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News Electoral College time bomb?

  1. Feb 3, 2010 #1
    The Electoral College (and the Supreme Court) gave the 2000 US presidential election to GW Bush over Al Gore despite that fact that Mr Gore won the popular vote. It wasn't the first time this happened. In 1876 the Electoral College, based on an electoral margin of one vote (181 to 180), gave the election to Rutherford Hayes (R) over Samuel Tilden (D)despite the fact that Mr Tilden had popular vote majority of over 5%! Al Gore's popular vote majority was about 0.5%. But this is not the most dangerous aspect of the Electoral College.

    There have been a number of presidents who did not win popular majorities, but with two exceptions (Jefferson, 1800 and John Quincy Adams, 1824) all won electoral majorities. The US Constitution provides that in the case of no one winning an electoral majority, the newly elected House of Representatives chooses the president from among the top two or three candidates. The governing 12th amendment says "...But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by the states, the representation from each state having one vote." In other words, does each state have just one vote regardless of the size of its delegation in the House?

    I can a see a very serious dispute over just what "the representation" means. The 12th amendment was revision of the language in the original Article II. The revision concerned changing the election of the Vice-President as the one having the second most electoral votes, to the election of President and Vice-President running on a single ballot. However, it's clear from the original language of Article II that the founders wanted each state to have just one vote in choosing the president if such a vote were necessary.

    Should a world power like the US have any ambiguity in how its leader is chosen? And if it is interpreted as one state, one vote; is that something the American people can live with?
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2010
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  3. Feb 3, 2010 #2


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    These sentences are all I read.

    1. Your first sentence is just plain wrong (the USSC didn't "give" Bush anything and "won the popular vote" isn't how the electoral process works - it isn't relevant).
    2. The second sentence further illustrates that you don't understand how elections work (there is no ambiguity - the rules are clear).
    3. Yeah, I can live with the electoral college. It exists for a reason and a good one.
  4. Feb 3, 2010 #3


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    You may think this is self-evident, but could you please explain why you consider this dangerous?
  5. Feb 4, 2010 #4
    Of course this is the way it works. Is the best way? Is it democratic? No other modern democracy has such an institution.

    The rules aren't clear if no one wins an electoral majority. Read the whole post before you comment.

    Perhaps in the 18th century, but what are good reasons in the 21st? If no one wins a majority of the popular vote in the first election, why not a run-off? Again, we are only democracy which does not provide for run off elections for the chief executive.
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2010
  6. Feb 4, 2010 #5
    The most passive response on the part of a population that no longer believes their government is democratic is not to vote. US voter turn out is among the lowest among democratic nations now This means the country will more and more be governed by special interests. Do I have to convince you that this in itself is dangerous?

    If a presidential election is decided in the House of Representatives by each state having just one vote, what real authority does the winner have if those states represent 30% of the people?
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2010
  7. Feb 4, 2010 #6


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    There is certainly a legitimate argument to be made that it isn't the best way, but the OP was about a "time bomb".

    If you wanted this discussion to be just a blank-slate debate about what the best way to elect our leaders should be, you shouldn't have used such rhetoric and certainly should never use false facts!
    To you, maybe - they are clear enough to me. Besides - if that's your only issue, why did you bring up all that other wrong stuff?
    I have now. It didn't get any better: lots of rhetoric, lots of wrong assertions, no clear point.
    The big state vs small state issue is just as important today as it was in the 1800s.
    Why not? Because the Constitution says so and I see no "time bomb". You're viewing this backwards: you are the one who is saying there is a flaw so you must explain exactly what the flaw is. So far all I see is factually wrong claims (and opinions listed as facts) about what you see as flaws.
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2010
  8. Feb 4, 2010 #7


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    None of that follows logically or can be taken without proof:

    1. Prove that votor turnout is low because of the Electoral college.
    2. Prove that votor turnout is low due to people not thinking the government is democratic.
    3. Show a logical connection between special interests and the above claims you made.

    In fact, the conventional wisdom is that votor turnout is low because of apathy.
    Yes, you really do. You're shooting from the hip here, throwing a lot of crap against the wall and hoping some will stick. You haven't made concise points, provided facts (you have actually provided false claims of fact) nor made logical connections between facts and implications.
    Huh? Representatives are proportioned on population (with a minimum of 1). That claim is a mathematical impossibility.
  9. Feb 4, 2010 #8
    If many thought the election of 2000 wasn't legitimate, are the American people prepared for how much worse it could be? Most people don't even know about the 12th Amendment.
    I call it a 'time bomb' if a 'legal' election is where the loser could have twice the popular vote as the "winner". An election in the House where each state has one vote could produce such a result. The Democrats tend to win in larger urban states, while the Republicans tend to win the smaller more numerous states. If the 2000 election had gone to the House, Bush would have won 2/3 of the states which would have been an even larger distortion of the popular vote

    What false facts? What did I assert as fact that you say is false? It's true that the Supreme Court decided to halt any further contesting of the Florida vote. Bush was subsequently declared the winner of the state's electoral votes and the election. The Electoral College certainly can and has allowed those with fewer popular votes to win elections and I gave historical examples which are easily checked.

