift tickets to anyone who wants to ski down that slippery slope.”

    Perha-Hey! What’s that over there?

    “in short, all politics is local politics”

    Quoting the Declaration of Independence. That’s the spirit! I offer in return agreement that while all politics is local politics, localities are important:

    “That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.”

    Note the emphasis on the idea of the colonies as States, with the same descriptor as the State of Great Britain. States are allocated a proportionate amount of votes for the Electoral College. And, allowed to cast those votes by whatever determination they see fit.

    “The biggest problem I said the EC creates is that the winner-takes-all aspect of the EC creates a huge disencentive for minority party voters in all solid red/blue states.”

    We speak as States when we elect our President and our Senators. We speak as communities when elect our Representatives. States have the ability to determine the manner in which those electoral votes are cast. It’s a state issue.

    “By putting the EC between voters and the president, it disenfranchises those who would dissent, and dissent is the most important parrt of democracy.”

    Freedom to dissent is a fundamental pillar of democracy. But, I don’t see how they are disenfranchised. Or, have had that freedom to dissent taken away. The Redness and Blueness of States have been made up by individual political leanings in each state measured in the aggregate. It’s all still locally determined. And, fundamentally we speak as states for the office of president.

    Government that is determined by – and responsive to – the people is a fundamental pillar of democracy. And, I note that over the course of our history we’ve altered our notions of federalism. Particularly by changing to the direct election of Senators. That said:

    “We don’t need free speech to let people cheerlead the government, we need free speech so people can criticize the government, disagree with the government. And the way the EC wipes out the votes of anyone who dissented from the majority vote in their state, is just horrible.”

    I cannot agree that the Electoral College infringes on the freedom to dissent, or the right to vote. This is a slippery supposition in its own right. In any system, those who have cast their vote for the loser of an election have been disenfranchised? I disagree.

    “The other problem is that having a majority-vote-wins system naturally reinforces a two-party system…”

    Agree. Yes. And, one of the issues with a self reinforcing two party system is that it heavily penalizes dissent of an incumbent. Or, I suppose it would be more accurate to say that it incentivizes submission to the incumbent by their party of supporters. I’m not sure if Condorcet Voting fixes this. But, I agree this is a problem for the current system.

    @Doc RocketScience:

    “So, what, it’s in the Constitution, therefore it’s perfect just the way it is?”

    I didn’t say that. What I said was I have an issue with the line of argument because it relies on one’s opponent’s lack of knowledge of the history of the argument.

    Federalism, the electoral college and States’ rights are intrinsically linked. And, I think it’s fine to talk about changing the system. The responsibility to do so is implicit. I think I’ve also expanded my position on the preservation of the Electoral College sufficient to move the argument forward.

    “If you’d like my read on the Great Compromise, I have thought (since the 6th grade) that it was a weak-ass idea brought about because the members of the Constitutional Convention were convinced that all the other members were assholes.”

    Mm. Yes. I have a somewhat similar beef.

    “These issues aren’t that complex. They’re childish. And they bring out the very worst in people.”

    These issues are incredibly complex and the height of our responsibilities as citizens. They do tend to bring out the worst in people. But, that’s *because* they are so consequential.

    “When was the last time you heard a “state’s rights advocate” advocating for anything other than their state’s “right” to treat some portion of its citizenry like shit?”

    Me. Like two comments ago.

    “The current system gives low population states the power to dictate to the rest of the country. Yet people still bleat about how unfair it is to live in a low population state, and how mean the high population states are, things that are “enshrined” (and, seriously, fuck that word) in the Constitution.”

    I think you’re conflating some independent problems here. Or, not laying enough groundwork to link them together. I disagree with your characterization that low population states dictate to the rest of the country. Also, I disagree that this argument is summed up by the unfairness of living in a low population state or that high population states are mean. I understand your quibble with “enshrined”. I’ll revise it to say that something that was incorporated into our founding documents, malleable or not (fucked up or not 3/5ths compromise) represented significant contention. All of these things are the foundation of our country, good or bad, and as such their significance is undeniable. Arguing that they don’t matter is silly.

    “I will give them this: they’ve made a strong case for the idea that the House is where the real power is. But I’m not suggesting that we rehash the entire Great Compromise. Just the part where the President is elected by a means that is, frankly, antithetical to the idea of “free and fair elections.”

    I absolutely agree that they breathed life back into our respect for the power of the House. And, given that you and Greg have both mentioned it, I absolutely agree that the filibuster is broken. However, I think you need to substantiate that last sentence. Because, basically, I call shenanigans on that.

    “Pardon the fuck out of me.”

    I’m not sure I’ve been duly authorized with that power. But, in the name of the House, the Senate and the President, I absolve you.

  184. I didn’t say that.

    You certainly implied it.

    I think it’s fine to talk about changing the system.

