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Though we've almost made it through a "change" election year, the candidates' schedules tell a familiar tale: Florida. Ohio. Virgina. Missouri. Colorado. Pennsylvania. Florida. Ohio. Virgina. Pennsylvania. Florida. Ohio.

Tradition is great, and the Founding Fathers had their reasons for devising the Electoral College instead of a direct national vote.  (How else would slave owners been able to count 3/5 of a vote for each of the human beings they kept in bondage?)  As a thought experiment, though, let's imagine a presidential election if the Electoral College were eliminated or made proportional within each state.

Jump with me to an alternative universe...

Without today's EC, the entire Red vs. Blue map would disappear.  The big patch of Wyoming Red, for example?  Gone from the center of the map, because all the Blue Wyoming votes would also be counted at face value.

The tiny smudge of Vermont Blue?  Equally insignificant, with Vermont voters mixing into the general voting pool.  Both Vermont and Wyoming would have the same weight in the election as a mid-sized city elsewhere in the country.  As such, the very small states wouldn't see much love from the presidential candidates.  In other words, status quo ante.

What about the big monochromatic states?  California, New York, Texas?  Suddenly their millions of voters would become very important.  If the Democrats could increase their national total by jetting into Austin or El Paso, you bet those cities would get some serious attention.  If the Republicans had an incentive to run up the numbers in conservative San Diego, they would be camped out there.  (Oh, they already are - John McCain has 3 condos there, though his only campaign events in the area are fundraisers.  My bad.)  If New York votes mattered, you would not hear Republican candidates bad-mouthing New York quite so freely.

And Ohio? Florida? Pennsylvania? They would still be important, but not nearly as important.  Their importance would stem from the large numbers of voters who live there who could be apportioned to each candidate, not from the chance that the absolute plurality within their borders would go one way or another.

The politics of geography would be replaced by... something else.

Cities would become crucial locations where campaigns could find large numbers of voters in a small radius, so urban concerns would get a lot more attention.  Suburban voters are more spread out, but represent a huge number of Americans, so candidates would need to tailor messages to those who live in the suburbs of Boston as well as the residents of suburban of Tampa.  Rural issues would likely lose out, because, face it, hardly any American actually earns a living from farming anymore.

Various voting blocs would find a lot more attention to their issues, because the concerns of millions of, for example, environmentalist bird watchers would suddenly be at least as important as the concerns of Jewish retirees in West Palm.  Other voting blocs would lose clout, such as the Miami Cuban community - since the rest of the country would like to abandon our 50 year policy of waiting for the Castros to die.

Election year advertising would be completely changed.  Campaigns would have to advertise in the expensive New York and LA markets.  On the other hand, limited funds would not go into radio ads in some sparsely populated area of Nevada with the intent of flipping the one vote that flips the state.

GOTV would also be different, because it would matter whether you voted regardless of where you lived.  For example, there would be a lot more door-knocking and phone-banking in Utah and New Jersey.

Finally, the Internet would become a lot more important.  Not only would people be using the net to convert their grandparents in Pensacola, but also their friends in Little Rock and their old roommates in San Francisco.  Candidates would need to reach a lot more people, so they might have a lot more micro-tailored messages, such as videos filmed for particular blogs or websites.  And you can bet that the creativity of the web-osphere would be put to use in countless other ways to make every last vote count.

These musings are not meant to say we should focus on eliminating the EC, and they are not meant to suggest that doing so would be possible or wise.  I am only asking, "What if?"  And, as we wind toward the end of another year of FL/ PA/ OH/ FL/ PA/ OH, perhaps you will join me in thinking about how things could be different.

What if?

Originally posted to malangali on Thu Oct 30, 2008 at 07:39 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar n/t (11+ / 0-)

    Tonight I'm gonna party like it's 1992

    by malangali on Thu Oct 30, 2008 at 07:40:05 AM PDT

  •  What if we had RANKED VOTING?! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wondering if
    •  or even approval voting n/t (0+ / 0-)
      •  RANKED VOTING... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        wondering if

        removes the threat of a binary government of two parties.  You can vote for a third party without hurting a candidate that would loose your vote if you choose a third party instead.  It is used all over the world for a more equitable and stronger democracies.

