Stone Pigs

undeniable underlying truths

The Popular Vote

Posted By Alan Partis on December 10, 2004

In the aftermath of the 2000 election for the US President, there was a good deal of noise made that Al Gore had received more votes than George W. Bush and still lost the election due to the quirks of the Electoral College (which is who actually casts votes that elect the President). The argument was that this showed that a majority of people in the country actually supported Al Gore as President instead of George W. Bush and even though Bush was in office (after a heated dispute over the results of the election in Florida), he had no mandate to govern. Some even took it further and claimed Bush was illegitimate as President (the Florida dispute notwithstanding) since he’d lost the Popular Vote.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Subsequently, there have been grumblings about the continued usage of the Electoral College, as being outdated, even going so far as clearly obstructing the will of the people.

This, too, is an absurd and specious argument made mostly by demogoging populists who are not getting their way. Sounds like a bunch of crying babies.

As an aside, please try to keep in mind that very often things in the country don’t go the way that the popular majority would like. In other words, very little about our society is truly “majority rule.” One of the most common examples is when courts strike down laws or ballot measures that are supported by a clear majority of the public. Other examples abound, especially in the realm of issues that are clearly created to satisfy a minority group at the expense of the majority. No, I don’t support anarchy, but I don’t support a populist simple democracy either. Just don’t come whining to me with specious arguments about majority rules — the reality is that the majority doesn’t rule all the time. Back to the Popular Vote …

As long as our President is determined through the casting of votes at a State level for Electors, the results of the so-called Popular Vote are not just irrelevant and meaningless, the results are often misleading. The realities of selecting Electors, especially in the all-or-nothing manner in which it is done by the States, is that once a majority for a given candidate is achieved, a larger majority is pointless. In other words, if you live in a state where you know one candidate is likely to gather a majority of the vote, there is less incentive for you to take the time to go vote just to pile on. Consequently, there is a completely unknown number of otherwise likely voters whose position remains unknown, leaving the Popular Vote truly void of meaning — it’s just another useless and possibly misleading statistic.

Let’s look at the results of the 2000 election from another point of view: geography. For example, an examination of election results on a county by county basis shows that a vast majority of counties in the US voted in favor of George W. Bush. What’s that prove, you ask? Not much, except to show that from another point of view, it would be easy to construct an argument supporting the theory that George W. Bush was a hugely popular choice for President in 2000. Not that this argument would hold any more gravity than the Popular Vote, but among the things it does show is that a small number of densely populated counties carry an inordinate amount of influence in National elections … and that’s the situation our Founding Fathers blunted (but did not completely eliminate) with the creation of the Electoral College. The Electoral College gives a greater voice to small states while tempering the power of the largest states. This prevents politicians from using the skewed, and potentially unlimited, power of a few big states to push through an agenda which might not sit well with a majority of the country. Without the Electoral College, a candidate could cater to the desires of the people in a few large states like California, New York, Texas, and Pennsylvania and gain enough votes to win while completely ignoring the input from nearly all other states in the Country!

Removing the Electoral College and enacting a Popular Vote would be a very bad idea for the country. The only change I would make to the current system would be to further reduce the influence of the big states by decreasing the number of electors that are given to them and/or increasing the number of electors given to smaller states.


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