June 16, 2004
Electoral vote change?

So there's an initiative being proposed in Colorado that would change their winner-take-all allocation of electoral votes to a proportional allocation. I'm neutral on this for now - it seems to me that if this idea catches on, we may as well eliminate the middle man altogether and just go with the popular vote for the Presidency. As I don't have a strong opinion one way or the other regarding such a change, I don't have a strong opinion one way or the other regarding Colorado's proposal. I will say that if it's in place for 2004, it's more likely to benefit John Kerry than George Bush - as Kos says, Colorado is still on the fringes of being a true swing state.

The Bonassus sees several other possible implications in this proposal.

Under current rules, winning a plurality of the state's votes nets a candidate a big prize: the sum total of Colorado's electors. If Colorado is a swing state, both candidates will pay a lot of attention in such a situation. The incumbent is likely to use his office to send government dollars to the state. The challenger is likely to do what he can to woo voters as well (although this might take the form of unenforceable campaign promises rather than sweet cold cash). But remember that both candidates have limited budgets of time, money and political influence. In this situation, it becomes clear that if Colorado moves away from a system which disproportionally rewards a tiny plurality of votes (where one extra vote can mean the difference between 9 electors and zero) to a proportional system (where the value of an extra vote is limited to an increase of one elector, if that), suddenly Colorado looks like a much less attractive investment.

On the other hand, if the state is dominated by one party, but the nation as a whole is more or less evenly divided, a candidate from the disadvantaged party has no incentive to pay any attention to Colorado under current rules (think of Democrats in Oklahoma or Republicans in Massachusetts). Under the proposed rules, however, the prospect of the disadvantaged candidate winning one elector might attract attention from both parties.

All this is merely to point out that electoral college reform, which is usually thought of in terms of fairness, decency, and democratic norms, has implications for pork, campaign spending, and the future tilt of political attention as well. It's best not to forget.

Indeed. Denver Post link via Political Wire.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 16, 2004 to The making of the President | TrackBack

Well, as a proponent of third parties and as someone who really dislikes the ability of candidates to win with only a plurality, I like it in principle. But the biggest drawback -- as the article indicates -- is that throwing promises and pork at Colorado would not be as prevalent. At most, hard campaigning *might* swing two electoral votes -- one less than winning Delaware or Wyoming. And when Delaware or Wyoming are more important to win than Colorado -- no slight intended there -- Coloradans would really be weakening their importance.

If Colorado wants to eliminate plurality-winner-takes-all outcomes (which I heartily support) but not weaken their clout, they could always require a runoff. The Constitution gives the states the authority to determine the manner in which electors are appointed (Article II, Section 1). Heck, they don't even have to have an election; legally, they could have the governor flip a coin to see who gets the electors (though the state's electorate surely wouldn't stand for it). Yes, a runoff would cost money, but I think it would cost less money than the loss of pork coming into the state by weakening their importance to the Executive Branch.

Posted by: Tim on June 16, 2004 12:24 PM

Personally I favor a modified proportional representation system. Since the number of electors is equal to the number of Representatives and Senators, use a similar system as a basis for selecting electors.

The winner of the plurality of votes in a presidential election in each congressional district wins the that district's elector. The winner of a plurality of votes statewide wins the 2 electors associated with the senators.

Makes control of the statehouses much more important and I think would give a more accurate result.

Posted by: Patrick on June 16, 2004 2:03 PM

it seems to me that if this idea catches on, we may as well eliminate the middle man altogether and just go with the popular vote for the Presidency

I continue to be stumped as to why there hasn't been a bigger push for this to happen already. The electoral college system was put in place to protect the ignorant masses from themselves, to put it very, very simply. The Founding Fathers may have thought it was necessary in their less technological, media-driven society. I would like to think we've reached a point where we don't need that. Every average Joe has the opportunity to know who the candidates are and what they stand for now. Let their votes count in exact proportion to the number of them they are allowed to cast - 1:1. Period.

And, besides, I'll show my bitter side and say, "And if they'd gone with this plan four years ago, things would be MUCH better now." :)

Posted by: Amy on June 17, 2004 11:07 AM

I have reversed my opinon from popular vote to a type of "district" apportionment (Neb, ME). Why? In 2000, Gore won approx 20% of US counties. The ONLY reason he won the popular vote was the huge majorities (75-85%) in large urban areas. This is precisely what the EC was to prevent - victory by someone with narrow but deep appeal. If votes had been awarded proportionally, Bush would have had approx 290 electoral votes.

I still prefer awarding the "two" votes to the candidate who carries the state. I doubt any of this will ever come about: Dems would have to broaden their appeal outside urban areas and GOP would hesitate on relinquishing their growing electoral lock.

Posted by: SMB on September 24, 2004 11:51 AM