    Then you should perhaps be a little less shocked when people actually, you know, do so.

    They do tend to bring out the worst in people. But, that’s *because* they are so consequential.

    That logic does not follow. At all.

    Me. Like two comments ago.

    Alright, at the risk of being glib, when’s the last time someone who mattered did.

    I disagree with your characterization that low population states dictate to the rest of the country.

    Well I most definitely didn’t say that. I said this system gives them that power. That they don’t exercise it effectively makes me wonder what they’re whining about.

    Arguing that they don’t matter is silly.

    Points of contention often end up being meaningless, and silly. But that’s another issue entirely. This conversation is about presidential elections and how they are carried out.

    I think you need to substantiate that last sentence. Because, basically, I call shenanigans on that.

    Really? I mean, really? What does “free and fair elections” mean to you other than “everyone gets a vote and everyone’s vote counts as much as anyone elses”‘? Every other election in the U.S. operates under this principle, except the election of the President. I mean, you’re right, the nation didn’t come crashing down anytime the President lost the popular vote, nor would it have had those men lost the presidency. So what then is this unfair system protecting?

  185. @Doc RocketScience:

    “Really? I mean, really? What does “free and fair elections” mean to you other than “everyone gets a vote and everyone’s vote counts as much as anyone elses”‘?”

    States elect the President. Everyone in the state gets a vote. Everyone’s vote is counted. No one’s vote is coerced. The elections are free and fair under the system. The electoral college is not antithetical to free and fair elections.

    “Well I most definitely didn’t say that. I said this system gives them that power. That they don’t exercise it effectively makes me wonder what they’re whining about.”

    I don’t understand this. If it gives them that power, the power is implicit. They can’t *not* exercise their weighted vote margins.

    “That logic does not follow. At all.”

    Because these are such serious issues and because they are of significant consequence, people become passionate about them. Passion is a powerful thing. And, with all that passion, it’s easy for arguments like this bring out the worst in people.

    “Then you should perhaps be a little less shocked when people actually, you know, do so.”

    People shouldn’t be shocked by common knowledge potential implications of the Electoral College.

    “Alright, at the risk of being glib, when’s the last time someone who mattered did.”

    The glib part of that doesn’t bother me. But, look. I agree that States’ Rights arguments are frequently used by racists and theists as a tool. I also agree that those tend to be the only people really interested in States’ Rights because they see it as a means to an end. But, that doesn’t detract from the part where States’ Rights are technically and philosophically foundational issues for the United States and our implementation of of a federal government.

  186. Other Bill: . But, I don’t see how they are disenfranchised. Or, have had that freedom to dissent taken away.

    I don’t know. Maybe if you look a little harder.

    A Democrat in Texas has their vote wiped when the entire EC count for Texas is awarded to Romney. Dems in Texas will often say they’re going to vote for reasons such as “for the principle fo the thing” or because “you can’t complain if you don’t vote” or perhaps something like “letting the popular vote send a ‘message’ that Romney wasn’t unanimous.

    But principles, complaining, and messages don’t elect presidents. Only EC votes elect presidents.

    And if you can’t imagine a Democrat in Texas feeling like their vote is little more than symbolism, or a Republican in Massachusetts feeling like their vote will only count in “spirit”, then you’re not paying attention.

    States elect the President.

    The validity of that premise is exactly what’s being challenged here. That premise is the antiquitem fallacy. All you can provably say is that states elect the president now. We’re saying that the current system whereby states elect the president contains numerous fundamental flaws. Horrendous flaws. And that you don’t get to assert it as a universally proven and accepted premise.

    The elections are free and fair under the system. The electoral college is not antithetical to free and fair elections.

    You’re invoking “the way it is” as an unproven premise and then via circular logic end up with “that’s also the way it should be”. You’re merely asserting that what you want is what is so. And then you end by saying the way it is now is “free and fair”, ignoring all the flaws pointed out thus far, such as heavily weighted voting, voter apathy, and a system that reinforces a two-party system.

    Look, you apparently are infatuated with the Grand Compromise, but puppy love seems to have clouded your mind with happily-ever-after fantasies, when the reality is that even in the moment that the Grand Compromise was being made, very few were happy with the solution. So, you don’t actually get to start your logical arguments with a premise like “the way the founders made it is free and fair”. Not even the Fouders could agree that it was free and fair. It was a compromise they made at the time to try and satisfy severely opposing viewpoints, and as such, there is nothing that says the compromise is Holy Law, or Divine Knowlege, or anything special like that. It’s a bunch of guys squabbling in a room and this is what they came up with. The fact that these very same guys in the very same room also came up with the three-fifths compromise should be a major red flag that, hey, maybe we ought to review these compromises from time to time and see if maybe they weren’t just completely full of shit.

