The US Electoral College: Part 2, Alex OC

In my first part, I discussed the US Electoral College (United States Electoral College – Wikipedia) and how it originated, and in this part, I will discuss problems with it and efforts to abolish it or work around it.

Despite being advertised as a search committee, the Electoral College soon became a rubber-stamp body, and the electoral vote has long been interpreted as an approximate proxy for the popular vote. The electoral vote usually amplifies popular-vote margins, but out of the 58 Presidential elections, the two votes have gone in opposite directions 5 times, in 1824, 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016. The 1824 election was the first of the 49 elections where at least some of the electors were chosen by popular vote.

In recent decades, the EC has caused a distortion in campaigning priorities, with much effort devoted to states that are nearly evenly divided: “swing states” or “battleground states”. States that are reliably Democratic or reliably Republican tend to get ignored.

There have been numerous attempts to abolish it or work around it.

Abolishing the EC requires a Constitutional amendment, and the most successful to date was the Bayh-Celler Amendment of 1969-70. It passed the House, but it got filibustered to death in the Senate by some small-state politicians. An attempt to work around it is the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. If enough states agree, they will award their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote, thus effectively directly electing the President. This effort has currently passed 15 states and the District of Columbia, with 196 out of the 270 electoral votes that it will need to go into effect.

Of the criticisms that the EC has received, one that I find very entertaining is by US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), which she made as she was traveling through some Midwestern wheat field (?) in a road trip from New York City to California:

We’re coming to you live from the Electoral College – many votes here, as you can see. Very efficient way to choose leadership of the country. I mean, I can’t think of any other way, can you?

This Instagram video saved by Public Citizen on Twitter

AOC then linked to this rather snarky article – Why Every Defense of the Electoral College Is Wrong (New York magazine) – annotating some screenshots from it and adding her own snark and calling the EC a racially biased “scam”. After she returned from the trip, she made some tweets (Twitter posts) with her points about the EC, stating that “I see Fox News is big mad about abolishing the electoral college,” and she made an Instagram video with this bit saved by NowThis on Twitter She doubled down on her criticisms, calling the EC “bogus” and a “scam”, and electoral “affirmative action”. She notes that it does a bad job of increasing the weight of rural people’s votes, since rural people in big-city states get swamped by those cities, and she asks why give affirmative action the people that the EC benefits and not some other people, like blacks or Puerto Ricans or inhabitants of Indian reservations.

Though President Trump recently defended it as electoral affirmative action for people outside of the big coastal cities, in 2012, he tweeted “The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy,” in response to the possibility that Barack Obama might have won the electoral vote and lost the popular vote (he won both). AOC recently responded “I’m so glad the President and I agree that the Electoral College has got to go.”

The New York magazine article listed these defenses of the EC:

  1. The Electoral College currently exists, therefore it is good.
    1. The founders thought superhard about this, and so we should defer to their judgement.The Electoral College currently exists, therefore it is good.
    2. It would put us on a slippery slope to abolishing the Senate.
  2. Abolishing the Electoral College would definitely have this bad effect, for reasons so logically sound I don’t need to provide evidence for them (even though other defenders of the Electoral College insist it would have the opposite effect, which would also be bad).
    1. It would give too little political power to white people.
    2. It would give too much political power to white people.
    3. It would give large states too much power.
    4. It would give small states too much power.
  3. Abolishing the Electoral College would plunge our republic into a nightmarish political system identical to the one we currently live under.
    1. Candidates would not campaign much in rural areas.
    2. Third-party candidates would sometimes act as spoilers.
    3. It could lead to a situation where American politics is defined by polarization, and high levels of social animosity.
    4. It would create a political system in which an unqualified “media personality” could win the presidency.

In her annotations, AOC noted that only landowning men had the vote at first, that even low-income white men couldn’t vote. She also noted that population concentrations produce racial discrepancies: White = 1, black = 0.95, Hispanic = 0.91, Asian = 0.93. Not big ones, but enough to throw close elections.

About the Senate, The U.S. Senate is facing a legitimacy crisis – ThinkProgress and The Senate is so crazily designed it would be literally illegal for a US state to copy it – Vox

One of the more curious aspects of American democracy is that it is literally unconstitutional for states to adopt the same system of government as the nation as a whole. In the case of Reynolds v. Sims in 1964, the Supreme Court ruled that all state legislature districts have to have roughly equal populations, because the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment enshrines a principle of “one man, one vote.” That means that an institution like the US Senate, with wildly unequal populations in its various “districts,” cannot exist at the state level — at least not anymore.

— That Vox article

So there we have it. The Electoral College from Alexander Hamilton to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

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