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View Diary: Winner Take All: A Closer Look (67 comments)

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  •  Ummm... that's how elections work (0+ / 0-)

    If a person running for Congress gets more votes than any other candidate he wins the whole Congressional seat, not 60% of the seat.

    •  I don't disagree with that (0+ / 0-)

      That doesn't make it any more democratic, however.

      •  It seems to me that democracy means (0+ / 0-)

        that majority rules and minority accepts those rules until the next election.  (There are exceptions to that general rule, where everyone agrees that certain areas are out of bounds for legislation even by a majority, but otherwise the rule holds).

        •  I disagree (0+ / 0-)

          Because it, by definition, excludes a large number of people from participating, just look at Texas. By the way, there is no such thing as a majority in elections, just because only 60%, at most, vote. In order to win a true majority, you would have to win at least 83.5% (60% x 83.5 (.6 x 83.5 = 50%)).

          •  It seems to me that those choosing not to vote (0+ / 0-)

            are silently endorsing whatever outcome the voting cohort settles for.

            As for Texas, I disagree that it excludes people from participating.  It is just that Democrats and liberals are vastly outnumbered in Texas, and thus have to live under a Republican majority.

        •  The College, however... (0+ / 0-)

          ...means that some people's votes count more than others. Suppose State A votes for a Dem 60/40, State B votes for a Rep 80/20, and State C votes for the Dem 55/45. Assume the same population and the same number of electoral votes.

          With a popular vote, 55% of people across both states vote for the Rep, and he wins. The will of the people is done! With the electoral college, however, only 45% of people across both states vote for the Dem, and he wins instead. Instead of telling the minority to fuck off, we've now told the majority to fuck off because of arbitrary lines of distinction between states.

          And that's before we even get into the fact that people voting in Wyoming matter more than people voting in Texas (fewer people per Electoral Vote)...

          •  That happens rather rarely (0+ / 0-)

            Indeed in the entire history of the United States that happened only 4 times.  Second, since we are a federal and not unitary government, there is nothing inherently wrong with requiring that the candidate win not only the popular vote, but a majority of sovereign entities called states.

            In any event, your hypotherical works equally plausibly for Congress.  Suppose there are 435 districts (as there are) each with equal population (as they are, leaving aside at-large states).  Suppose next that Dems win 218 districts each by 1 vote, and GOP wins 217 districts by the margin of 60-40.  Thus, even though way more people voted GOP, Dems would control the House.  I do not view that as undemocratic.

            •  Rarely? (0+ / 0-)

              Four time out of only 43 elections? 9% of the time is rare?

              Beyond that, I agree, if you really buy into federalism, the electoral college makes some degree of sense. I don't. Every citizen in this nation is affected by the president's actions, he is meant to represent them all, and so they should all have an equal say in his election. Otherwise, it's not really a democracy.

              Again, this is the fundamental point, the President is a representative of every citizen of the country. The federal government applies to everyone. Federal taxes apply to everyone equally, federal laws apply to everyone equally, federal elections should apply to everyone equally.

              The comparison to the House is flawed on many levels. First, the job of a Congressman is to represent their state, not the entire country. Further, there are 435 House members, not 1--these are people with a variety of positions along an entire political spectrum. On balance, this will "even out" to actual representation far more readily than when one person eeks out a Presidential election. Not all congressmen on one "side" will vote in lockstep, after all. Further still, there is no truly fairer way to work the House--representative Democracy must draw districts at some point, or else the House would have to be 300,000,000 members large.

              None of these applies to the position of President.

              •  Well, our organization of the House (0+ / 0-)

                is not only possible one.  We can organize a la Israeli Knesset with proportional representation and a very low threshold for entering the legislative body.  

                Second, we are indeed not a "democracy."  We are a Constitutional Republic.  A republic where states retain a degree of sovereignty and as sovereign entities have (and should have) a say in the selection of national leaders.  

                I would sumbit that something that happens only 9% of the time is rare indeed.  (BTW, that number has to be adjusted because in the election of 1824 there was no electoral majority or anything close to it.  Andrew Jackson won only 41% of the vote to John Q. Adams' 31%.  Had we had a run-off, it is unclear who would have won.  The same (though with lesser force) applies to the elections of 1888 and 2000).

