Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Things that make me grumpy

Doctor Grumpy's vote is worthless every 4 years.

That doesn't mean I don't vote for President- I always do. And almost every other election that comes up.

Every political system has it's quirks. And this one is a real pet peeve of mine.

To give some background for my non-U.S. readers:

The American political system started, like most, in an era when horses were the main method of transportation, and hence long-distance communication of news. So it wasn't practical to count every single nationwide vote in Presidential elections every 4 years (there were other issues for the electoral college, but I'll let commentators fill those in).

Each U.S. state was given a certain number of votes in an electoral college, based on how many congressional representatives it has. In this system, whichever candidate gets > 50% of the vote in a state gets ALL that state's electoral college votes. It's all-or-nothing. To be fair, a few states have tried to remedy this, by splitting up electoral votes by districts, or based on percentages of popular votes. But for most, it's still all-or-nothing.

So 3 times in American history the winner of a Presidential election was NOT the person who won the majority of the popular vote.

Now, in an era where you had to tabulate votes locally, and send the results by horseback, this system made sense. But with the invention of the telegraph, and then the radio, telephone, and internet, it's not needed. The technology is now there to count every vote, which certainly would be fairer.

So, since Dr. Grumpy lives in a state where he's in the political minority, his Presidential vote is meaningless. All my state's electoral votes go to the other side.

The practical result of this is that, out of the 50 U.S. states, only 10 or so really are the ones that elect a President. They call them "swing states", where they have a large number of electoral votes AND a population that's fairly evenly split. And so politicians only focus on kissing ass in those areas, and ignore the other 80% of us.

Now, most Americans hate this crap. Polls taken regularly since 1944 have shown that a large majority of Americans want to toss the electoral college and just go to direct election by popular vote.

Has this ever even come close to happening? Hell no. Why not, you ask?

Because it's not in the best interest of any major political party!

Let's look at this: Say I'm Humungous Political Party, trying to get my bozo elected. I have a finite amount of money to blow on TV ads, public rallies, etc. Say, (for simplicity) it's $100.

In the current system I can focus that $100 on the 10 states where it matters (at $10/state), and ignore the rest of the voting peons all over the country.

But, if the electoral college were gone, then every single vote, from populous New York to rural Alaska, becomes equal. I'd have to spread my resources thin and blow only $2/state trying to reach everyone with a ballot.

No political party wants to do that. They want to focus their dollars on a concentrated area, getting the most returns for their spending.

You can write to your congressman all you want. He'll agree with you, then vote the opposite way. Multiple attempts to change this have been introduced, and all were killed off early.

After all, voting equality is so un-democratic and un-American.


Anonymous said...

I agree 100 percent.

Firedrake said...

If you had a popular vote, then the money and influence still wouldn't go everywhere equally - it would go to areas where people are both concentrated and likely to change their minds. The coastal cities, mostly.

And stupid people are always easier to bribe to change their minds than smart people.

ERP said...

It's just nauseating. Also, our forefathers liked the idea of the electroal college as a failsafe against the population electing some completely unskilled person - the electoral college could always step in and say, "no, you can't elect Dr Grumpy's Grandma".
Now in retrospect, one could argue that has happened anyway - multiple times. And perhaps Dr Grumpy's grandma would be a better president.

Anonymous said...

@ Firedrake. Yeah, but even if they did focus on coastal cities or even just large cities that would still be only a fraction of the total population, which would be even more skewed than their current focus on swing states and much less effective.

It's a groundless fear and unlikely to happen. The top ten largest cities in the US represent less than 10% of the total population. Any candidate that did that would surely lose because the 90% of the population that they ignored, who now has an equal vote, sure as hell won't be voting for him/her/it.

HDJ in AZ said...

YAY for you!!!

Anonymous said...

