Election 2020

Our Curious Electoral System

Nebraska (!) may well turn out to have provided the critical vote for a Biden victory

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As I write this, several news outlets (including Fox News) are calling AZ for Biden, giving him 264 Electoral Votes.  Four states remain outstanding—NV, PA, GA, and NC.  Each has 6 or more EVs, so if he wins any of them, he wins the election. And at the moment, at least, he is the odds-on favorite in three of the four; at Bovada.lv, he's listed as a 9 to 5 favorite in GA (i.e. $9 wins you $5) and a 5 to 1 favorite in both NV and PA. Trump needs a four-state parlay to come in to get him to 270, and it doesn't look like he'll make it.

Thank you, Nebraska!!  Nebraska is one of only two states—ME is the other—that does not allocate its EVs on a winner-take-all basis.  [The fact that all other states have—independently, through their own state electoral laws—chosen to use winner-take-all for their EVs is one of the most consequential features of our electoral system, rather remarkable given how little attention it receives; if all of the states used some form of proportional allocation, for instance, we would have, in effect, a national popular vote for president.]

But Nebraska awards two of its EVs to the statewide winner of the popular vote, and one EV each to each of the state's three congressional districts. In 2016, Trump won all five of Nebraska's EVs. This year, however, Biden carried the 2d District—encompassing Omaha and environs.

If Biden ends up carrying only NV of the four remaining states, he'll win, but only by the slimmest of possible margins: 270-268.  Without the vote from the 2d District, it's a tie, 269-269, at which point the election would go to the House. And in the House—which, under Article II of the Constitution, votes on a state-by-state basis—Trump would almost certainly win.

Because of the voters in the 2d District, things look a LOT less uncertain at this moment than they otherwise would have.  And while I am pretty confident that Biden will win PA or GA to make this discussion moot, it is somehow invigorating to consider the irony that voters in the reddest of red states may well end up having awarded the presidency to Joe Biden.

[h/t to Prof. Abner Greene, who first brought the possibility that the 2d District would prove decisive to my attention several weeks ago.]

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  1. “including Fox News”

    After this election, does anybody care who Fox News calls a state for? They’ve been absurd. I think they called Arizona with a couple percent reporting, they sat on other states long after Trump had unassailable leads.

    I can only conclude that they chose Chris Wallace and Donna Brazile to run their elections desk because they were tired of being known as a conservative outlet, and Tuesday night was their coming out party.

    1. Brett Bellmore: Is there some sort of a rebellion brewing against Fox News for not hewing closely enough to the Trump line? I wasn’t aware of that, though I’d be interested to hear more. You think they were tilting towards Biden all along?

      1. They were barely middle of the road in 2016, and Murdock has been handing control over to his kids. So, yes, it’s been widely expected for several years that Fox would stop being a conservative outlet.

        Why would a conservative outlet pick Democrats to run their election desk? Let alone hire those two?

        And if you were watching the returns, you saw them call Arizona for Biden absurdly early. Even CNN thought Fox was jumping the gun there.

        I think they’ve severed their ties to the right, at this point.

        1. What is your opinion of Pres. Trump’s declaration that he was “hereby claiming” the electoral votes of Pennsylvania?

        2. I miss the days of—BREAKING NEWS: WMDs found!! Thousands of Iraqi babies slaughtered because they messed with Texas!!! My nipples are hard just thinking about that awesome time in ‘Murica!!

    2. You, or anyone else, could “conclude” a lot of other possibilities, That they would trash their business model is not the likeliest of them.

      1. Why? We’ve seen plenty of companies trash their business model over the last few years by turning hard left when their customer base was right-wing. The NFL, for instance. To the point where “Get woke, go broke” has become a bit of a cliche.

        If you’re a left wing CEO, you could take a big paycheck, and devote it to politics, but you’d have to pay taxes on it. If, instead, you divert company resources to influencing politics, you see no personal tax consequences, and the company gets a tax write off for the losses that follow.

        Media companies are especially vulnerable to this, because they have so much potential for political influence, much more than a sports franchise or sporting goods store.