        What are your thoughts on ranked voting?  And what is approval voting?

        •  Approval voting (0+ / 0-)

          is range voting with values of 1 and 0, approve/disapprove.

          Mark all choices you approve of.  Count the number of 'approve' marks for all choices.  The highest score wins.

          You can vote for one or more minor positions and still support a major party candidate for the same spot. You can vote for everyone if you want.

          Both range and approval voting are non-ranking methods of voting, but accomplish much the same ends as ranking/preferential methods, but are easier to implement even on current voting equipment, quicker to tabulate, require less data storage that ranking systems(*), and satisfy most of the criteria of an ideal voting system - they don't satisfy the Condorcet criterion.  

          Ranked voting is more complex to use, requiring an iterative process to tabulate the votes.  This means remote locations can not simple submit totals, but must transfer the totals for each particular ranking permutation used - local tabulation, or all the ballot data - no local tabulation.  Most ranked voting is only slightly better for minor parties than is plurality voting, this from real world examples. As such it doesn't seem to be worth the trouble to do the changeover, the payback is rather small.

          Wikipedia has some information

          (*)Ranking systems as a minimum require the storing of all the unique permutations of rankings assigned by voters plus a counter for that combination.  Range systems need a counter for each possible range value, for each candidate.  A range vote with 4 candidates and a range of 0 to 4 takes 4 x 5 = 20 counters. A ranking system for 4 candidates takes n! = 24 counters, for 5 candidates it is 120 and for 6 720; range systems would use 24 and 30 respectively. For approval voting the requirements are no more than for plurality voting, one counter per candidate, which makes it very easy to implement on current voting equipment.

          •  Approval voting is not good. (0+ / 0-)

            Looks like you vote on issues.  Looks like it can be gamed.

            Ranked Voting is not mathematically complex and is done at the local level - there is no need to send votes elsewhere.  It is also most easily accomplished by a pencil and paper.   Paper and pencil is the best system of all, and the simplest.

  •  The nice thing about what we have now (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chi, wondering if

    is that these battleground states are cyclical for the most part.  Massachusetts and California were battlegrounds 20 years ago.  As were Alabama and Georgia.

    So, each state gets some time in the sun, some time in the shade.

    At least Vermont and Wyoming have A chance of being a battleground state right now.  Popular election as you state would NEVER give them that chance.  Ever.

    •  is that a good thing? (0+ / 0-)

      I've never really understood why some states should get disproportionate attention from the national parties b/c they are close to split. I'd love to see a national election and get rid of the electoral college. Focus instead on the well-being of the entire country (which is what they have to do as pres.) instead of specific regions. It allows us voters to more accurately gauge what they will do as a president, and might cut back on the regional focus and the temptation to further divide the country (as the diarist points out).

  •  It will be worse, believe me I witnessed several (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ian S, dave3172, gph11

    the problem is that an all powerful and corruptible national electoral board will run the election,

    can you imagine Katherine Harris in charge of it? or
    if they decide that voting machines without a paper trail are good enough? or force stringent proof of citizenship to register and vote.

    "First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win." -- Mahatma Gandhi

    by IamTheJudge on Thu Oct 30, 2008 at 07:52:26 AM PDT

    •  Thank you (0+ / 0-)

      Federalism is a good thing.

    •  why? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Why would a national election necessarily mean a cookie-cutter election run by Katherine Harris?  There is no reason that state election board wouldn't continue to run the elections in their own states.  The difference would be in the way the votes were added up after they were cast and counted.

      Tonight I'm gonna party like it's 1992

      by malangali on Thu Oct 30, 2008 at 08:00:50 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  aren't there federal election laws right now? (0+ / 0-)

      I thought they tried to pass a national i.d. requirement to vote, and it failed. How would the new system be different from the current one in terms of ease of corruption, particularly since extremists have an easier time getting into the state-level boards.

    •  I have to agree... (0+ / 0-)

      While the idea of a national vote for President sounds nice, I think in practice, it would be prone to centralized mischief making. One of the things about the EC is that in all but the very closest elections, one candidate generally winds up with a solid majority of the EC (even if only a couple percentage points in popular vote difference) which reinforces the legitimacy of the win.