In Canada, our prime minister is not elected by popular vote either. We have "ridings" across Canada. Each riding is set up to contain roughly the same amout of voters (so the riding may be only a portion of a large city or could contain multiple smaller towns, etc). Even the person running for Prime Minister has to run in a riding. Each riding sends a Member of Parliament (MP) to office. The party with the most MP's wins the election. Of course, the more populated provinces sent more MP's to Ottawa, often the election has already been "decided" in the east before votes are even counted in the western provinces.

Sarah Glenn said...

How true this is. My county's Democratic executive committee couldn't BUY bumper stickers for Kerry during the 2004 presidential election because it's located in a red state. The campaign didn't want to waste the money.

Don said...

Our country was set up as a Republic, not a Democracy. We use elected representatives to decide issues for us, instead of direct election. The Electoral College is an example of that.

The purpose of the Electoral College wasn't to simplify the counting of the popular vote.

It was to balance the interests of the small low population rural states vs the high population urban states.

Similar to the balance between the House and the Senate.

It is possible, because of the population centers in this country, to win the popular vote and only win 10 States.

Being from a small population State, Idaho, the Electoral College is the only thing that makes my voice heard during Presidential Election Campaigns at all.

Anonymous said...

we still are a republic not a democracy the founding fathers thought of a democracy as more like a dumocracy

the constitution makes no provision for electing a president in any form

oringinally the senate was the representative of the state government.. so that each had a equalizing vote helping low population states

An Ohioan said...

But you have no idea how much fun it is seeing politicians' faces as they eat our cinnamon-flavored chili and try to make it look like they're enjoying it. Would you really deprive us of that?

Allison said...


Unknown said...

@Firedrake - less than 20% of the population of the United States live in the 100 biggest cities (all the way down to Spokane). Focusing on big cities would be a good way to lose you the election.

@Dr Grumpy - the "swing states" aren't actually the ones with the closest races - they're the biggest states which are overrepresented in the electoral college. C. G. P. Grey did a video on it here.

Packer said...

Aw, Cmon at least you get a vote, move to Chicago and someone will do it for you.

Library-Gryffon said...

You could be conservative in Connecticut. Where not only does my vote in the general not count, but neither does my vote in our primary.

Amy said...

I moved from Nebraska to Ohio a month after the Bush/Gore Florida recount hanging chad debacle. I've never seen so much hubbub over elections in my life since I moved here. A president is always coming here, or someone who wants to be president. Jacking up my ability to drive across town and yeah, what is up with that nasty-ass chili? I don't know where you're from, Dr. Grumpy, but I hope you never experience the "joys" of a swing state in an election year.

John Kasich said...

The rest of the country doesn't understand such a unique issue as our Ohio food.

Chili is SUPPOSED to taste like a grade-school cafeteria Sloppy Joe served on a Cinnabon.

I hope that clarifies it for the neanderthals out there.

Anonymous said...

to anonymous @ 8:07: That did not happen in our last election. The west did (for once) affect the vote. It was awesome.

Anonymous said...

To anon @ 12:42: Being from the far west, I completely agree!

Moose said...

And this is why I always vote for Optimus Prime.

Well, that and history.

Mingle said...

Isn't it sad when you know your vote towards the next American Idol counts for more than your vote for President?

Anonymous said...

If voting could really change anything, it would be illegal.

bobbie said...


amandaElizabeth said...

I think for all its faults our system works better for supporters of smaller parties. Bear in mind though that we are only 4 million people and live on two small islands in the same time zone. The country is divided into electorates of approximately the same population. Every three years we vote twice, one for our electorate mp and once for the party we favour. So we can vote for a damn good mp who does not belong to our prefered party. With a system of list mp's reflecting the number of party votes gained, the party with the most mp's get to choose the Prime Minister. This has the advantage of votes for a minor party in a majority party electorate go towards representation in the list.
The system took some time to bed in, and being kiwi's many people found work arounds and some flaws but by and large it does what it needs to which is to give us a government which reflects us. Now all we have to do is get the political parties to put up a better class of candidate.

toto said...