    I also agree that those tend to be the only people really interested in States’ Rights because they see it as a means to an end. But, that doesn’t detract from the part where States’ Rights are technically and philosophically foundational issues for the United States and our implementation of of a federal government.

    So, you acknowledge that no one in actual history has invoked “states rights” caring about the principle of states rights but rather invoked it merely as a technicality, a loophole, to try and get their way about something. And yet you’re saying “State Rights” is still an important philosophical foundation.

    How about this: Concepts like separation of powers and such are principles. The specific method we use to elect a president is procedure. Procedure is not principle. Just because the procedure is enumerated in the constitution doesn’t mean its an underlying principle that is above question and above a constitutional ammendment.

  187. @Greg:

    “And if you can’t imagine a Democrat in Texas feeling like their vote is little more than symbolism, or a Republican in Massachusetts feeling like their vote will only count in “spirit”, then you’re not paying attention.”

    Plenty of people *feel* like their vote is little more than symbolic. That there vote actually counts in a free and fair election is the point.

    “All you can provably say is that states elect the president now. We’re saying that the current system whereby states elect the president contains numerous fundamental flaws. Horrendous flaws. And that you don’t get to assert it as a universally proven and accepted premise.”

    One of your major flaws is that it disenfranchises voters. This is definitively false. Feeling like your vote is only symbolic because it’s in a state that tends to commit the other way isn’t the same thing as being disenfranchised. The Electoral College isn’t a poll tax, it isn’t a flat out denial of the right to vote. Citizens of one State have the same rights to vote as citizens of the other states.

    “You’re merely asserting that what you want is what is so. And then you end by saying the way it is now is “free and fair”, ignoring all the flaws pointed out thus far, such as heavily weighted voting, voter apathy, and a system that reinforces a two-party system.”

    I’m not merely asserting anything. I’ve pushed directly on your notion that the Electoral College is undemocratic and results in a violation of the right to free and fair elections. I’ve pointed out that the voting for President is no more or less weighted than the way Congress is run. And, other than Doc’s (not unreasonable) admission of a lack of affinity for the Senate, I haven’t seen any discussion of this implication to the undemocratic, unfair way Congress is run.

    I’ve also directly conceded that this method reinforces the two party system. Which leads to:

    “So, you don’t actually get to start your logical arguments with a premise like “the way the founders made it is free and fair”. Not even the Fouders could agree that it was free and fair. It was a compromise they made at the time to try and satisfy severely opposing viewpoints, and as such, there is nothing that says the compromise is Holy Law, or Divine Knowlege, or anything special like that.”

    I agree with everything here excepting the first sentence. It was a compromise. And it isn’t Holy Law. The reason I brought up the Great Compromise in the first place was to point out that just because Joe Citizen doesn’t push back on a de facto dismissal of the Electoral College doesn’t mean that there isn’t already a lot of text entered in this debate. My primary point being, I concede the legitimacy of arguing against the Electoral College, but let’s not pretend that, oh SNAP, this is first time in history people have worked out some of the implications. Or that is isn’t representative of the way in which Federalism was conceived in the country.

    I haven’t said that the way the founders made things were either free or fair. Clearly, definitively not. The way the founders made it was neither free nor fair. I said that the electoral college does not violate currently the principle of free and fair elections.

    “So, you acknowledge that no one in actual history has invoked “states rights” caring about the principle of states rights but rather invoked it merely as a technicality, a loophole, to try and get their way about something. And yet you’re saying “State Rights” is still an important philosophical foundation.”

    That isn’t what I said. I noted that racists seized on a rhetorical point that was convenient to them and that much of the rest of what they say is founded on that. That isn’t the same as saying no one else in actual history has used it for anything else.

    “Concepts like separation of powers and such are principles. The specific method we use to elect a president is procedure. Procedure is not principle. Just because the procedure is enumerated in the constitution doesn’t mean its an underlying principle that is above question and above a constitutional amendment.”

    Agree. Agree. I clearly have concerns that requiring resolution before I would cast my vote for that amendment.

  188. States elect the President.

    I don’t see why we (still) give that power to bureaucratic entities and not people.

    Everyone’s vote is counted.

    But not everyone’s vote counts the same. And a great many votes are literally meaningless. This is most definitely not fair, and I’m not sure it qualifies as free, either.

    I don’t understand this.

    I said “exercise effectively”. It’s right there in the text you quoted.

    Passion is a powerful thing.

    That’s not an excuse. It’s not even a very good reason. Also, it was the passions of pre-industrial colonists who couldn’t even agree that slavery was a bad thing.

    States’ Rights are technically and philosophically foundational issues

    Being “foundational” doesn’t make them good issues. Or the right conclusions.

  189. @Doc:

    This: “I said “exercise effectively”.” doesn’t address this: “If it gives them that power, the power is implicit. They can’t *not* exercise their weighted vote margins.”