  •  See National Popular Vote Project! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jds1978, lostinamerica2711, page394

    How to elect President by national popular vote, NO CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT REQUIRED. SERIOUSLY.

    -4.25, -4.87 "If the truth were self-evident, there would be no need for eloquence." -- Cicero

    by HeyMikey on Thu Oct 30, 2008 at 07:53:29 AM PDT

    •  That site quotes David Broder and Karl Rove (0+ / 0-)

      As authorities on why we need a popular vote. Excuse me if I don't have much enthusiasm for such a plan.

      •  Look at other endorsers. (0+ / 0-)

        New York Times (2007)
        New York Times (2006)
        Chicago Sun-Times
        Minneapolis Star Tribune
        Los Angeles Times (2006)
        Los Angeles Times (2008)
        Sacramento Bee
        The Columbian
        Wichita Falls Times
        Anderson Herald Bulletin
        Fayetteville Observer
        Boston Globe
        Hartford Courant
        The Tennessean

        John Anderson (R-I–IL)
        Birch Bayh (D–IN)
        John Buchanan (R–AL)
        Tom Campbell (R–CA)
        Tom Downey (D–NY)
        D. Durenberger (R–MN)
        Jake Garn (R–UT)

        The fact it's bipartisan is a strength -- it means it might actually happen.

        -4.25, -4.87 "If the truth were self-evident, there would be no need for eloquence." -- Cicero

        by HeyMikey on Thu Oct 30, 2008 at 08:42:03 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  The Electoral College is imperfect (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Elvis meets Nixon, Coilette

    but it does a good job of forcing a candidate to consider the needs of all the regions of the country. With a straight popular vote, vast swaths of the nation would be ignored.

    Remember, we are larger than the European Union. We speak one language and use one currency, but we have a lot of different regions and concerns.

    •  all regions? (0+ / 0-)

      The west coast is solid blue, so the candidates ignore the entire region from San Diego to Seattle.

      The northeast is almost entirely blue, so in the current system you don't see a presidential candidate from New Jersey north, except for New Hampshire.

      Much of the south is blood red, so who wastes time in Mississippi or Texas?  And if you were to spend time in Mississippi under the current system, would you pay attention to the black minority or the Trent Lott majority?

      Tonight I'm gonna party like it's 1992

      by malangali on Thu Oct 30, 2008 at 08:06:14 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  where fewer people live..... (0+ / 0-)

      I know the argument is that the campaigns will focus only on the cities, but that is exaggerated imo. I think the focus will shift somewhat, but the more rural states are cheaper to advertise in, so the bang for the buck is only slightly different. As it is, national campaigns don't bother trying to reach the tiniest towns, but rather base from the larger cities within the small states in the same way as they would if it changed.

      Since more people live in those cities and bigger states, perhaps they do deserve more focus, rather than basing it on geography.

  •  Not so worried about the EC ... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chi, jds1978, LeanneB

    I want to see simple, consistent rules for registration and voting across the nation in all elections for Federal posts, including a paper trail for all ballots cast.

    It's not the bias in the Electoral College that bothers me (and remember the EC has mutated over time; in its early days, it was actually set up more to prevent populous states from always going for their people; the EC could cast a vote for someone from their own state but also had to vote for someone NOT from their own state; in some states the EC vote was determined by popular vote, in others it was determined by the legislature, and those state were not above changing the rule when it would come out better for the party that controlled the legislature, and on and on).

    ... it's the effort to manipulate turnouts at the margin to flip large numbers of electoral votes that I object to.

    If you are the resident of a state, you should be able to vote anywhere in the state.

    You should not have to spend more than an hour in a line to vote.

    Early voting / mail voting should be the practice; this removes the fangs from the "DEMOCRATS! VOTE HERE ON NOV. 5!" flyers that mysteriously appear.

    I'd like to see states pay attention to subtle intimidation and not-so-subtle intimidation (the "black-vans-with-logos" scam; the toxic e-mail scams) rather than worry whether someone wears an Obama T shirt or a hat with campaign buttons for everyone from Truman on.

    I'd like to see places to vote set up in places where people congregate as a matter of daily routine. Malls, post offices, libraries, what have you.

    And if states, cities or counties want to screw up their special elections for the school board or other occasional whatsis when there's no federal contest on the ballot, that's their prerogative.

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