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originally posted by: NihilistSanta
What is your take on the fact that we have the same number of reps that we have had since 1910/1929? Do you not think this would change things? I imagine an awful lot of demographic and population shifts have occurred in 106 years. People are fleeing some of the liberal states because of the taxation currently so I wonder how the country would be represented if things had not been essentially stuck in time for 100+ years. How does this affect the electoral college? I used to be more knowledgeable about these things but haven't had a refresher in some time.
originally posted by: schuyler
THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE
Every presidential season we go through the same thing. “Why is there an electoral college?” “The electoral college is not fair!” “We should elect by popular vote!” and on and on. There appears to be a woeful lack of understanding why this situation developed, with many members fabricating or misunderstanding the reasons for it.
IN THE BEGINNING
The “United States of America” was a collective noun. It meant the original thirteen colonies united for a common purpose. Each colony was separately governed and there were many issues of discontent between them, so many that the United States Constitution is a document of compromise that barely passed. Each colony had good reasons for not joining and none of them wanted to sacrifice their own self-governance to the new “federal” government.
The biggest state by far was Virginia, which included West Virginia at the time. It was big in terms of size, in terms of population, and in terms of influence. It dominated early American politics. Indeed, four of the first five presidents were from Virginia and, except for John Adams’ single term of four years, Virginians controlled the presidency for 32 of the 36 years until 1825. Many of the early issues revolved around slavery and, of course, Virginia was a slave state. Basically what happened with the slave issue was that they kicked the can down the road for the next generation to deal with, the result of which was the Civil War, which killed more people than all the other American wars combined.
The biggest issue, then, was states’ rights. Today we tend to think this meant the right of the southern states to keep slavery, but that’s not really true. It was the opposite. The southern states are large; the northern states generally are not. ‘States’ rights referred just as much to Rhode Island being smothered by the other states as it did Georgia. Of the original 13 colonies, half of them were tiny and they were all northern. Delaware and Rhode Island are smaller than many western counties.
And they all demanded their rights! And the biggest way they got them was through the biggest compromise in the US Constitution: The House of Representatives versus the Senate. The House, of course, is elected via popular vote according to the size of the population, so a populous state gets way more representatives than a non-populous state. But the Senate is composed of two senators for each state, no matter how large or small. So in the Senate Virginia was “no bigger” than Rhode Island.
Further, the Senate was elected NOT by a vote of the people, but by the State legislatures. Now you could say there was a connection to “the people” because the legislators themselves were elected by the people, but the message there was that the Senate represented the States themselves where the House represented the people directly. That was how the United States (plural) came to be.
THE EROSION OF STATES’ RIGHTS
When the next generation caught up with the can the issues were still smoldering, and this resulted in the Civil War. Today we think and even insist that the war was all about slavery. This is one of the biggest public relations coups in history that is still believed by the majority even today. But slavery as an institution was in a tailspin. It wasn’t economically viable. The old “plantation model” instituted by Great Britain was eroding.
The real reason was “states’ rights” and when the south seceded, Lincoln invaded and forced the south back into the fold. For the first time the “United States of America” became a singular noun. It was one country, not a collective of separate countries with a loose and limited federal government. This was the beginning of the end because the federalist weren’t finished.
Next on the list was the Senate. A campaign started to change the very idea of the Senate into another House with direct election of the Senators. The campaign painted the Senate as group of cronies chosen by corrupt legislatures which chose Senators because of vote buying and corruption. If we chose senators by popular vote, it was stated, this would eliminate that corruption and clean house. This whole issue started in the early 19th century and was later promoted by none other than William Randolph Hearst, who called senators every name in the book. Even by today’s low standards the politics of the situation were harsh. It was another PR coup as the 17th amendment was passed in 1914.
THE EFFECT OF THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE
The formula is straightforward. The number of electoral college members is s simple addition of the number of legislators in the House plus the number of Senators in the state, so Alaska, and Wyoming each have a single representative in the House plus two senators for a total of three Electoral College votes. California, on the other hand, has 53 legislators and two senators for a total of 55 votes.
One of the provisions of this process is the “winner take all” rule where if 50% +1 of the popular vote goes to candidate X, that candidate gets all the electoral college votes. This is a state-controlled issue. It is NOT an overall rule and there are a couple of states that do not allocate electoral college votes in this manner.
The overall result of this is that it gives a very slight edge to the less populous states. It’s enough of an edge that a candidate cannot get away with campaigning in New York, Pennsylvania, and California and calling it a wrap. And in a very tight campaign where both candidates are approaching the winning number of 270, any single state could provide the margin for victory.
The Electoral College was designed to prevent an all-powerful central government. That is, of course, what we already have. States’ rights have been eroded to the point where states by themselves are ineffectual and virtually powerless against the huge central government. The fears of the Founders have been realized. It took about 100 years to do it, but it’s just about done.
The amazing part of this story is that we actually have people who believe they are being disenfranchised BECAUSE of the Electoral College which, if it went away, would result in these very same voters being MORE disenfranchised than they are today. At least today there is a chance for a voter’s choice to have an effect, but without the Electoral College, people in the vast majority of states may as well not even vote, because the election will be decided by city dwellers in California, New York, and Pennsylvania, both coasts, where the fly-over states may as well be a different country.
originally posted by: Aazadan
a reply to: SlapMonkey
I think it still has merit because it gives smaller states some power in elections. If we went purely by population only a handful of swing areas would matter. It would be an even worse situation than we have now where entire swing states can receive attention.