A new electoral system: ground work

One thing worth noting upfront is that as far as I have figured, any new system would have to incorporate some degree of decimals with electoral vote allocation. This is a pain in the ass as far as keeping things simple, but better to have a good mathy system than a bad simple system.

Table of Contents

1) Issues with several alternatives to the EC

2) Explanation of central tenets

3) Brainstorm

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1) Issues with several alternatives to the EC

No one really likes the Electoral College. It is antiquated. It doesn’t work the way that it was intended to. It reeks of unnecessary political elitism in both its name and in the fact most elections are either blowouts or come down to a small handful of states, leaving most people feeling as though their vote matters little or not at all.

However, the standard alternatives are much worse options, both at different extremes of the spectrum.

Moving to a national popular vote is a favorite many, especially those who still hold resentment about the 2000 general election. A national popular vote can make sense in small nations. We use it in every state and congressional district, for example, without any serious issues of disenfranchisement. But it won’t work nationally in the United States.

One reason is simple history. We have a state based nation that has striven to protect the balance between state power and national power. To eliminate a state-centric approach in favor of a wide open system would be a gross bastardization of our nation’s history. The small state of Wyoming has about 544k residents and 3 electoral votes. The state of California has about 36.961M residents and 55 electoral votes. One way to parse this is that in the electoral college system California is about 18.3 times more important/powerful than Wyoming. A switch to a popular vote model with make California about 67.9 times more powerful than Wyoming.

Some would say “Well, who cares? It should be that way.” And many people want to feel like their vote matters, instead of being constrained by living in states that potentially vote the same way nearly every election.

They have legitimate concerns. A national popular vote is not the answer though.

With a national popular vote, elections would turn into hyper-partisan turn out exercises. This may sound like a bad joke to those that think we already have such a system, but we really don’t. Right now we have battles over swing states. These states, like Ohio or Florida or Pennsylvania, are at the very least marginally representative of the national as a whole. Candidates must hone their message to appeal to as many people as possibly, especially towards the middle-ground independent voters. Compartmentalizing the election in this manner is not great for enfranchisement, but it does ensure a healthy level of political moderation from candidates. A national popular vote would do the opposite. It would encourage Democrats to put nearly all organizational resources into urban areas and the coasts. The GOP would focus on the South and Mid-West and on suburban or rural areas. Partisanship as a whole would increase, but far worse than that is partisanship based on geographic location (and therefore race, eventually) would grow sharply. It would not be healthy. It would encourage increased voting fraud as well as disenfranchisement tactics. And if pre-election polls suggest that one candidate is going to win, for example, 55% to 45% or greater the incentive to vote may decrease dramatically. This would hurt local and state level democracy. To be fair, this issue of disincentivization is equally weak or worse in the current EC system.

Ok. Now the district by district method.

In this system, each Congressional district would cast an electoral vote based on which candidates wins the district (by plurality). Presumably, each state would cast 2 electoral votes based on their statewide winner as well.

The problem in this system is that many urban districts are (as a result of the Civil Right Act, though I forget which one) gerrymandered in a way that extremely favor Democrats. Some rural districts are the opposite, in favor of the GOP. So what would happen is the inverse of the national popular vote system: swing districts (mostly suburban or rural areas) would be the focus on attention for candidates. Urban districts (and therefore urban issues) would be at the very least less important, at most neglected entirely and taken for granted as voting for the Democratic candidate. Same for certain rural areas, especially the large land states in the central northwest that have only one or two districts for very big swaths of land. We would be replacing swing states, and their mix of urban, rural, and suburban and racially diverse concerns, with swing districts, which would in all likelihood put a disproportionate focus on white suburban concerns.

Not to mention, the redistricting process would become even more of a political nightmare.

I prefer the Electoral College to either of those options because it fits in a good middle ground. It encourages moderation. It mildly encourages suffrage without encouraging too much disenfranchisement tactics. For example: If the state of New York drastically reduced voting ability in New York City in a national popular vote system (let’s say they, unrealistically, do this by eliminating 90% of polling locations so lines are too long for people to bother voting) they could change an entire election. If the same thing happened in the current EC, New York state might flip but the rest of the nation would be unaffected. This compartmentalization is a good thing in terms of protecting against such tactics, though it is not ideal for incentivizing voting in the first place.

There must be a better system than all three.

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2) Explanation of central tenets

As mentioned in my previous post, here are the three central tenets than any new system must adhere to:

Must encourage suffrage (voting).

Any new system must seek to incentivize voting as much as possible while guarding against giving new reasons for politicians to desire disenfranchising voters (as in the national popular vote scenario).

The best way to go about this is the make the system complex enough that one has no idea how much their vote matters until after all have been counted. They must also feel as those their vote will matter no matter the outcome of their particular region. This leads will to point two.

2) Must be simple enough to explain to an 8th grader.

It is entirely possible to make an exceedingly complex plan that balances all geographic, racial, and political concerns when it comes to electing a President.

But if the plan is too complex it will have an opposite effect on incentivization and decrease turnout. It has to make sense to and 8th grader or else there is no point in using it.

8th graders are capable of understanding plenty, thankfully, so I’ll still have a lot of room to be creative in my solution.

3) Must retain a sense of “American-ism”

This umbrella term covers a few things. First, some specific things like ranked or multi-candidate voting will be excluded from any final plan. So will multi-round (run-offs, both automatic or real) voting. Second, the intangible aspect of the plan must feel “American” in terms of respecting the individual power of states and our style of federalism as well as the notion of “one person one vote”. The latter will have to be fudged slightly, but not in a way that is worse than the electoral college and not in a way that encourages any voting fraud. Lastly, it must be written in a way that could be added to the Constitution as an amendment. This does not mean it has to necessarily be simple or short, but it cannot be a five page rule book either. My ideas have to be condensed into clear and concise language at the end of things.

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3) Brainstorm

At the moment, I am envisioning a sort of super-hybrid electoral system in which the national vote, statewide vote, and per-district vote all are taken into account. In addition, some level of that must include an allocation of electoral votes based on percentage to provide increased incentivization for both individuals (to vote) and for parties/groups (to register voters and get as many to the polls as possible, everywhere).

The electoral “votes” must be tied to the number of Congress seats somehow (as opposed to picking a random number like 500 or 1,000), so that it is scalable in the event that new states are added to the union.

It must provide language guaranteeing electoral votes as opposed to the current Electoral College where electors (the people we elect to cast the final ballots) are technically free to cast their vote for anyone they please. The tradition of having “electors” may be continued, potentially.

There must be built-in recourse in the case of certain unforeseen events (death of President-elect between election day and certification of results, virtual ties, no candidate achieves a certain threshold of votes, etc).

The system should not favor “glamor” candidacies (ie a billionaire that spends his/her way into a third party victory [or, more accurately, multiple billionaires running and diluting the vote so that no candidates in the entire race receives more that 20% or 30% of the national vote]). However, it should not be built to favor a two party system either. The easy solution to this is a run-off election, but I have ruled this out.

It should (possibly) provide a standardized way of getting onto the national ballot, as opposed to the state-by-state system at the moment (some require signatures, some require payments, some both). Some sort of threshold and candidate limit would have to be set. I may not include anything on this subject. It’s a tricky one.

Ok. Going to keep thinking about this overnight and possibly for a few days before putting together a plan. Stay tuned!

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