    3. When Rupert Murdoch gets a call from Trump complaining about the Fox election coverage and basically tells him to f*ck off, that seems like a potential turning point in US history…

      1. Do we know that happened? I agree – that would be a turning point in US history.

      2. It would be as consequential a turning point in US history as you calling it a turning point is a turning point.

        Man, the exaggerations going on here … you two have exaggerated more over this than anyone in the world has ever exaggerated anything.

        Tell me, if Nebraska had voted differently, or Murdoch not said what you claim, would either of you have still called those non-events “turning points”?

        Good grief.

        1. No, a turning point that didn’t happen isn’t a turning point.

          But the founding of Fox News in the mid-90s, together with Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America around the same time, are what set the conservative movement in America on its path towards Trump (and, who knows, beyond). So just like that was, in retrospect, a turning point, so would be the end of one of those two things.

          1. You have such weak standards for “turning point” that you can’t even recognize sarcasm and hyperbole when it’s staring you right in the face.

            Maybe it would be a turning point if you did recognize it for once.

          2. In a sense the Contract with America led to Trump, but probably not how you think.

            In ’94, a huge coalition of gun rights and pro-life activists engineered Republicans winning Congress. I know, I was part of that. Wore out more than one pair of shoes that year, going door to door.

            Hardly anyone had even heard of Gingrich’s “Contract” prior to the election, and it certainly wasn’t what drove that election. It was single interest activists working outside the Republican party.

            So, Gingrich claims the credit for his “Contract” as an excuse for not acknowledging the activists’ efforts. The Contract became an excuse to ignore the activists’ priorities. To not do anything on the topics of abortion or gun rights.

            Then, and this is the critical part, comes his “I never promised we’d pass any of this, just that it would get voted on.” They managed the votes on the Contract items to make sure they were defeated!

            It was at that moment that the Republican party’s activist base finally understood that the GOP had been pulling a bait and switch on them. Hadn’t been honestly defeated in previous efforts to advance conservative causes, had been taking dives. It’s hard to disguise taking a dive when you suddenly have the majority…

            The GOP leadership have been fighting off insurgencies ever since. Trump was just the latest and most successful.

        2. “turning point”

          Left wingers don’t get Fox news. Its just a bogeyman to them.

          Its not the driver of conservatives, its a beneficiary of a desire for a conservative network.

          If it no longer is conservative, it will just decline and be replaced.

          Tucker and Hannity go to a rival, so long to 3/4 of the fox audience.

          1. Do you know what a dif-in-dif analysis is?

            It’s a nifty little econometric tool that’s become increasingly popular in the last few decades. And one of the things you can do with it is estimate the effect of Fox News being introduced on cable in a certain media market on voting behaviour in that area.

            For example this one from the Quarterly Journal of Economics in 2007: https://ideas.repec.org/p/hhs/iiessp/0748.html

            We find a significant effect of the introduction of Fox News on the vote share in Presidential elections between 1996 and 2000. Republicans gained 0.4 to 0.7 percentage points in the towns which broadcast Fox News. Fox News also affected the Republican vote share in the Senate and voter turnout. Our estimates imply that Fox News convinced 3 to 28 percent of its viewers to vote Republican, depending on the audience measure.

            1. Well, of course it’s helpful to not be locked out of the media. But that doesn’t mean FOX was driving conservative views. Just that it gave them more of an airing.

              But FOX already has potential replacements, like Sinclair or One America.

              1. Fox grew because it met an unmet need in the market.

                If can die if it no longer meets the need. Easy to buy a low rated cable network with good system penetration, convert to news, hire conservative figures.

    4. Delusional, embittered, whining clingers are among my favorite culture war casualties.

    5. Well, your recollection of when they called AZ is wrong.

      “That mirage of victory was pierced when Fox News called Arizona for former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. at 11:20 p.m., with just 73 percent of the state’s vote counted.”

      Unless 73 percent is now ‘a couple percent’ in Trumpland?

      1. 11:30 Eastern? That would be 10:30 central. I saw it happen live, and I was in bed by 10:30. So it had to happen before then

        1. 11:20 happens to be earlier than 11:30.

          https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/11/fox-news-arizona-call-trump.html

          Seriously, google when fox called Arizona. The facts are not disputable.