                •  Which doesn't change the fact... (0+ / 0-)

                  ...that the House is a fundamentally different case than the Presidency, because the people represented by those Congresspeople do, in fact, vote for them directly.

                  And while we may be, technically, a Constitutional Republic, a democratic foundation seems to be fundamental to our history, self-image, and current policies, doesn't it? How is it, then, that we effectively decree that certain citizens are less valuable than others? Senators, which represent states, are elected directly by the people of their state. House members, who represent districts, are elected directly by the people of their districts. Yet Presidents, who represent the country, are not elected directly by the people of the country.

                  And something that happens 9% of the time is "rare" only in a certain context. If the Red Sox beat the Yankees 9% of the time, I would call it rare. If the foundation of democracy in our country was subverted 9% of the time, I would call it disturbingly common.

                  And don't get me started on our lack of run-offs...

                  •  There is a good argument to be made that the 19th (0+ / 0-)

                    Amendment which required direct election of Senators was a mistake. But that's an aside.

                    The idea is that the President does not represent just the people, but also states, hence the combined and multilayered system.

                    •  But you have yet to explain... (0+ / 0-)

                      ...why giving certain citizens more power in choosing our national leaders than others is justified by giving more power to the States. What gives landmass and legal boundaries supremacy over people?

                      •  It is not giving citizens more or less (0+ / 0-)

                        power.  It is balancing the power of the citizens with that of the States.

                        As to your second question, the answer is pretty simple.  Notions of sovereignty and nationhood that go back to time immemorial.  

                        It may be that you prefer a national as opposed to a federal system of government.  But so long as we live in the former, the component entities retain their own voice and prerogatives.

                        •  How does one "balance" power... (0+ / 0-)

                          ...without redistributing it? How can you honestly say that a citizen in Wyoming, where there are a mere 175,000 people for every electoral vote, is not more powerful than a citizen in Texas, where there are over 700,000 people for every electoral vote? They are four times as powerful.

                          If you're concerned about the independent power of the States, I think, A: that ship has long since sailed, we've been on a road to a national system more or less since the foundation of the country, and I see no reason to stop now--quite the reverse, B: The Electoral College is a pretty odd way of achieving this, as it doesn't give the excess power to the leaders of a State, but to the people of the State, who are also the people of the nation. Which is to say, if your view is that the US government should be little more than an extra-powerful version of the UN or the EU, a voting delegation really ought to be appointed (as you pointed out for the Senate, even) by the governors of the States, not elected by the people.

                          As it is, all it accomplishes is to give small, nearly arbitrary, groups of people more power than they earn on a per-capita basis. Again, I live in New Jersey, and I find it strikingly strange that if I moved an hour north to New York, my vote would matter less, but a couple of hours south to Delaware and it would matter a whole lot more.

                          And you may say "as long as we live in a federal system" we have to do things a certain way, but that clearly isn't the case: in the 1830s we affirmed States couldn't nullify federal tariffs, in the 1860s we affirmed, violently, that States don't have the right to secede, and in 1913 we affirmed that the federal government has an absolute right to levy a national income tax. It would be no harder today to affirm that every citizen in this nation should have an equal voice in deciding the leader of this nation.

                          Unless, of course, you can argue why we shouldn't, with more than the fact that we haven't.

                          •  I disagree with both assertions A and B (0+ / 0-)

                            A.  While we have certainly moved in the direction of more nationalized government, we still retain a federal structure.  Again, you are free to change that if you wish, but while that structure is in place, the constituent components (i.e., States) retain their own independent rights.

                            B.  The Electoral College is indeed selected by the leaders of the State, not by the people.  The Legislature of each state gets to decide how the electors are to be selected.  That all legislatures decided to delegate that authority to a plebiscite does not mean that the authority passed from the States to the citizens thereof.

                          •  In which case.... (0+ / 0-)

                            I'm not sure what your point is. Clearly I do wish to change it, and my argument is that we should. You don't seem to be arguing that we shouldn't, only that we haven't. This I realize.