    “That’s not an excuse. It’s not even a very good reason.”

    Okay? It’s neither my excuse nor my reason. So, noted. Unless you’re suggesting my argument represents the worst in people?

    “Also, it was the passions of pre-industrial colonists who couldn’t even agree that slavery was a bad thing.”

    Well, pretty much everybody except the slaves thought it was a fine enough institution. More of them couldn’t agree whether counting slaves as people was a bad thing. Which is worse, just to be clear. So, you are suggesting it’s the position that’s “the worst in people”? Not that people tend to get all hot and viscious over voting issues? Meaning, this example is meant to compare to my position that the Electoral College represents free and fair elections?

    “Being “foundational” doesn’t make them good issues. Or the right conclusions.”

    No, but it does make them important to the identity of the country.

    “But not everyone’s vote counts the same. And a great many votes are literally meaningless. This is most definitely not fair, and I’m not sure it qualifies as free, either.”

    The Electoral College does not make votes meaningless. I’ve already offered my position on it’s impact on the Freeness and Fairness of elections.

  190. Other Bill: doesn’t mean that there isn’t already a lot of text entered in this debate. My primary point being, I concede the legitimacy of arguing against the Electoral College, but let’s not pretend that, oh SNAP, this is first time in history people have worked out some of the implications.

    This is your primary point?

    If I parse this correctly, you acknowledge flaws in the EC, you even allow that it’s within people’s right to push for an ammendment to change the EC, but your primary point is that given this is a flaw that’s been around for 200 years, given this has been debated by lots of people for 200 years, your primary point is that people should not react with shock, SHOCK, when they first realize just how flawed things really are?

    It’s flawed, it’s got problems, its within our right to ammend it, but just don’t be upset about it?

    Your primary point is a “tone” argument?

    Seriously?

    Out of curiosity, are you a Republican or Libertarian/TeaParty/ThirdParty voter? Cause, really, I’m starting to wonder if this concern for “States Rights” isn’t a cover for other shenanigans.

  191. Tag, and I’m back in. Welcome to the party, Other Bill.

    @ Greg – “Out of curiosity, are you a Republican or Libertarian/TeaParty/ThirdParty voter? Cause, really, I’m starting to wonder if this concern for “States Rights” isn’t a cover for other shenanigans.”

    Out of curiosity, do you always assume that people who happen to disagree with you are of a different political stripe than you? With regards to Libertarians, do you think it’s more logically consistent to be for the EC in favor of state’s rights, instead of being against it in favor of individual’s rights? I’d think it’d make more sense for Libertarians to be for the idea of “one person, one vote,” than for a weighted voting system. Do you predetermine which arguments you’re going to favor based on the political affiliation of who’s making them? Can you explain why it’s logically inconsistent for a Democrat or Independent with liberal leanings to be for state’s rights or the EC?

    @ Doc – Around the time I stepped away, you made mention that of our two absurd scenarios, yours was the better because it relied on everyone voting, whereas mine relied on only one person voting. I agree. Yours is the better absurd scenario. And thanks for keeping a civil tone throughout the discussion.

  192. Greg:

    “This is your primary point?”

    Meh. It was the leader to a sentence.

    “It’s flawed, it’s got problems, its within our right to ammend it, but just don’t be upset about it?”

    It does have some flaws. States have the right to amend how they determine those votes. The United States has the right to amend the Electoral College. However, the argument against it here – that it disenfranchises voters by diminishing free and fair elections – is flat out wrong. Not tonally, just wrong.

    Living in a State that tends to lean the opposite of one’s vote does not diminish one’s right to dissent and free speech. The Electoral College is not a poll tax. The Electoral College is not the end of secret ballots or the domain of coerced voting.

    The most egregious sin of the Electoral College is found in one of its defenses in Federalist No. 68: so a bunch of ponces in the gen pop don’t get duped by a huckster and let “him” run our country into the ground. Which is a defense they also used to create and run the Senate like they did. But, when they changed the Senate from appointed positions by the State Legislature, the individual States still determined their representatives to that body. Because Federalism. But, it really only gets one paper out of all the federalist papers. Even the Anti-Federalists expended less words than we have here arguing against it.

    And, considering the Electoral College votes the way the citizens of their states vote, that fixes that problem for me. What I’m trying to draw attention to is that the Electoral College is a thread that is woven into pretty much every part of our Federal government. It’s even how the parties pick their nominees.

    Vote weighting issues in the Senate and vote weighting issues for the Presidency have been conflated. The highjacking of Congress has been directly linked to the same argument against the Electoral College. But, the argument also directly applies that the House AND Senate are both unfairly weighted. By the same criteria being applied to the Electoral College. I think that’s a big problem with the argument here against the electoral college. That isn’t an argument against the procedure to elect the President, that’s an argument that applies to the entirety of our Federal government.