  2. In any event, a convincing demonstration over the past few years of the power of propaganda pumps, i.e., the NYTs, WP, CBS, et al.

  3. In general, it is unfortunate how similar the institutional setup of US states are. Given that they’re supposed to be laboratories of democracy, etc., you’d hope for a bit more experimentation and variation. IIRC, Nebraska is the only state without a senate. (Why TF does Alaska need a senate???) Only Georgia has a run-off for (some? all?) offices, while Maine now seems to have introduced ranked voting. Not a single state has a parliamentary system anymore.

    Without diversity at state level, many Americans will be reluctant to reform anything at the federal level, because they’ve never experienced any alternatives up close.

    1. Blame that on the Supreme court. They’ve dramatically curtailed the freedom states had to internally organize themselves.

      States used to have Houses and Senates because they were organized along the same lines as the federal government: House by population, Senate by territory. Then the Supreme court came along and declared the exact design of the federal government unconstitutional on the state level. Granted, after that, having two chambers of your state legislature was kind of pointless.

      And PR has been severely limited by Supreme court rulings treating it as a form of minority disenfranchisement, and, I believe, there’s a federal law prohibiting its use for Congressional elections.

      1. Like you said, after Reynolds v. Sims having a state senate doesn’t make much sense anymore. But then, before that it wouldn’t have made much sense in anyway, since the point of a senate is to capture some of the geographic heterogeneity in politics within the jurisdiction in a way that the other house of the legislature doesn’t. But if you’re going to elect both houses using single-member districts, what’s the point? For example, it’s not like California Republicans need a senate to get their voices heard, they hold 18 seats out of 80 in the assembly. So elect them using different methodologies, or stick with one.

        I didn’t realise the Supreme Court had ever said anything about PR. How on earth is PR a form of minority disenfranchisement, since the whole attraction of the system is that it allows for more than two parties to get elected to the legislature???

        Still, none of this prevents a state from empowering the legislature to hire and fire the governor and his cabinet at will. Yet we haven’t seen that in quite some time.

        1. PR makes gerrymandering impossible, and “minority majority” districts are, let’s face it, gerrymandering.

          1. #Facepalm. It looks like even the judiciary could do with a lesson in comparative constitutionalism.

          2. I am very much in favor of PR.

            You could implement it with ranked choice voting in states with no more than say, 10 seats. In bigger states you might need actual party slates, because voters I think it would sort of lead to a random jumble of winners at the bottom of the list.

        2. “Still, none of this prevents a state from empowering the legislature to hire and fire the governor and his cabinet at will. Yet we haven’t seen that in quite some time.”

          Never as far as I know. US governors serve fixed terms. At the founding there were 2 and even 1 year terms. NH at least still has 2 year terms.

          Can you give an US example of the legislature electing the governor and especially dismissing “at will” [not impeachment]?

          1. I have to admit, for a parliamentary system I was thinking of pre-revolution Virginia (and similar), assuming that their systems of government would have endured for a while after 1776. (Of course they had royally appointed governors, but that didn’t necessarily change the parliamentary nature of the day-to-day government.)

            1. Colonial legislatures had limited duration sessions. A few weeks or a month or so at most. They didn’t oversee day to day government until they formed Committees of Public Safety circa 1775 to replace royal governors who had fled.

              Virginia had a bicameral legislature even under British rule

            2. The 1776 Virginia constitution created a tripartite government with a bicameral legislature (including senate districts, for what it’s worth). The legislature did select the governor, principle executive officers, and judges, but it appears to me they could only be removed through impeachment.

              http://vagovernmentmatters.org/archive/files/vaconstitution1776_0366e939fc.pdf

              1. Governor had a one year term too.

                A dominant legislature with a weak executive is not a parlimentary system though.

      2. The next two years should be fascinating with respect to Puerto Rico. Democrats will propose statehood; Republicans will oppose it, with plenty of awkward phrasings and the occasional bigoted slur thrown in. Then, when Puerto Rico becomes a state, we’ll get to see what Puerto Ricans think of Republicans.