                          •  My argument is simply this (0+ / 0-)

                            Our system does not contemplate pure democracy.  It contemplates a complicated arrangement where both citizens have a voice and States have a voice.

                            I prefer this system, because unlike a National Government system, States serve as an additional protector of liberty, and as laboratories where a variety of ideas can be tested without subjecting the entire country to the experiment.  The flip side of these benefits is that States qua States get to have a say in the governance of the nation.

                          •  I don't see why the system can't (0+ / 0-)

                            be simplified and modernized without abandoning the positives you see.

                            I think what you're saying is the opposite of liberty. "citizens have a voice and states have a voice"? A state is made up of citizens! A state should have no more power than that of the citizens it represents. Land mass and border lines should not have rights.

                            Further, and more practically, lack of a direct election disenfranchises people in non-swing states. Also, the freedoms allowed to States make it easier to restrict the freedoms of some citizens in the country without it ever being brought up for a national referendum. States mean more laws, more government, more obstacles to change and freedom.

                            Any nation large enough needs to be broken into regional units to be governed with some degree or another of autonomy, but there is no reason that the federal government should not apply equally to all citizens.

                            There are six and a half million people in the eight smallest states, plus DC. Together, they have more electoral clout than Florida, which has over eighteen million people.

                            Because of the Electoral College, six and a half million people can override the will of eighteen million people due purely to geographic location. (Of course, in theory, 3.251 million people could override the will of 21.249 million people, but let's not get into that...)

                            You can do away with this kind of injustice without sacrificing the ability to try new techniques in States before going national with them.

                          •  I faltly disagree with the assertion that (0+ / 0-)

                            "States mean more laws, more government, more obstacles to change and freedom."  Quite the opposite.  Since instead of a national uniform law you have a patchwork of laws, you can vote with your feet and move to a state that most corresponds to your polticial, social, and economic preferences.

                            I also disagree with the assertion that "[l]and mass and border lines should not have rights."  That assertion flies in the face of centuries-old notion of statehood and nationhood.  Some rights belong to states as political and geopolitical entities.  Furthermore, in the context of the United States, certain rights were promised to States qua States in exchange for their joining the Union.  To withdraw these rights now without State's consent violates the original agreement.

                            Third, while in a state-by-state system some non-swing states may be ignored, in a national system, tyhe interests of farmers and hunters in sparcely populated areas will be ignored.  In short, this is a zero-sum game.

                            The mere fact taht potentially, a minority of people because they have a majority of States on their sides can override the will of the majority of people is the price we pay for inducing every state to join on equal terms with other states.  Ours is a Republic of voluntary association, not of conquest.  We have to pay a price for that association.

                          •  So you say: (0+ / 0-)

                            Quite the opposite.  Since instead of a national uniform law you have a patchwork of laws, you can vote with your feet and move to a state that most corresponds to your polticial, social, and economic preferences.

                            This assumes the ability of everyone to uproot their lives and families and move who-knows how far away. Those without that luxury are stuck in a state where they may have their rights infringed. How many freedoms are universal in this country today only because the Supreme Court ruled in their favor?

                            I also disagree with the assertion that "[l]and mass and border lines should not have rights."  That assertion flies in the face of centuries-old notion of statehood and nationhood.  Some rights belong to states as political and geopolitical entities.

                            The "traditional view of marriage" is centuries old, too, doesn't mean it's right.
                            Rights that belong to states should be only those rights that are impractical or impossible for the people of that state to hold directly.

                            Furthermore, in the context of the United States, certain rights were promised to States qua States in exchange for their joining the Union.  To withdraw these rights now without State's consent violates the original agreement.

                            They agreed to be bound by the constitution, and what I'm proposing would require a constitutional amendment.

                            Third, while in a state-by-state system some non-swing states may be ignored, in a national system, tyhe interests of farmers and hunters in sparcely populated areas will be ignored.  In short, this is a zero-sum game.

                            The current system does little to alleviate this. 75% of this country is relatively urban, even in North Dakota the majority of the population lives in a town of 10K or more. And their interests should be under-represented because there are less of them. Should their basic rights be trampled on? No, but that is what the Bill of Rights is for.