    “Out of curiosity, are you a Republican or Libertarian/TeaParty/ThirdParty voter? Cause, really, I’m starting to wonder if this concern for “States Rights” isn’t a cover for other shenanigans.”

    Also. What the hell? One of the flaws we both agree on is that the current system reinforces the two party system by penalizing dissenters within a party. I don’t think that’s expressly a flaw of the Electoral College portion of the Elect A President procedure. But, it doesn’t exactly help it. So, why are you asking if my supporting the Electoral College makes me a third party voter?

    Oh. You cheeky bastard. Nice wind up.

  193. Jeff: Out of curiosity, do you always assume that people who happen to disagree with you are of a different political stripe than you?

    I assumed nothing. I asked a question. The term “states rights” has a long history of being tied to racism and intolerance of one kind or another. It was used to opposed desegregation. It’s being used to oppose gay marriage. It’s being used in an attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade. The vast majority of times when “states rights” is invoked in an actual political debate, it’s because of intolerance. Do you think I should discuss politics without regard for historical context?

    So, again, I assumed nothing. You have been a proponent for States Rights on this thread. And yet, you have yet to make a single logical argument for States Rights that doesn’t invoke some fallacy. You’re arguing for states rights, but you’ve yet to make an actuall case for states rights beyond “that’s the way it’s always been done”, emotive arguments presenting states as “minorities” who need “protecting”, and bunch of other fallacies I’m too tired to reiterate.

    And if you can’t make a straight argument for States Rights that doesn’t involve a logical fallacy, it kind of makes me wonder, why to you really support states rights? Party alignment causes people to support things simply because their party supports it. Libertarians support laissez faire everything and “states rights” is a kind of loop hole that can always be used to argue against any regulation of any kind.

    I’d think it’d make more sense for Libertarians to be for the idea of “one person, one vote,”

    My experience is that when push comes to shove, Libertarians hold States Rights as more important than anything else. It is politically difficult to argue in favor of laissez faire because laissez faire was disproven a century ago, but states rights can be a second line of defense to oppose regulations, and states rights has the advantage (over laisse faire) that states rights is in the constitution and laisse faire is not.

    Can you explain why it’s logically inconsistent for a Democrat or Independent with liberal leanings to be for state’s rights or the EC?

    You haven’t made a single logically consistent argument in favor of the EC yet. Every one of your arguments has contained a logical fallacy of one sort or another.

    Are you a Democrat? OK, fine. I’d like to hear your logically consistent argument in favor of the EC. Are you an Independent? It wouldn’t surprise me, and I’d like to hear your logically consistent argument in favor of the EC.

    Other Bill: However, the argument against it here – that it disenfranchises voters by diminishing free and fair elections – is flat out wrong. Not tonally, just wrong.

    The winner-takes-all both discourages dissent within each state and reinforces a two-party system. You dismiss the discouragement at the state level as a “feeling”, which is handwavey and disregards that real voters actually do stop voting when they feel their vote doesn’t matter. Changing the system so their vote has a more direct effect will engage more voters, and the only argument you’ve presented against this is “the EC is in the constitution”.

    And the two-party system, especially at the presidential level, discourages criticism from within the incumbent’s own party. Note, that the EC doesn’t OUTLAW criticism from within. It discourages it. There was no rule in the system that said Nader couldn’t run against Gore and Bush, but the effect of Nader under the EC rules is that votes FOR Nader took votes FROM Gore. So, it discourages criticism from the main party’s candidates. There is nothign in the rules that prohibited Perot from running against Bush and Clinton, but votes for Perot took votes from Bush.

    What you’re doing is minimizing these indirect effects as if they were nothing more than feelings, as if they were nothing more than emotional nonsense, which is itself nonsense. They’re not just feelings, their secondary, or indirect, effects of the rules.

    The whole point of game theory is to show that if you have a set of rules, those rules can create strange outcomes. The prisoner’s dilemma has rules, none of which say that the prisoners must cooperate or betray the other. But the effect of the rule is that individual players are incentivized to act in their best interest, and betray the other prisoner, which results in the worst possible outcome for everyone.

    So, no, the EC is neither fair nor free. Its a set of rules which result in unfair and unfree secondary effects. The EC does not require a two party system, but a secondary effect of the EC is to reinforce a two-party system. The EC does not prohibit Nader from running against Gore, but a secondary effect of the EC rules is that it discourages it. The EC rules do not force minority-party voters to not vote within their state, but the secondary effect of the EC rules is that it discourages it.

    All your doing is focusing on the immediate rules for the electoral college, and saying the rules allow everyone to vote, and ignoring all the secondary effects of those rules. All you’re doing is focusing on the rules and saying the rules don’t prohibit competition and criticism within a party, and ignoring the secondary effects of the EC rules.