        1. Puerto Rico isn’t going to become a state if Puerto Ricans have any say in the matter. Plurality opinion in P.R. is in favor of the status quo, the only thing less popular than statehood is independence, which is why that referendum a few days ago made independence the only alternative to statehood.

            1. “That referendum of a few days ago”? No, I didn’t miss it.

              But I am quite familiar with the sort of things the Statehood party gets up to in these referendums, so I bothered to read the actual law that created it.

              A “No” vote would have initiated negotiations for independence. That’s the only reason “Yes” got 52% of the vote.

              1. Yes, that’s why I don’t favour referendums. But it does mean that you can’t say that the “Plurality opinion in P.R. is in favor [sic] of the status quo” without a few more ifs and buts.

                1. Eh, they’ve had previous referenda that weren’t as rigged, and they’ve had polling. It’s pretty clear the plurality of Puerto Ricans favor the status quo.

                  That’s exactly why the Statehood party won’t run a referendum with a simple 3 way choice: Statehood, independence, or status quo. They know they’d lose such a referendum. They only barely won this one by making independence the only alternative to statehood.

                  1. At what point in the lawful process for admission of a state must the referendum you envision occur?

        1. Proportional Representation.

          1. Yes. You can’t create push minorities into one district to weaken their power, but MUST if it strengthens their power. LOL

            1. That’s not what proportional representation means, though.

              It’s “parties get seats/electors/whatever in proportion to net votes cast for them”.

              If anything, it WEAKENS districting shenanigans.

    2. O.C.G.A. § 21-2-501(a)(1) Except as otherwise provided in this Code section, no candidate shall be nominated for public office in any primary or special primary or elected to public office in any election or special election unless such candidate shall have received a majority of the votes cast to fill such nomination or public office.

      (b) For the purposes of this subsection, the word “plurality” shall mean the receiving by one candidate alone of the highest number of votes cast. If the municipal charter or ordinances of a municipality as now existing or as amended subsequent to September 1, 1968, provide that a candidate may be nominated or elected by a plurality of the votes cast to fill such nomination or public office, such provision shall prevail. Otherwise, no municipal candidate shall be nominated for public office in any primary or elected to public office in any election unless such candidate shall have received a majority of the votes cast to fill such nomination or public office.

      1. Thanks. I was too lazy to look it up…

  4. NO NO NO.

    No single state provided the “critical” votes. How innumerate are all you people who think one state ran it over the top, or one justice provided the fifth vote?

    Sportsball games may work that way, especially baseball in a tied game in extra innings. Most things simply do not work that way.

    1. And yet as a matter of maths/polisci, not all votes are equally likely to be decisive: http://www.stat.columbia.edu/~gelman/research/published/STS027.pdf

      (Note that this is not a boring matter of different numbers of electors in each state, but a question of how likely states are or aren’t to vote together, put someone over the top, etc.)

    2. You missed the point. The fact that Nebraska provides for some form of splitting the electoral votes means that Biden got one electoral vote out of five. If Nebraska did what 48 other states do, all of them would have gone to Trump.

      In a very close election, one additional electoral vote can make the difference.

      1. I think his point was something along the lines that it is a fallacy to argue the straw that breaks the camel’s back is heavier than the other straws. And that fallacy also applies up to a point in “sportsball.” While it is true a run in the bottom of the 10th ended the game, it is not (after the fact) more important than a run scored in the 3rd inning. Each run counts the same towards a win. On the other hand, given what was known at the time, a run in the 10th is more important. And that latter effect doesn’t apply to NE-2.

        1. Josh,
          I disagree with your baseball example. In your hypo, the run in the *second* inning is more important. Without that run, your team would have lost in a normal 9-inning game. But if your run in the 10th did not score, there’s no reason to believe that your team would not have won anyway, later on.

          Or am I missing something?

          1. After the fact they are the same, ISTM, but not at the time they are scored. What matters there is the increase in win probability.

            A second-inning run, even a tie-breaking one, increases the chance of winning by less than a tenth-inning run, or even an eighth-inning tie-breaker.