                            The mere fact taht potentially, a minority of people because they have a majority of States on their sides can override the will of the majority of people is the price we pay for inducing every state to join on equal terms with other states.  Ours is a Republic of voluntary association, not of conquest.  We have to pay a price for that association.

                            So, then, were you opposed to the civil war and in favor of a peaceful secession?

                          •  To begin with the last question (0+ / 0-)

                            The fact that states have voluntarily joined does not mean that they can voluntarily leave.  It could be a one-way street.  But the contract entered into upon joining must be honored.

                            How many freedoms are universal in this country today only because the Supreme Court ruled in their favor?

                            First off, I take issue with the notion that Supreme Court inventing new rights is a good thing.  Second, the same argument can be used in reverse.  For instance, Supreme Court has ruled that there is no federal Constitutional right to public funding of abortion.  In a national government that would be the end of the matter.  But in our system, local state courts (e.g., California) ruled that under their STATE Constitution, such a right exists.

                            This assumes the ability of everyone to uproot their lives and families and move who-knows how far away. Those without that luxury are stuck in a state where they may have their rights infringed.

                            As opposed to giving NOONE the opportunity to move.

                            75% of this country is relatively urban, even in North Dakota the majority of the population lives in a town of 10K or more

                            I probably would not consider a town of 10K to be "urban."  But in any event, while there may be more people living in LA than in a bunch of small towns, LA is just 1 city, while there are thousands of small towns.  These small towns already do not receive many benefits (they lag behind in things like utilities, roads, etc.).  By switching to the national election system, the needs of those towns will be ignored.  While the national system may be (and again we are only talking about 9% of the cases here) occasionally more responsive to the majority of people living in the US, the flip side is that the benefits will be disproportionally distributed to large urban centers at the expense of small town folks.  Like I said, it's a zero sum game.

                          •  And it would be: (0+ / 0-)

                            The fact that states have voluntarily joined does not mean that they can voluntarily leave.  It could be a one-way street.  But the contract entered into upon joining must be honored.

                            As I said, what I'm talking about is a constitutional amendment. Every state new upon joining the terms of the agreement could be changed.

                            First off, I take issue with the notion that Supreme Court inventing new rights is a good thing.

                            The fact is, you don't have any of the rights listed in the Constitution until the Supreme Court rules that you do. Until there is an official Judicial interpretation, the executive and the States can do whatever they like with a law.

                            Second, the same argument can be used in reverse.  For instance, Supreme Court has ruled that there is no federal Constitutional right to public funding of abortion.  In a national government that would be the end of the matter.  But in our system, local state courts (e.g., California) ruled that under their STATE Constitution, such a right exists.

                            And there is no reason this benefit couldn't be preserved in a more national system. As I said, any nation of sufficient size needs to be drawn into governances with varying degrees of autonomy, that's not at question. The question is what benefits come from giving states power at the national level, rather than purely on the state level.

                            As opposed to giving NOONE the opportunity to move.

                            But the point is that with a stronger national government there is less standing between a citizen and the rights they have in the Constitution, so they wouldn't need to.

                            I probably would not consider a town of 10K to be "urban."

                            My point was "not hunters and farmers", so the people you mentioned are gonna get hosed either way.

                            But in any event, while there may be more people living in LA than in a bunch of small towns, LA is just 1 city, while there are thousands of small towns.  These small towns already do not receive many benefits (they lag behind in things like utilities, roads, etc.).  By switching to the national election system, the needs of those towns will be ignored.

                            If your contention is that there are large numbers of people in the country who live in small towns and have similar needs, then a popular vote would actually benefit them. They would constitute a major voting bloc (at least, I assume, as powerful as much-coveted minorities like blacks and Hispanics) that could easily push a candidate over the edge of nomination. As it is, I think they are more likely to be ignored, because our winner-take-all system ensures that you can achieve nomination purely by talking to metropolitan areas in big states. When was the last time you heard someone addressing the needs that you're identifying in our current system?

                            While the national system may be (and again we are only talking about 9% of the cases here) occasionally more responsive to the majority of people living in the US, the flip side is that the benefits will be disproportionally distributed to large urban centers at the expense of small town folks.  Like I said, it's a zero sum game.