    What's wrong with "time bomb"? News organizations talk about a demographic "time bomb" with an aging population. It can refer to any fact or trend that has clear and possibly dangerous consequences if not addressed.
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2010
  10. Feb 4, 2010 #9
    You haven't read what I said about the 12th amendment. States vote as a block, each state having one vote regardless of population when the presidential election is decided by the House of Representatives.


    Of course what I say about possible consequences of such an election is necessarily speculative. It's completely inappropriate to expect that I or anyone could deduce the future. I gave a speculative answer to a speculative question regarding a real possibility. What do you honestly think could be the consequences of a clearly undemocratic election of a US president, meaning the majority lost? Do you think it would not be a bad outcome?

    I never said that voter apathy is necessarily a consequence of an undemocratic election. I said the most passive response would be diminished voter turnout. Perhaps there would be no response. Do you really believe that?
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2010
  11. Feb 4, 2010 #10


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    Russ, I think you've misunderstood this point, which is referring to the process used after it is found that no candidate has an absolute electoral majority. If you go by a one vote per state count, you could theoretically (unlikely though it may be) win with only about a 10% support from the total population - the 26 smallest states make up about 20% of the total population, and you only need marginally more support within the state than the other candidates to win the vote of that state.
  12. Feb 4, 2010 #11

    Vanadium 50

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    The Election of 1824 went into the House, and each state had one vote.
  13. Feb 4, 2010 #12
    The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections.

    The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes-that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    So there would never be a tie in the electoral vote, because the compact always represents a bloc consisting of a majority of the electoral votes. Thus, an election for President would never be thrown into the House of Representatives (with each state casting one vote) and an election for Vice President would never be thrown into the Senate (with each Senator casting one vote).

    The National Popular Vote bill has passed 29 state legislative chambers, including one house in Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Oregon, and both houses in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, and Washington. These five states possess 61 electoral votes -- 23% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

    See http://www.NationalPopularVote.com
  14. Feb 4, 2010 #13
    Under the current system of electing the President, presidential candidates concentrate their attention on a handful of closely divided "battleground" states. 98% of the 2008 campaign events involving a presidential or vice-presidential candidate occurred in just 15 closely divided "battleground" states. Over half (57%) of the events were in just four states (Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia). Similarly, 98% of ad spending took place in these 15 "battleground" states. Similarly, in 2004, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their money and campaign visits in five states and over 99% of their money in 16 states.
    Two-thirds of the states and people have been merely spectators to the presidential elections. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or worry about the voter concerns in states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. The reason for this is the state-by-state winner-take-all rule enacted by 48 states, under which all of a state's electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state.

    Another shortcoming of the current system is that a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide. This has occurred in one of every 14 presidential elections.

    In the past six decades, there have been six presidential elections in which a shift of a relatively small number of votes in one or two states would have elected (and, of course, in 2000, did elect) a presidential candidate who lost the popular vote nationwide.
  15. Feb 4, 2010 #14
    The Founding Fathers said in the U.S. Constitution: "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors . . ." The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the state legislatures over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as "plenary" and "exclusive."

    Neither of the two most important features of the current system of electing the President (namely, universal suffrage, and the 48 state-by-state winner-take-all rule) are in the U.S. Constitution. Neither was the choice of the Founders when they went back to their states to organize the nation's first presidential election.

    In 1789, in the nation's first election, the people had no vote for President in most states, Only men who owned a substantial amount of property could vote.

    In 1789 only three states used the state-by-state winner-take-all rule to award electoral votes.

    There is no valid argument that the winner-take-all rule is entitled to any special deference based on history or the historical meaning of the words in the U.S. Constitution. The current 48 state-by-state winner-take-all rule (i.e., awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in a particular state) is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, the debates of the Constitutional Convention, or the Federalist Papers. The actions taken by the Founding Fathers make it clear that they never gave their imprimatur to the winner-take-all rule.

    As a result of changes in state laws enacted since 1789, the people have the right to vote for presidential electors in 100% of the states, there are no property requirements for voting in any state, and the state-by-state winner-take-all rule is used by 48 of the 50 states.