    3. I have many failings, but innumeracy is not among them. I understand: the voters of the 2d District did not themselves win the election for Biden any more than the voters of Virginia, or Colorado, etc. etc. did; in all cases, had they voted for Trump instead of Biden, Trump would have won.
      But the 2d District still stands out as an anomaly. First of all, it’s a Flip for Biden; it went for Trump in 2016. More importantly, it is the smallest electoral vote allocator in the “had it gone for Trump he would have won” scenario; 650,000 people. And the most unexpected, given that it’s in Nebraska …

      1. That sounds an awful lot like an argument that the straw that broke the camel’s back is heavier than the other straws.

        On the other hand, I think there is one good argument for saying NE-2 is more important: it’s a purple district. With the winner-take-all-by-state system, a voter in a purple state has a greater influence on who wins than a voter in a red or blue state. That bias also applies to purple-versus-blue/red districts if ECs are awarded by district (and explains why Democrats are screwed by district allocation of EC votes).

  5. I have posted here before, that IMO, the Electoral College should be reformed, probably by Constitutional Amendment, to require states to allocate all of their Electoral votes proportionate to the voting in that state. This would immediately make all (or almost all) of the states competitive.

    1. Yes. Allocating them by congressional district just gives you swing districts rather than swing states, and makes presidential elections susceptible to gerrymandering.

    2. If there’s ever enough support to amend the electoral college it will be to remove it entirely.

      No more 18th-century Rube Goldberg machines deciding the presidency please.

      1. Bored Lawyer’s proposal would keep the conservative advantage intact, and for that reason might pass in circumstances where complete abolition of the Electoral College might not.

        1. When Republicans are no longer clinging to control of Texas, they’ll be howling for abolition of the Electoral College.

          California + Texas + New York + Illinois = hit it, guys .

        2. Also has the advantage that it could be done by the states without a constitutional amendment, either unilaterally or by an interstate compact.

          A PR compact would be less likely to be struck down than the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, as no-one could argue that it would disenfranchise states that do not participate, or allow the votes in one state to determine the outcome in another.

          1. (Not that I personally find those to be persuasive arguments)

          2. Also has the advantage that it could be done by the states without a constitutional amendment, either unilaterally or by an interstate compact.

            Bu no state is likely to do it unless all the others do.

      2. I far prefer the EC to “national popular vote makes President”, thank you.

        I like that states matter and are not just “administrative districts of the Federal government”.

        The US is a Federation of States, and having to balance their interests is good, rather than only caring about the biggest urban areas.

        1. States don’t have interests. People have interests.

          1. Exactly.

            It’s not about urban areas vs. rural areas, as if one urban area = one rural area.

            It’s about the interests, preferences, etc., of individuals.

        2. More of this. The point of checks and balances is to pit the decentralization interests of the states against the aggregation of the federal government. A popular vote makes that moot. It isn’t a coincidence that 48 states independently chose that, it was by design.

          You’d think the libertarians wouldn’t be so pleased with a national popular vote.

  6. “If all of the states used some form of proportional allocation, for instance, we would have, in effect, a national popular vote for president.”

    That is not nearly true, professor. Proportional allocation would largely constitute a line-drawing competition.

  7. No, we would not “have in effect a national popular vote” though the results would be closer. If we retained the Electoral College but all states allocated as do Maine and Nebraska, you’d still have a bias in favor of the smaller states and/or more rural constituencies – which is an intended consequence of the Electoral College process and one that we should retain.

    However if all states allocated, I think it would eliminate much of the “swing state” phenomenon and likely incent candidates to campaign more broadly. I’m in favor of it but not because it does anything like the national popular vote.

    Note: A comment above suggests that it would merely move the campaigns from swing states to swing districts. I don’t think that would happen. There’s just not enough reward for campaigning at that level.

    1. I will concede, however, that it would increase the consequences of and incentive for gerrymandering.

    2. Daily Kos seems to have done the work on this for the 2016 presidential elections: https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2017/1/30/1627319/-Daily-Kos-Elections-presents-the-2016-presidential-election-results-by-congressional-district

      From eyeballing that histogram, and assuming you wouldn’t campaign somewhere that was D+10 or more or R+10 or more, you’d end up with about 60-70 districts worth visiting. Looking at the map that brings you to some familiar places, like Nevada, Iowa, and Wisconsin, but possibly also to Southern Texas, upstate New York and rural Connecticut.