                            Disproportionately how? They have more people, therefor they have more votes, therefor they get more attention. The current system is the same way, with the added bonus that if you're going to campaign in a state you really don't need to worry about low-population areas, because their votes won't even count when the winner-take-all electoral votes are assigned.

                          •  I vehemently disagree with the assertion that (0+ / 0-)

                            The fact is, you don't have any of the rights listed in the Constitution until the Supreme Court rules that you do. Until there is an official Judicial interpretation, the executive and the States can do whatever they like with a law.

                            In fact, that is just nonsense.  First, each branch is sworn to uphold the Constitution.  If you distrust the elected branches to do so, I don't understand why you would trust them to uphold judicial decisions.  It is not as if the Court can enforce them on its own.  Nor does history support you.  Brown v. Board actually had very little effect on school desegregation.  What really caused desegregation is the political action to deny money to segregated schools.  

                            I also disagree with the notion that national government protects righst more than the state one.  In fact, I believe quite the opposite.  national government can quite easily become oppressive because it is less responsive to the citizens.  The more local the government is, the less oppressive it is.  In fact, this notion underlies the very basis of the United States.

                          •  It's quite clear: (0+ / 0-)

                            In fact, that is just nonsense.  First, each branch is sworn to uphold the Constitution.  If you distrust the elected branches to do so, I don't understand why you would trust them to uphold judicial decisions. It is not as if the Court can enforce them on its own.  Nor does history support you.  Brown v. Board actually had very little effect on school desegregation.  What really caused desegregation is the political action to deny money to segregated schools.

                            I didn't say that the Executive would fail to uphold the Constitution--I said that both the Legislative and Executive have the freedom to interpret the Constitution any way they like, until they are challenged in court. Flag-desecration laws were legal all the way up until a Supreme Court decision in 1989. For over a hundred years States had upheld those laws, how can you claim that we all had the right to Free Speech as long as those laws were in place?

                            Legislature can write any law and Executive can take any action provided they can come up with a rationale, until the courts, and ultimately the SCOTUS, provide an official interpretation of the Constitution and the law. If this weren't the case, no law or executive action would ever be overturned, and the Supreme Court wouldn't have a job.

                            I also disagree with the notion that national government protects righst more than the state one.  In fact, I believe quite the opposite.  national government can quite easily become oppressive because it is less responsive to the citizens.  The more local the government is, the less oppressive it is.  In fact, this notion underlies the very basis of the United States.

                            The problem with this line of argument is that while the more local government is the less oppressive it is, the more layers of government there are the more layers of oppression there can be. As it is, we have to worry about both our States and our Federal Government screwing with us, I'd prefer one at a time.

                          •  I disagree with that last assertion (0+ / 0-)

                            Multi-layered government, properly structured serves as a protector of liberty because every layer serves as a check on the other ones.

                            As to the Supreme Court's role.  The fact that they overturned some laws is really indicative of nothing.  The mere fact that from time to time elected officials have been found to violate the Constitution does not remotely suggest that one single federal body of judges is best suited to protect that Constitution.  (Not to mention of course that Supreme Court has gotten the Constitution wrong at least as often as it has gotten it right.  See, e.g., Dredd Scott, Plessy, Lochner).

                          •  Well, I disagree back. (0+ / 0-)

                            If the federal government can screw you, and the state can screw you, you're gonna get screwed twice as often. There isn't a real separation of powers between feds and states, this isn't the same as the legislative/judiciary/executive checks and balances.

                            And as to the SCOTUS, I'm not saying that they are "best suited to protect the Constitution", I am saying that they are the ultimate authority as to Constitutionality, and thus what rights people actually have. Interpretation of the Constitution is reserved for them, and any right or law is largely undefined and therefor largely nonexistent until they have interpreted it. The fact that they have struck down laws suggests this because until they struck them down, those laws were enforceable.

                            This has all rather strayed from the point--If the major benefit of the Electoral system we have now is to give disproportionate weight to the voices of those living in small states and small towns, then it fails, dramatically, because the winner-take-all nature of the system achieves the precise opposite, as I demonstrated above.