    The normal process of effecting change in the method of electing the President is specified in the U.S. Constitution, namely action by the state legislatures. This is how the current system was created, and this is the built-in method that the Constitution provides for making changes.
  16. Feb 4, 2010 #15
    The small states are the most disadvantaged of all under the current system of electing the President. Political clout comes from being a closely divided battleground state, not the two-vote bonus.

    Small states are almost invariably non-competitive, and ignored, in presidential elections. Only 1 of the 13 smallest states are battleground states (and only 5 of the 25 smallest states are battlegrounds).

    Of the 13 smallest states, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Alaska regularly vote Republican, and Rhode Island, Delaware, Hawaii, Vermont, Maine, and DC regularly vote Democratic. These 12 states together contain 11 million people. Because of the two electoral-vote bonus that each state receives, the 12 non-competitive small states have 40 electoral votes. However, the two-vote bonus is an entirely illusory advantage to the small states. Ohio has 11 million people and has "only" 20 electoral votes. As we all know, the 11 million people in Ohio are the center of attention in presidential campaigns, while the 11 million people in the 12 non-competitive small states are utterly irrelevant. Nationwide election of the President would make each of the voters in the 12 smallest states as important as an Ohio voter.

    The concept of a national popular vote for President is far from being politically "radioactive" in small states, because the small states recognize they are the most disadvantaged group of states under the current system.

    In small states, the National Popular Vote bill already has been approved by eight state legislative chambers, including one house in Delaware and Maine and both houses in Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermont. It has been enacted by Hawaii.
  17. Feb 4, 2010 #16


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    Most other democracies use a parliamentary system, but if you mean by that statement that no other democracy uses proxies or elected officials to choose or remove the head of state (prime minister), then of course they do - see, e.g., vote of no confidence, coalition governments, etc.

    As to the reason's why the college was chosen:
  18. Feb 4, 2010 #17
    No. Whether a "presidential" or parliamentary system is used, other democracies use direct popular election. There is no intervening institution in the election of members of parliament. The prime minister is the leader of the parliamentary majority. Essentially, a vote for an MP candidate is a vote for the candidate's party and its leader.

    The Electoral College was a good solution for the time. The idea was that electors would be elected for their personal qualifications to choose a national leader. However, by 1800 the only qualification that mattered was who the electors were going to vote for: Jefferson or Burr. Both candidates fielded slates of electors pledged to vote for them in most of the states. The College became a mere political tool for "winner take all" elections. Read mvymvy's posts. He or she makes some excellent points regarding the current system and ways to improve it without a constitutional amendment.

    My real concern is when an election goes to the House of Representatives. IMO, such an event has the makings of a major political, if not constitutional crisis. I was unaware of the National Popular Vote movement that mvymvy has described. It's not ideal in that it would seem to require states that voted for candidate B to direct their electoral votes to candidate A if A won the national popular vote, but it's a "bottom up" compact among states that could avoid the kind of crisis I'm talking about without relying on Congress to initiate a constitutional amendment.
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2010
  19. Feb 4, 2010 #18

    Ivan Seeking

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    The winner-take-all systems is intended in part to prevent the population centers from solely determining the outcome of elections. If you want to see voter apathy, make the votes from 25 states moot by removing the winner-take-all system.

    There are several concepts in play here: The electoral college, winner take all, and the point of the op - elections deferred to a House vote - which I agree is a concern. However, there was a reason for the one-state, one-vote approach. Do we know the reasoning behind this?

    Here is something else to consider: Electors are not required to vote according the their State's mandate. They almost always do vote according to the popular vote but there are exceptions. This is a safety mechanism. In the context of this discussion, in order to prevent a vote from going to the House, electors may opt to change their vote.
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2010
  20. Feb 4, 2010 #19
    I just did a search using a word string that mvymvy posted. Mvymvy is all over the Internet with this same set of replies.

    Are you there, mvymvy? I'm just curious.
  21. Feb 4, 2010 #20


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    What? Parliamentary government's use direct election but they don't? As I said, the head of state, i.e. the PM, is NOT necessarily elected by direct election. In Israel for instance the Knesset chooses the PM. In 2001 Israel abolished direct election. In fact, current Israeli PM Netanyahu's Likud party received the second most votes in the http://translate.google.com/transla...18/heb/results/main_Results.aspx&sl=iw&tl=en", Livni's Kadima party came in first, but Livni didn't have enough collateral support from minority parties to form a government.

    Edit: Furthermore, most parliamentary legislators I know of have the power to remove the PM for any reason whatever, i.e. absent any criminal wrongdoing, regardless of the popular will. That can't happen in the US system.
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