Tag Archives: electoral college

Speaking of White Privilege….

In the wake of the election, there has been a renewed call to get rid of the Electoral College–or at least modify its operation via the National Popular Vote Project to require electors to vote for the candidate who wins the popular vote.

The Electoral College was originally a concession to the slave states, allowing them to “count” their slaves (albeit at a discount). Today, it has all sorts of pernicious and undemocratic effects. Not long ago, Jamin Raskin, who teaches Constitutional law at George Washington University, summed up a number of those effects in a post to the American Constitution Society’s blog. Raskin noted that,

in the absence of the Electoral College, it would no longer make strategic sense to “turn off the lights and fly over 40 states – from California to New York, Texas to Vermont, Georgia to Mississippi, Hawaii to Alaska, South Dakota to Montana, and so on.” And he disputed the argument that the rest of the electorate “should be content to be long-distance spectators because the voters of Virginia or Arizona or Florida are just like us and are effectively acting as proxies for our interests and our values.”

This was precisely the argument that was rejected in the American Revolution.

The British tried to convince the American colonists that they didn’t need their own elections and representatives in Parliament because they were “virtually represented” by members back home representing Englishmen of similar views. The colonists rebelled against this insulting doctrine of “virtual representation,” which they treated as an assault on political liberty and authentic democracy rooted in the politics of place. Roughly 140 years later, we similarly rejected claims that women didn’t need the vote because they were adequately represented by men.

Every citizen’s vote should count equally in presidential elections, as in elections for governor or mayor. But the current regime makes votes in swing states hugely valuable while rendering votes in non-competitive states virtually meaningless. This weird lottery, as we have seen, dramatically increases incentives for strategic partisan mischief and electoral corruption in states like Florida and Ohio. You can swing a whole election by suppressing, deterring, rejecting and disqualifying just a few thousand votes.

My own biggest “gripe” is, as I have previously written, the extra weight the system gives to votes from rural areas. In effect, urban votes count less and rural preferences count more–an anti-democratic result. But an analysis by Vox has confirmed that it isn’t only voters from more thinly populated areas who are privileged by the system. The Electoral College also privileges the votes of white Americans.

The probability of one person’s vote being decisive, we found, ranged from roughly one in a million for a resident of New Hampshire — a swing state with a relatively small population — to less than one in one billion in states that are reliably “red” or “blue,” such as New York, California, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

We can use a similar approach to show how the Electoral College increases not just the weight of voters in swing states but the weight of voters of certain ethnicities — based on their distribution across the states. We find that, based on the current distribution of voters of different ethnicities across states, and particularly within swing states, the Electoral College amplifies the power of white voters by a substantial amount….

After running the numbers, we estimate that, per voter, whites have 16 percent more power than blacks once the Electoral College is taken into consideration, 28 percent more power than Latinos, and 57 percent more power than those who fall into the other category.

I’m sure that analysis warms the cockles of Bill O’Reilly’s heart. (I assume he does have one. Somewhere.) It doesn’t do much for mine.

The Election Was, Actually, Rigged

Among the many ironies of the 2016 election was Trump’s insistence that if he were to lose (and evidently only then), it would be evidence that the election was rigged.

The truth, as numerous election officials pointed out, is that tampering with the vote at polling sites–the only sort of “rigging” Trump would understand– is virtually impossible. Vote suppression is far more common.

That said, the actual “rigging” of American elections is quite legal; in fact, it’s baked into the system. I’ve written extensively about some of the more egregious examples, especially gerrymandering. But partisan redistricting isn’t the only structural element frustrating expression of the popular will.

Almost lost in the coverage of the election’s stunning result was the fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. She lost in the Electoral College, a structural throwback to a different time that has increasingly distorted national elections and failed to reflect the will of the voters as expressed at the ballot box. This is the second time in 16 years that a candidate has won the popular vote only to lose the Electoral College and the Presidency.

Many of the problems with the Electoral College are widely recognized: the outsized influence it gives swing states, the lack of an incentive to vote if you favor the minority party in a winner-take-all state dominated by the other party, and the over-representation of rural and less populated states.

Whatever the original merits of the Electoral College, it operates today to disadvantage urban voters in favor of rural ones. Hillary Clinton’s voters were women, minorities, and educated Whites, and they were disproportionately urban; Trump supporters were primarily less-educated White Christian males, and they were overwhelmingly rural.

In today’s America, cities are growing and rural areas declining. That decline undoubtedly feeds much of the anger and white nationalism displayed by Trump voters. One can be sympathetic to rural concerns without, however, giving the votes of rural inhabitants (already favored by gerrymandering) greater weight than the votes of urban Americans.

In Baker v. Carr, the Supreme Court famously upheld the principle of “one person, one vote.” The operation of the Electoral College violates that fundamental democratic tenet.

The cost of living is higher in cities, and most of us who choose urban life are willing to pay a premium in return for the benefits offered by more cosmopolitan environments. But a reduction in the value of our vote shouldn’t be one of the added costs we incur.

It is time to get rid of the Electoral College.

Short-Term, Long-Term

A post-election article from the Houston Chronicle begins with a provocative projection that will comfort people depressed about the midterms:

Few things are as dangerous to a long term strategy as a short-term victory. Republicans this week scored the kind of win that sets one up for spectacular, catastrophic failure and no one is talking about it.

What emerges from the numbers is the continuation of a trend that has been in place for almost two decades. Once again, Republicans are disappearing from the competitive landscape at the national level across the most heavily populated sections of the country while intensifying their hold on a declining electoral bloc of aging, white, rural voters. The 2014 election not only continued that doomed pattern, it doubled down on it. As a result, it became apparent from the numbers last week that no Republican candidate has a credible shot at the White House in 2016, and the chance of the GOP holding the Senate for longer than two years is precisely zero.(emphasis mine)

The article follows this declaration with a matter-of-fact rundown of the electoral college votes–where they are and what a winner will need. His bottom line:

The next Presidential election, and all subsequent ones until a future party realignment, will be decided in the Democratic primary. Only by sweeping all nine of the states that remain in contention AND also flipping one impossibly Democratic state can a Republican candidate win the White House. What are the odds that a Republican candidate capable of passing muster with 2016 GOP primary voters can accomplish that feat? You do the math.

The key to understanding that paragraph (not to mention our toxic political environment),  is “What are the odds that a Republican candidate capable of passing muster with GOP primary voters”….

As the article convincingly demonstrates, the crazies who appeal to the GOP’s current base  are winning in bright red, frequently gerrymandered, mostly rural districts. The problem is, those crazies have now become the (embarrassing) face of the Republican party nationally–making it impossible for the party to win national elections.

We ought not take too much comfort from that.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again–this country needs two adult, sane political parties. Right now, the GOP is controlled by a base that is neither adult nor sane. Unless the remaining Republican grown-ups (whose ranks are thinning) can reassert control, there will be no rational “loyal opposition” to keep Democrats focused and honest, no healthy competition to ensure that all ideas get thoroughly vetted, and no place to go–no alternative to vote for– for the disaffected.

America needs a rational GOP. We had one once, and I miss it.