                          •  But in a state-federal system (0+ / 0-)

                            while there is a possibility for a double screwing, there is also a possibility for a state to provide you with more rights than the federal government (it can't provide you with less rights).  In a national system such a possibility does not exist.

                          •  I would see the reverse-- (0+ / 0-)

                            A state can always provide you with less rights by passing more laws, but it can never grant you more rights because if you break a federal law you are bound for prosecution regardless.

                            But we're dropping the argument for the Electoral College, then?

                          •  We don't have to drop that argument (0+ / 0-)

                            I just find this side-track to be interesting.  :)

                          •  Well, that's fine. (0+ / 0-)

                            I'd prefer to continue both, though, as you've probably argued more convincingly for the College than most people I've known, and I'd like to see where you're going with it. ;)

                          •  Well, like I said, I think we just (0+ / 0-)

                            approach the problem from two different perspectives.

                            I believe that States are sovereign entities and therefore entitled to have their say qua States in the running of the national government.  The people have a say in running the State, and the States have a say in running the national government.  That the State delegates that say back to the people does not change the ultimate locus of that authority.  

                          •  Right, but I still think... (0+ / 0-)

                            ...that by giving power to a State, you are giving power to the people of that state, and thus giving them power over everyone else in the government. The power of the State should be viewed only as an extension of the power of the individuals within it, and no individual should have more influence than another in the government.

                          •  I don;t think your second point follows from (0+ / 0-)

                            your first.  

                            You may well be right that giving power to a State is giving power to the people within it.  But it does not follow that the individual persons within different states have to be given identical amount of power.  The power, even if given to the people, is given to them as a body of the people.  Thus, each body of the people within a given state is empowered to the same extent.  That some bodies are more numerous than others may affect the power of persons, but not of people.

                          •  But the fundamental unit (0+ / 0-)

                            is the individual human being. That is the starting point of all of this. Every individual's rights, voice, and power in government should be equal. We choose a representative democracy because it is practical (as opposed to having a popular vote on every appropriations bill), but when we break people into groups and give those groups degrees of power that don't mesh with the size of the group we are distorting the rights of everyone involved. To one degree or another that may be inevitable, but it's something that should be avoided when possible.

                          •  But we again are back to the initial disagreement (0+ / 0-)

                            Within each State everyone's voice is equal.  But it is States that have a say  in the formation of national government, and so at that level, state voices must be equal or appropriately weighed.  At the local/State level, people can select their legislature that in turn has a voice in selecting the President.

                            So we are again in disagreement on what constitutes a "fundamental unit."  I am of the view that in the federal system, with respect to the formation of the national government the fundamental unit is the State (and the body of the people), while for formation of State government it is a person.

                          •  But I'm not talking about a system (0+ / 0-)

                            I'm talking about reality. Within the context of a system, a state may be a fundamental unit, but I would simply view that as a sign to change the system.

                          •  Fair enough, but I question whether (0+ / 0-)

                            majority rule democracy, untempered by such things as some regionalism and some state-based allocation of power is necessarily a good thing.

                          •  Well, I agree... (0+ / 0-)

                            ...it needs to be tempered by a certain amount of representation. It's impractical to, A: hold a national election for every vote, and B: expect every voter to have as good a grasp of every issue as a seasoned politician. And I'll even agree that some fundamental things, like changes to the Constitution, should require wide majorities that could fairly be handled on state levels. And there are various other benefits, I realize. So it's not as though I want to turn the US into England. ;)

                          •  Let me add: (0+ / 0-)

                            There is evidence as to my point about a winner-take-all electoral college being worse for people in small towns and lower-population areas: The current Democratic primaries. Hillary made the mistake of ignoring small states and focusing on large states and large population centers, and as a result she is losing. If this had been the general election, she'd be winning in a landslide right now because her wins in New York, California, Michigan, and Florida (and likely wins in Texas and Pennsylvania) would make her a lock. But Obama's decision to fight in every state and in every district because every vote matters has paid off for him, and for all those small-state, small-town voters who get to make a real, informed choice.

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