      1. Interesting. Thank you. I’m not sure that +/-10 is the right cutoff since I would assume that a campaign focus would move more than that but it’s really interesting data. The chart showing the 2012-2016 swing by districts suggests that +/-20 would be about one standard deviation and that puts another 100-odd districts in play.

        More to the point, that analysis conclusively disproves the original hypothesis (that allocation would be effectively a national popular vote result). Based on that analysis, an all-allocated Electoral College vote in 2016 would have resulted in 290 Trump to 248 Clinton despite that total popular vote going the other way. Granted, it would have been slightly closer than the actual 304 to 227 result (or 306 to 232 if you correct for the 7 faithless electors) but not enough to shut up the “national popular vote” demagogues.

        Again, thank you for sharing that article. Very interesting data.

      2. The problem with moving from campaigning in states to districts – radio / television adds will necessarily cross district borders. I reside in a deep blue state despite being neither blue nor red and I’m fine with my vote not counting in exchange for not having to listen to political adverts. (I’d like it if there were a “no mailer” list but it’s a short trip from my mailbox to the recycle bin.)

        I’d consider switching to a parliamentary system if it meant voting for one office once every five or six years with a six week campaign season…

    3. I don’t think Post was proposing district allocation of electoral college votes. Rather, you would take the percentage of the statewide vote to determine the number of your electors, perhaps subject to a minimum threshold to receive any electors.

      1. I read the article as proposing that all states do what Maine and Nebraska do – which is 2 electors following the state’s total plus individual electors following the congressional districts.

        Allocating strictly on the ratio of state-level votes would solve the gerrymandering problem but it would significantly weaken the urban/rural protection that the EC is supposed to provide.

        1. How do you figure? The Nebraska system gives rural Nebraska (stop laughing in the back!) their own elector. Awarding the electors by statewide split gives the same urban/rural “protection” as the system of the 48 today. That is, the protection comes from rural states being overrepresented in the EC, nothing else.

          1. Does it, though? If I’m competing for statewide votes, I would logically focus my efforts where the concentrations of people are. That is, campaign in cities on urban issues. I’d hope to either consolidate existing votes or peel away votes from my competitor but either way, that’s just efficient. What in that model would convince me to spread my limited time and campaign resources out to the rural areas?

            On the other hand, when there are congressional districts at play, I have to actually visit them to get their votes. At least in theory…

            1. Wouldn’t you also focus your campaign on urban areas in a winner-take-all system?

              1. Yes – which is one of the reasons that system sucks. So I will grant that a state-wide proportional system would be better than (or at least, no worse than) the status quo but Maine and Nebraska’s district-based system is better still.

                1. The district system gives far too much power to rural people. Typically, the Democrats would need to win the nationwide popular vote by 5%-points. Allocating EC votes based in part on the number of Senate seats provides enough extra power to rural interests.

        2. I don’t know what you mean by the “urban/rural protection.”

          1. There has been a tension between urban and rural communities ever since the Founding of this country. (Arguably, it goes all the way back to the Renaissance.) Founders representing rural communities were rightly worried about being taken advantage of by urban elites – and with considerable justification from history. The reason the Senate was created was to balance the interests of the less populous states against the majoritarian impulses of the House. The Electoral College is an extension of that logic. It grants extra weight to the diffuse rural communities and smaller states in order to balance out the concentration of power held by large urban-dominated states.

            1. Thanks. I’m not following how allocating a state’s EC votes by the statewide popular vote weakens protections provided to rural communities.

              1. Yeah, I didn’t explain that well. See my reply to Martinned above at 11:32.

    4. “There’s just not enough reward for campaigning at that level.”

      Yet Obama, Trump and Biden targeted Nebraska 2. It was Omaha where Trump “stranded” rally supporters on the 25th of October.