  194. Greg:

    “All your doing is focusing on the immediate rules for the electoral college, and saying the rules allow everyone to vote, and ignoring all the secondary effects of those rules.”

    Yeah, I’ll concede that. I’ll qualify, though, by indicating that Free and Fair Elections have some well defined expectations and that I sincerely do not believe secondary effects fail the Electoral College under that rubric.

    But, I am interested in the secondary effects. And I’d like to expand the conversation in that direction.

    To a certain extent, I think your framing the discussion of the secondary effects as a sort of Prisoners’ Dilemma is reasonable. I mean, I see your case for it. But, if some of the secondary effects involve becoming dispirited or a decrease in the motivation to vote, I’m not sure how we get away from the fact that we’re talking about *emotional* impacts here.

    Okay. Hold on. Let’s clarify that last sentence. I concede that the secondary effects to which you are referring are real. And that they do create a measurable impact. I’m not discounting them by using the *emotion* word. What I’m interested in is how do you change the system to change an emotional effect? I don’t see a solution there.

    If you change the way votes are allocated, to a national popular vote, that doesn’t necessarily remove the secondary effects you’re talking about. It shifts them to a different population. Questions more like, how will my rural issues ever be addressed and my voice heard if I don’t live in a big city? Or a big state? These produce the same secondary effects. I make this argument on the grounds that we agree all politics is local. And, as localities vary widely across the United States a Democrat from Small Town can feel like they’re a part of a big population supporting a party, but never see any of their local politics issues addressed. This leaves them exposed to the same kind of discouragement.

    Or, are you making your case on the line here about avoiding the *worst* possible outcome? Is the Prisoners Dilemma removed if we go to a national popular vote? I’m not sure that addresses the discouragement we’re talking about.

  195. OtherBill: If you change the way votes are allocated, to a national popular vote, that doesn’t necessarily remove the secondary effects you’re talking about.

    Well, take it incrementally, then. If we keep the EC, but have the EC votes awarded to the candidates proportional to each state’s vote, what happens? The D’s in Texas suddenly feel like their vote actually matters, right? The R’s in Massachusetts suddenly feel like their vote actually matters, right?
    Say a state with 10 EC votes has its voters split 80/20 then 8 of the votes go to one candidate and 2 go to the other candidate.

    The secondary effect of winner-takes-all disenfranchising the minority voters in each state disappears. Agreed?

    Now the only question is this: Will voters in small states feel disenfranchised from voters in big states if the government still has the Senate which weighs each state equally, big and small? And the Senate is still a gatekeeper to confirm Supreme Court justices and presidential Cabinet members?

    This was where I started throwing out some math to show just how much power a small state can have over the entire federal government. I find it difficult to believe that voters in a small state have a legitimate argument that a popular-vote-presidential-election process will disenfranchise them from the Federal Government when the Senate weilds so much damn power and it works entirely on a all-states-are-equal-regardless-of-size principle.

    At that point, I feel what’s really at work is a combination of appeal to pity (portraying small states as minorities needing protection) and perhaps a bit of the notion of a group with more power than others not wanting to surrender that power, even if the power isn’t justified or really fair.

    But then here’s the other thing. If we dump the EC, even proportional EC, and switch to a popular vote, it’s not much more to switch to a condercet vote. Once you convert to a condercet vote for presidential elections, you suddenly have huge swaths of poeple suddenly feel enfranchised. Lots of people vote strategically, vote for one of the two main party candidates that closest fits their views. But many would prefer other candidates. If we switch to condercet and allow similar candidates to compete, you suddenly enfranchise an enormous swath of the population, and at that point, I think the many benefits of a condercet-popular-vote far outweighs the one and only disadvantage that small states might feel slightly disenfranchised but they still have a lot of power in the Federal government via the Senate.

    Emotions are extremely important. People feel emotionally engaged in their political system when they feel that the system is fair.

    The winner-takes-all-EC system disenfranches all minority party voters in each state, it heavily reinforces a two-party system disenfranchising third party voters, it discourages criticism from within a party of its own candidates, it discourages criticism from within a party of its incumbent, and it gives unneccesary weight to small states.

    A direct-vote-condercet-vote system would enfranchise all voters in all states, it would break up the two party monopoly and encourage third parties, it would encourage criticism from within a party of its own candidats, it would encourage criticism from within a party of its own encumbant, and it makes everyone’s vote count equally.

    The *only* real negative I’ve seen offered against direct-condercet-vote is that small states will feel disenfranchised. But (A) that’s because they had more voting weight than they started with and big states were actually disenfranchised and (B) small states still have a lot of power via the Senate, federalism still exists via the Senate.

    I think that overall, direct-vote-condercet-vote has way more advantages, empowers far more people to vote, and encourages different candidates to run, and lets different voices be heard. In every one of those measures, I think its far better than the current winner-takes-all-EC system we have now.