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, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps. There would no longer be a handful of 'battleground' states where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in more than 3/4ths of the states that now are just 'spectators' and ignored.

When the bill is enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes– enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538), all the electoral votes from the enacting states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC.

The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for President. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support for a national popular vote is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in virtually every state surveyed in recent polls in closely divided Battleground states: CO – 68%, FL – 78%, IA 75%, MI – 73%, MO – 70%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM– 76%, NC – 74%, OH – 70%, PA – 78%, VA – 74%, and WI – 71%; in Small states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE – 75%, ID – 77%, ME – 77%, MT – 72%, NE 74%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM – 76%, OK – 81%, RI – 74%, SD – 71%, UT – 70%, VT – 75%, WV – 81%, and WY – 69%; in Southern and Border states: AR – 80%,, KY- 80%, MS – 77%, MO – 70%, NC – 74%, OK – 81%, SC – 71%, TN – 83%, VA – 74%, and WV – 81%; and in other states polled: CA – 70%, CT – 74%, MA – 73%, MN – 75%, NY – 79%, OR – 76%, and WA – 77%. Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.

The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large states. The bill has been enacted by 9 jurisdictions possessing 132 electoral votes - 49% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

Follow National Popular Vote on Facebook via nationalpopularvoteinc

toto said...

If every vote mattered throughout the United States, as it would under a national popular vote, candidates would reallocate the money they raise.

A nationwide presidential campaign, with every vote equal, would be run the way presidential candidates campaign to win the electoral votes of closely divided battleground states, such as Ohio and Florida, under the state-by-state winner-take-all methods. The big cities in those battleground states do not receive all the attention, much less control the outcome. Cleveland and Miami do not receive all the attention or control the outcome in Ohio and Florida.

The itineraries of presidential candidates in battleground states (and their allocation of other campaign resources in battleground states) reflect the political reality that every gubernatorial or senatorial candidate knows. When and where every vote is equal, a campaign must be run everywhere.

When every vote is equal, everywhere, it makes sense to try and elevate your share where you aren't so well liked. But, under the state-by-state winner-take-all laws, it makes no sense for a Democrat to try and do that in Texas, or for a Republican to try it in Illinois.

Even in California state-wide elections, candidates for governor or U.S. Senate don't campaign just in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and those places don't control the outcome (otherwise California wouldn't have recently had Republican governors Reagan, Dukemejian, Wilson, and Schwarzenegger). A vote in rural Alpine county is just an important as a vote in Los Angeles. If Los Angeles cannot control statewide elections in California, it can hardly control a nationwide election.

In fact, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland together cannot control a statewide election in California.

Similarly, Republicans dominate Texas politics without carrying big cities such as Dallas and Houston.

There are numerous other examples of Republicans who won races for governor and U.S. Senator in other states that have big cities (e.g., New York, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts) without ever carrying the big cities of their respective states.

When every vote is equal, candidates of both parties will seek out voters in small, medium, and large towns throughout the states in order to win. A vote cast in a big city or state will be equal to a vote cast in a small state, town, or rural area.

The main media at the moment, TV, costs much more per impression in big cities than in smaller towns and rural area. Candidates get more bang for the buck in smaller towns and rural areas.

The National Popular Vote bill would not change the need for candidates to build a winning coalition across demographics. Candidates would have to appeal to a broad range of demographics, and perhaps even more so, because the election wouldn’t be capable of coming down to just one demographic, such as voters in Ohio.

toto said...

There have been 22,000 electoral votes cast since presidential elections became competitive (in 1796), and only 10 have been cast for someone other than the candidate nominated by the elector's own political party. The electors now are dedicated party activists of the winning party who meet briefly in mid-December to cast their totally predictable rubberstamped votes in accordance with their pre-announced pledges.

If a Democratic presidential candidate receives the most votes, the state's dedicated Democratic party activists who have been chosen as its slate of electors become the Electoral College voting bloc. If a Republican presidential candidate receives the most votes, the state's dedicated Republican party activists who have been chosen as its slate of electors become the Electoral College voting bloc.

toto said...