      1. Did the Trump campaign’s crack operational team get those buses to the freezing clingers yet?

    5. OTOH, why do we assume that the electors would be decided by district within the States, and not just summed up across the state proportionally?

      If you do that, gerrymandering falls out, obviously.

      And you aren’t any WORSE for “ignoring the places that aren’t huge cities” than we are now, at least.

      1. It is not an assumption, it is the way it is done in those two small states. But one can (as I did) propose that proportionality be used.

    6. I like allocating EV’s by the voter proportions, but hate the idea of doing it by Congressional districts. That just creates more gerrymandering problems.

      BTW, I do wonder why you think a bias in favor of rural voters is a good thing. I see no case for it.

  8. The most likely method to improve the Electoral College involves enlargement of the House of Representatives by a few hundred positions.

    1. Doing that would pretty much guarantee that the Democrats would never control the House again. Small districts would make it impossible to mix enough urban into suburban districts for the Democrats to carry them.

      1. Some of the mapping software I have observed conflicts with that observation. As does the “spoke” method of redistricting.

      2. Since districts would be proportional to population, cities would have lots of small ones, so it’s not clear that hurts the Democrats much; they get more pieces of a more finely-divided pie.

  9. The fact that we have an electoral college means that we are again waiting, two days after the election, to find out who the winner is.

    Biden is currently leading by 3 million popular votes, and without the EC we’d have known the winner yesterday. At this point, the EC does little except throw gasoline onto our dumpster fire politics.

    1. Playing advocate for the devil: Without the EC you’d have different nominees, since both Parties would nominate candidates that fit best with their policy preferences given a different target for winning. Simplifying, both Parties would nominate someone slightly further to the left than they actually did.

      In that case, they’d still be quite unlikely to end up within 100,000 votes or so of each other, but if they did the sh*t would well and truly hit the fan. Personally I’d just recommend a December re-vote in that situation, but that’s just me.

    2. Unsurprisingly, your premise is wrong.

      We don’t know the results because in various States, the GOP prevented counting of any ballots until 7am on election day itself, rather than allowing the tabulation of ballots as they arrived.

      The more you know.

      1. Let me fix that for you.
        “… in various States, the GOP legislature prevented counting of any ballots until …”

        If you don’t like the rules the legislature laid down long before the election, fix them. Don’t complain when someone tries to enforce rules that you thought were just fine when they might have benefited your team.

        1. I don’t have a team.

          Nice try though. Shows the kind of person you are that when someone criticizes the GOP, that MUST mean they are a Democrat, or somehow affiliated and approving of a political party.

          Someday you may learn that there are more than two sides to politics, and some people choose to believe that all sides are corrupt and not worth supporting.

          1. If you don’t have a team, then why did you specifically blame the GOP for something done by the respective state legislatures?

            1. I’m pretty sure in PA, it was the Republicans who insisted on not inspecting ballots until election day to prevent curing.

            2. Are you really this daft?

              The GOP controls the PA legislature. They knew the pandemic would result in exponential increases in mail-in ballots, and refused to negotiate with the Governor to proactively address precisely this issue.

              Criticizing the GOP doesn’t make me a Democrat. You really need to stop thinking everyone is either on your team, or on the ‘wrong’ team.

              Your world-view is objectively wrong.

        2. “If you don’t like the rules the legislature laid down long before the election, fix them.”

          The Republicans got what they wanted and, in the legislatures, voted for — an extended counting process after Election Day. They seem to dislike it. The consequences of being half-educated and gullible.

        3. Unfortunately, the GOP-dominated, heavily gerrymandered, legislatures make it impossible to, as you so glibly suggest, “fix it.”

      2. Preventing counting of ballots until election day certainly didn’t help, but the problem of delayed results because of the electoral college predates it. We had comparable delays in 2016, and let’s not even talk about what happened in 2000.

        At this point, the only contribution that I see that the electoral college makes is to enhance the misery level. If you’re a Republican, that’s a price you’re willing to pay to increase your chances of winning, but for the rest of us, I don’t see a plausible argument that the EC actually provides any tangible benefit.