  196. OtherBill: TL;DR: I didn’t realize four instances in our history of a popular vote losing to the electoral college ended our country’s ability to function democratically. It don’t seem particularly broke to me. Whatevs.

    Hm, this kept bugging me since I read it, and now I realize why.

    your (A) hyping up the importance of the EC saying the (1) extra weighting of the EC is the only way small states will get fair representation for electing presidents, while at the same time, you’re trying to (B) downplay the power of the EC by pointing out (2) the EC only went of sync with the popular vote 4 times in history and (BB) that the EC shouldn’t be a big deal.

    You’re trying ot have it both ways because (A) and (B) (BB) are complete opposites. (1) and (2) are basically mutually exclusive.

  197. Greg – I have thoughts on this, but my brain is soaked from ELECTION 2012 watching. This is a good conversation, but I don’t want to clog it with braiinnnsss dribble. I’ve got to rack out for work. I’ll have a response tonight for you if you want to carry on.

  198. Greg:

    “The winner-takes-all-EC system disenfranchises all minority party voters in each state, it heavily reinforces a two-party system disenfranchising third party voters, it discourages criticism from within a party of its own candidates, it discourages criticism from within a party of its incumbent, and it gives unnecessary weight to small states.”

    This feels weird. I don’t think we’re actually as far apart as it seems. We clearly disagree on principle over the Electoral College. I agree, unequivocally, that Condorcet voting – or some similar style – would facilitate (as opposed to outright discourage) criticism within a party of its incumbent or its own candidates.

    We have a huge gap on the meaning of the word “disenfranchise”. I don’t mind the word “discourages” or “demoralizes” there. But, that’s just not the proper use of the word. The right to vote is not impacted in any of those scenarios. It just isn’t. To that end:

    “I think that overall, direct-vote-Condorcet-vote has way more advantages, empowers far more people to vote, and encourages different candidates to run, and lets different voices be heard. In every one of those measures, I think its far better than the current winner-takes-all-EC system we have now.”

    I like the word empowers there. I think it’s much more in line with what you’re saying than “enfranchises”. Instituting a poll tax disenfranchises people because it prevents a population from exercising their right to vote. A run-off, ranking, style election process empowers voters by giving them more ability to dictate their will to their party leaders. I don’t think we disagree there. But, why does empowering voters in that way require the removal of the EC? Altering the way states allocate their elector votes accomplishes almost the same thing and is more feasible – I think – than passing a constitutional amendment.

    “Well, take it incrementally, then. If we keep the EC, but have the EC votes awarded to the candidates proportional to each state’s vote, what happens? The D’s in Texas suddenly feel like their vote actually matters, right? … If we dump the EC, even proportional EC, and switch to a popular vote, it’s not much more to switch to a Condorcet vote.”

    I agree that in this construct it will allow off-party voters to *feel* as though their vote is counted. And I would agree that it is well within the right of each state to set up their systems in this way. Offhand, I think Maine and Nebraska use the congressional district fashion. (This can be problematic because gerrymandering then becomes a serious issue in the Presidential election.) But, I don’t see why implementing a Condorcet style voting requires a move away from the EC. A proportional distribution of EC votes could just as easily be determined in that style of voting.

    “Emotions are extremely important. People feel emotionally engaged in their political system when they feel that the system is fair.”

    I have a really hard line on participating in a democracy. Having the right to vote implies the imperative to exercise it. If you have a political ideology, you advocate for it relentlessly. If you fail to do these things because, “well, I’m a Democrat in a Republican state and I just feel like it would only be a solidarity vote”…I’m not impressed.

    But, I agree that we should do everything we can to facilitate and encourage participation. Things that make people feel afraid to vote are against the law. Intimidating people to suppress their political speech is against the law. But, this emotional impact case against the EC seems fuzzy and poorly limited.

    While the conversation has occasionally drifted towards the issue of the weighting of electoral votes between states of different populations, we’ve mostly focused on non (so-called) swing states. And I don’t see how the emotional impact there is distinguishable from a “bad news, never mind folks, it’s hopeless” black flag media blitz. Or, between it and losing interest in voting when your horse doesn’t win. Or, losing interest in voting – or expressing your voice – because you can see the seemingly impossible odds in overcoming Citizens United decision.

    Has the EC limited your ability to participate? From what I see, you’re a guy that votes, advocates for his beliefs and is capable of making a tough choice between seeing some serious cons in one candidate and some monumental cons in another candidate. You’re cognizant of that difficult choice and why it’s come about, so you’ve looked into your options and settled on one for which you advocate. One which isn’t something I would expect most people to go, “oh, yeah, that Condorcet voting procedure is awesome”. (More like “The Condorcet, isn’t that a Jackie Chan movie?”)