National Popular Vote has nothing to do with direct democracy.

With National Popular Vote, citizens would not rule directly but, instead, continue to elect the President by a majority of Electoral College votes, to represent us and conduct the business of government in the periods between elections.

With the current state winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes, winning a bare plurality of the popular vote in the 11 most populous states, containing 56% of the population, could win the Presidency with a mere 26% of the nation's votes.

Now presidential elections ignore 12 of the 13 lowest population states (3-4 electoral votes), that are non-competitive in presidential elections. 6 regularly vote Republican (AK, ID, MT, WY, ND, and SD), and 6 regularly vote Democratic (RI, DE, HI, VT, ME, and DC) in presidential elections. Voters in states that are reliably red or blue don't matter. Candidates ignore those states and the issues they care about most.

Support for a national popular vote is strong in every smallest state surveyed in recent polls among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group. Support in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK -70%, DC -76%, DE --75%, ID -77%, ME - 77%, MT- 72%, NE - 74%, NH--69%, NE - 72%, NM - 76%, RI - 74%, SD- 71%, UT- 70%, VT - 75%, WV- 81%, and WY- 69%.

In the lowest population states, the National Popular Vote bill has passed in nine state legislative chambers, and been enacted by 3 jurisdictions.

None of the 10 most rural states (VT, ME, WV, MS, SD, AR, MT, ND, AL, and KY) is a battleground state.

The current state-by-state winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes does not enhance the influence of rural states, because the most rural states are not battleground states, and they are ignored.

Of the 22 medium-lowest population states (those with 3,4,5, or 6 electoral votes), only 3 have been battleground states in recent elections-- NH, NM, and NV. These three states contain only 14 (8%) of the 22 medium-lowest population states' total 166 electoral votes.

toto said...

"Swing states" ARE the handful of states (small, medium, or large) that are not reliably red or blue.

The current state-by-state winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but since enacted by 48 states), ensures that the candidates, after the primaries, will not reach out to about 76% of the states and their voters. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or care about the voter concerns in the dozens of states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind.

Presidential candidates concentrate their attention on only the current handful of closely divided "battleground" states and their voters. There is no incentive for them to bother to care about the majority of states where they are hopelessly behind or safely ahead to win. 9 of the original 13 states are considered “fly-over” now. In the 2012 election, pundits and campaign operatives agree already, that, at most, only 12 states and their voters will matter. They will decide the election. None of the 10 most rural states will matter, as usual. About 76% of the country will be ignored --including 19 of the 22 lowest population and medium-small states, and 17 medium and big states like CA, GA, NY, and TX. This will be more obscene than the 2008 campaign, when candidates concentrated over 2/3rds of their campaign events and ad money in just 6 states, and 98% in just 15 states (CO, FL, IN, IA, MI, MN, MO, NV, NH, NM, NC, OH, PA, VA, and WI). Over half (57%) of the events were in just 4 states (OH, FL, PA, and VA). In 2004, candidates concentrated over 2/3rds of their money and campaign visits in 5 states; over 80% in 9 states; and over 99% of their money in 16 states.

More than 2/3rds of the states and people have been merely spectators to presidential elections. They have no influence. That's more than 85 million voters ignored. When and where voters are ignored, then so are the issues they care about most.

Policies important to the citizens of ‘flyover’ states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.

The number and population of battleground states is shrinking as the U.S. population grows.

States' partisanship is hardening.

Some states have not been been competitive for than a half-century and most states now have a degree of partisan imbalance that makes them highly unlikely to be in a swing state position.
• 41 States Won by Same Party, 2000-2008
• 32 States Won by Same Party, 1992-2008
• 13 States Won Only by Republican Party, 1980-2008
• 19 States Won Only by Democratic Party, 1992-2008
• 9 Democratic States Not Swing State since 1988
• 15 GOP States Not Swing State since 1988

Anonymous said...

