Tag Archives: Electoral College

Everyone is Failing at the Electoral College

New Orleans   The Electoral College is meeting. There might be some momentary rumpus and some protests, but this deal is done. Trump’s claim to a landslide is more fake news of course. Counting the totals of 58 elections for president, Trump’s victory will rank as the 47th lowest in the list. His margin of the popular vote will be the 47th lowest of the last 49 elections, since he lost that vote to Hillary Clinton by more than 2 million votes.

This doesn’t seem like the way a democracy should work, but that is exactly how the founding fathers wanted this to work. They weren’t confused. They, like Trump, wanted to claim we had a democracy, while making sure that the elites could still imbalance the scales. Protecting slavery was part of it as well, especially when it came to the 1850 Compromise.

Reading the outrage of some electors shouting that they didn’t want California and New York to decide the election with their huge populations, but wanted to make sure that Alaska and Vermont were important as well, contains plenty of irony, since the historic compromise that led to the final say and balloting in the Electoral College was intended to make sure that Virginia, the big dog running at the time, was still able to be a kingmaker even as other states were coming in with large populations in the future. A lot of the heavy hitters of the colonial era were of course from Virginia, like Washington, Madison, and Jefferson. Such a deal could be made then because the elites wanted to make sure the rabble didn’t always carry the day and threaten their position and privilege.

The complaint that the Electoral College isn’t fair or democratic is simply a statement of fact. It wasn’t intended to be. It was intended to maintain the status quo and protect the power. Now it’s like a bad smoking habit that no one seems to be able to quit, no matter how bad it is for the country. When the Democrats win, they like it. When the Republicans win, they like it, and having won two elections in recent years while losing the popular vote, they like it a whole heckuva lot.

Having a president who lost the popular vote is not the only flaw of course. The fact that the game is only settled at the Electoral College creates the democratic deformity of assigning disproportionate status to “battleground states,” based on their electoral vote weight. The dominant parties can strategize about where to campaign and spend money on a calculus that assumes “firewall” states that are dependably red or blue, and voters in the battleground states in many ways get to see a real campaign and have their votes count more heavily. Of course to Trump’s credit he proved that the firewalls for the Democrats in the Midwest were paper thin and not to any builder’s code, and he burned right through them. Better for a democracy to have a truly national campaign where all votes are equal.

The reports that there were less than 80 allegations of voter fraud out of more than 137 million votes cast might prove that the US elections are about as fair and square as possible. Some might think this would calm down some of the rush to tighten rules and access, but the Electoral College opportunity for minority parties to win, incentivizes voter suppression, particularly in battleground states, but generally everywhere, in order to depress the popular vote and have a shot at the prize.

There’s no sign of any real effort to ditch the Electoral College, but it has become a bleeding scar on the heart of any claim of an American democracy.


Proportional Representation Makes African-Americans, Latinos, and Rural, Low-Income Whites Kingmakers

USElectionlogooffsetNew Orleans    No matter who your favorite might be in the Presidential sweepstakes, how can you not join me in loving the irony that no matter how the big whoops fume and allow inequality to widen, African-Americans and Latinos are now the kingmakers for Democrats and rural, lower income, less educated whites are now becoming the kingmakers for Republicans? The people shall rule!

We had the early so-called “money primary” won by Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, but Sanders small donor machine caught up with the Democrats and deep-pocketed billionaire super-PACs allowed by Citizen United evened the odds for the other Republican candidates. We had the establishment and old-time party pols pulling strings left and right for one candidate after another to be anointed, but then they run up to the old problem, that candidates have to actually get votes. Damn, some of them forget about that and in fact that’s still the little lesson that the young, conservative Senator from Florida, Marco Rubio, is still learning as he runs second and third from state to state.

Watching the election results and reading Elaine Karmack’s Primary Politics: Everything You Wanted to Know about How America Nominates its Presidential Candidates at the same time as Super Tuesday unfolded was a fascinating experience. Karmack rolls through the primary politics and, more importantly, the changing rules from election to election as set by the party pros in detail, especially from Jimmy’s Carter’s mastery of the process forward. She spends valuable time and discussion on the timing of the first primaries and how they build momentum, have changed candidate’s calculations over the years, and have led to “firewalls” like South Carolina being built to offset their impact. Nonetheless the most interesting – and important – of her explanations concerns the Rube Goldberg contraptions created by the compromises and back-room politics between candidates and the national and state parties over the distribution of the critical delegates once the voting is over between “winner take all,” proportional representation, and bonus delegates, largely because that’s the political environment that produces our candidates now.

She makes the case that in 2008, Hillary Clinton essentially lost to Obama because she failed to understand the importance of the early lead achieved in Super Tuesday and its companion elections. The fight may have dragged on until May, but Obama had an insurmountable lead by mid-February because proportional representation meant that he would get a fair share of delegates, enough to hold his margin, whether he won or lost in later, larger states. His plurality forced super-delegates to have to follow the results and leave Clinton. The mix-and-match on the Republican side with proportional splits to the top tier candidates if they make minimum thresholds of 15 or 20% in order to push out marginal candidates and winner-take-all largely if a candidate takes 50% also mean that no matter all of the sound-and-fury from the Republican establishment and the grind over the next two weeks, Trump may have just won the nomination given his performance on Super-Tuesday.

What’s more interesting to me is that for all of the elites’ posturing, we now have kingmakers that represent a minority of the total electorate on each side, but because of the primary process, are likely able to determine the eventual nominee. African-American block voting in the primary elections gave Obama the nomination of course, but they also denied it to Hillary in 2008 and are bestowing it now in 2016. Hispanics block voting in Texas were also the difference for Clinton this go-round, just as they were the critical block in play in her close win in Nevada. Jesse Jackson may have delivered that message in the 1980s, but it has finally been received by all the candidates now.

And, in the party of business and the rich, our Republican friends are now finding that the economy and anger over inequality and lost opportunity has trumped evangelical piety, as rural, low-income and working class, less-educated whites are flocking to Trump as their protest candidate, creating a bastard child that the Republicans have to recognize, but can’t control. The Secretary of State in Massachusetts said that 20,000 Democrats left the party in recent weeks and re-registered as Republicans to become part of the Trump voting block that led him to victory in the most liberal state in the United States. Trump was able to leverage that block in Tennessee, Georgia, and other southern states that had been claimed by the Huckabee’s and Santorum’s in the past, and that Texas Senator Ted Cruz had counted on putting him, not the interloping Trump, in the cat bird seat.

In 2016 I’ve been clear, like it or not, Hillary Clinton is now the Democratic nominee and that race is all over but the shouting. Since she’s the nominee, I’m rooting for Trump on the Republican side, and my odds are looking good. In future elections in 2020 and especially 2024, no matter how the deck is stacked any nominee will be determined by African-American and Latino votes in the Democratic primaries, regardless of the general election. Whether the disenfranchised white vote holds as a Republican block or votes with their feet not to vote at all in the future, will be an open question for a while longer. And, whether any of the blocks – and the candidates who claim them – can put together the rest of the vote to win will be the biggest question of all.