    As far as the thing that was bugging you: I’m not sure I track what you’re saying here. I’m also not sure I track what I seem to have been saying here. I think we need to draw finer distinctions between: (1) Small States versus Big States AND (2) Base States versus Swing States.

    Fiddling with the Electoral College doesn’t fix the problem with (2), it just shifts it around. The EC does directly concern (1).

    Condorcet voting can be implemented under (1) without the removal of the EC and directly addresses (2).

  199. OtherBill: And I don’t see how the emotional impact there is distinguishable from a “bad news, never mind folks, it’s hopeless” black flag media blitz.

    Personally, I’d be in favor of a law that said no media can report polling results the day of election until all states are closed. We could fiddle with the exact details of when/where to draw the line, but seriously, how many people in Hawaii, with a few EC votes to the state, are motivated to go to the booth and vote when the EC vote has already indicated its impossible for their guy to win?

    I think it was the Bush/Gore election where the news called Florida one way before Florida was actually closed. And that probably caused some voters not to vote.

    Yes, yes, I heard you “Having the right to vote implies the imperative to exercise it.” but I think the state can encourage and discourage voting all sorts of ways that don’t legally count as a poll tax or as disenfranchising. Republican election managers have deallocated voting machines to normally Democratic sections of their states, creating long lines, and discouraging people to vote. They don’t prohibit them from voting, but it pisses me off all the same.

    My view is that voting can be made easy or voting can be made hard and where it ends up is up to the state. So I would push for every opportunity to make it easy. I would push for every opportunity to encourage and empower people to vote. And I think winner-takes-all-EC voting is highly discouraging to a lot of minority voters in base states.

    As far as the thing that was bugging you: I’m not sure I track what you’re saying here.

    well, at one point, you said this: Direct popular vote election of the President is a decay of states’ power and representation in the executive branch.

    And then later, you said this:
    I didn’t realize four instances in our history of a popular vote losing to the electoral college ended our country’s ability to function democratically. It don’t seem particularly broke to me. Whatevs.

    So, on the one hand, popular voting decays state’s rights, but on the hand, you defend the EC by saying it only diverged from the popular vote 4 times, and that shouldn’t end our country’s ability to function democratically.

    But if it only diverged 4 times, just how important is it, really? I mean, you were willing to sweep the divergence under the rug in order to downplay the impact and defend the EC. OK. Fine. But that means I could just as easily dump the EC, switch to popular vote, and sweep under the rug the 4 times it would have changed the outcome of an election. If it “shouldn’t end our country’s ability to function democratically” to have 4 elections diverge, then it “shouldn’t end our country’s ability to function democratically” to dump the EC and have a few popular vote elections diverge from what the EC result would be.

    You’re downplaying the impact. That’s a completely emotional approach to this. 4 divergences shouldn’t affect democracy. OK. Fine. Then if we switch to popular vote, that would mean that 4 out of the last N elections would diverge from the EC result and that shouldn’t affect democracy either.

    You see what I’m saying here? There’s something landing decidedly unfair for me to have you say a popular vote would be a decay of states rights and representation, to say the EC is absolutely needed to prevent the popular vote from robbing small states of their representation. And on the other hand, saying that the EC only diverged from the popular vote 4 times, and that shouldn’t be a big deal democratically speaking. Well, if its not a big deal, it’s not a big deal.

    If you’re willing to ask me to sacrifice 4 elections in the last couple centuries to have the EC, then it’s just as valid for me to ask you to sacrifice 4 elections in a couple centuries to have a popular vote.

    But instead, you’re saying its a small sacrifice for me to let 4 elections go in two centuries, but its a BIG sacrifice for small states to give up the EC and have them give up 4 elections in two centuries.

    I don’t know. It just doesn’t land right for me.

    Mathematically, it’s the same sacrifice. someone has to give up 4 elections every couple of centuries if the other side gets their way. The only question is which side has to make that sacrifice.

    You’re not presenting it as an equal sacrifice for both sides, and it doesn’t seem fair.

    That’s the best I can explain it right now….

  200. Greg:

    “I think it was the Bush/Gore election where the news called Florida one way before Florida was actually closed. And that probably caused some voters not to vote.”

    As a resident of Florida at the time, I can verify to you that impacted voting in the panhandle (central time zone) portion of the state. And, I have since thought calling a state before all the polls have closed should be a crime. Even reporting predictions based on exit polling. And, I’d be fine with pushing Hawaii up to the front of the line by having them vote the day before, and then sitting on results until the entirety of the continental US has gone to the polls.

    “I don’t know. It just doesn’t land right for me.”

    I do see what you’re saying. I just disagree with some of the pieces. But, I’m appreciative for the conversation. We can pick this up again in 2015, assuming we make it through December of this year.

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