Not to mention states like mine (Texas) where we keep getting to add seats at the expense of other states for our huge influx of population - a big percentage of which is not eligible to vote because they are not citizens.

Anonymous said...

I used to get myself all worked up about the state of our "Democracy". It is sickening...between that apathy, laziness, ignorance and corruption, it got too depressing. I cancelled my cable subscription, removing the temptation to watch the brawls on CNN and MSNBC. I'm much happier now with my streaming documentaries about past political debacles...and my blood pressure is markedly better.

To those from so-called swing states who feel like they would not have a voice were it not for the Electoral College, try living in NY or CA now. Not to mention the corruption and distortion that granting a disproportionate share of the vote to a designated population causes...take a look at farm's the Halliburton of the Midwest.

I give up...sad but true!

Anonymous said...

to the Canadian Anonymouses -- but Harper wasn't elected by the majority of the PEOPLE. Maybe he received the majority of the seats, but he sure didn't get the majority of the votes. First past the post wins again. I used to vote PROgressive conservative, but can't stomach REgressive conservatives we have now.

Kinda like Toronto's mess they find themselves in now. Ford didn't win the majority of the votes, but the moderate candidates split the vote, allowing him to win with a minority of support.

TracyKM said...

Being Canadian, I'm pretty clueless about your election process, but always thought it seemed overly complicated and not really representative.
Here in Canada (or at least Ontario), we have had leaders who did not get a majority of the votes, but as the party leader were elected in their riding and their party got the most votes nationally. We've also had times were the winning party's leader did not win their local riding, so the party gets to pick a new leader--not the voters. There are times I like the party but not the local representative. And on and on. Does any country get it 100% right?

ASM826 said...

The point of the Electoral College was/is to ensure that the States are represented in the federal election. When the House and Senate were first set up, the House represented the people and the Senate represented the States. It wasn't until the 17th Amendment was passed that Senators were elected by direct vote.

This was not designed to disenfranchise individuals, it was to ensure that the States maintained some input in the federal system. The Electoral college is much the same way. It ensures that small population states continue to have representative input in the Presidential election. The change you propose would make things worse. We would end up with a system where candidates only campaigned in large urban centers on the coasts and ignored both the needs and votes of the populations of the rest of the country.

You may have identified a genuine problem, but your intuition that direct election is the fix may not be correct. In the field of your expertise, is it not often true that being able to identify a problem does not automatically mean you know the best method to treat it?

Anonymous said...


toto said...

More than 2/3rds of the states and people have been just spectators to the presidential elections. That's more than 85 million voters, 200 million Americans.

Policies important to the citizens of ‘flyover’ states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.

States have the responsibility and power to make all of their voters relevant in every presidential election and beyond.

Unable to agree on any particular method, the Founding Fathers left the choice of method for selecting presidential electors exclusively to the states by adopting the language contained in section 1 of Article II of 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."

Federalism concerns the allocation of power between state governments and the national government. The National Popular Vote bill concerns how votes are tallied, not how much power state governments possess relative to the national government. The powers of state governments are neither increased nor decreased based on whether presidential electors are selected along the state boundary lines, or national lines (as with the National Popular Vote).

The Old Man said...

Shoot Toto.

Anonymous said...

I live in England which has basically the same system we elect candidates locallly and the party with the most candidates gets to have the Prime Minister, in most elections in my lifetime the party in power got around 40% of the vote.

Your theory is correct but I think the issue is more related to time rather than money. After all if changed all parties would be similarly impacted and reduced to the $2 per state.

But politicians feel their message is so important it has to be explained in full, and as if we're two-year-olds. So they want to come tell you personally. As it stands they only need to actually do that in 10 states. It would, obviously, take five times as long to do it in all states, and give those states they visited first 5 times longer to forget what you said, or worse be swayed by the other guy.

I think that's more of their concern.

But I agree not changing the system is about political party's agenda, not the fairness of the system.

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