        1. “At this point, the only contribution that I see that the electoral college makes is to enhance the misery level. If you’re a Republican, that’s a price you’re willing to pay to increase your chances of winning, but for the rest of us, I don’t see a plausible argument that the EC actually provides any tangible benefit.”

          Confirming that your argument is disingenuous to begin with, because clearly the coastal urban population’s political persuasions should dominate the entire country when selecting a President of the 50 States.

          You might as well admit your real POV: “I want Democrats to win everything, and a system which doesn’t permit that must be corrected.”

          1. Jason, I could equally as well accuse you of wanting the electoral college because it’s affirmative action for Republicans who couldn’t otherwise win democratic elections. But rather than do that, I will instead say that I think the procedural rules should be viewpoint neutral. If a majority of the voters vote Democrat, then the Democrats should win. If a majority of voters vote Republican, then Republicans should win. Other than someone who can’t win a fair election, who could possibly object?

            And it’s not the coastal urban areas that should dominate. It’s a majority of the voters, many of whom happen to live in coastal urban areas. But if you want to characterize is by geography, then how is it any more fair for flyover country to dominate than it is for urban areas to dominate? You know, there’s a reason most people prefer to live in urban areas.

            And it’s not even so much that I don’t see a benefit from having an electoral college; it’s the massive harm that it does. We are now two days out from an election and still don’t have results, which would not be true under a national popular vote. It encourages political parties to nominate candidates who appeal to the narrow constituencies necessary to win the electoral college rather than the county as a whole. It renders meaningless the votes of most Americans; the only votes that really matter are the votes of people who live in swing states. It creates hostility among the majority that rightly sees their right to self governance taken away from them.

            No, it’s not that I want Democrats to win everything. I want to get rid of a system that causes much harm for very little benefit. In the meantime, glad it’s working out for you.

            1. Krychek, you seem to continue to be in denial about the excesses of the tyranny of the majority. From the perspective of the rural voters in ‘fly-over country’, your view of democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner.

              Simple majority rules is not a long-term basis for fair government. The Electoral College is one of several mechanisms in the US that balance out the tendencies for majoritarian excess.

              On the other hand, I see no harm whatsoever in any of the things that you are complaining about. So we don’t know the winner yet. Who cares? Whoever it is can’t do anything until inauguration in January. A few days or even weeks makes no difference. Remember that when this country was founded, all communication was at best at the speed of horse. Not knowing the new President for weeks or months was normal.

              Nor would a national popular vote necessarily stop all the lawsuits and other delaying tactics deployed at various times by both parties. It would, in fact, make them worse by incenting lawsuits at every tiny jurisdiction instead of just a few in the swing states. After all, in a close vote every vote counts. So let’s start demanding recounts in California…

              Nor, by the way, does the Electoral College promote polarization. Lots of other factors in our electoral system do such the winner-takes-all approach to how those electors are allocated but those are state decisions, not immutable characteristics of the Electoral College.

              1. Yes, Rossami, I know that a lot of people perceive democracy as two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner; I’ve probably heard that cliche a thousand times, and in my view it’s a really dumb cliche.

                First, it’s important to distinguish between what is, and is not, a right. There is no right to not have people elected who will pass policies that you disagree with. If the majority of the country wants it a go a in a certain direction, and you disagree with that direction, well, that’s life.

                As far as things that actually are rights, the rights of the minorities can be protected with a strong bill of rights and an independent judiciary that enforces it. And on that count, progressives are actually better for flyover country than conservatives since we believe in expanding rights rather than contracting them. The solution is to say that there are some subjects that are outside what the legislature may do; not to tell majorities that they can’t elect the legislature that they want.

                And hovering over all of this, of course, is that whatever blind spots I may have with respect to tyranny of the majority, I’ve yet to hear a persuasive argument for why the minority is any better at setting policy than the majority is. The right to self governance — which means that the presumption is that the majority gets what it wants — is a pretty significant right too. I haven’t heard much concern from the right about the millions of progressive voters who are effectively disenfranchised because of anti-democratic institutions.

                1. That is an astonishingly authoritarian view. By that logic, all the Jim Crow laws were justified and should never have been reversed since they were policies preferred by the majority.

                  Contrary to your view, the rights of minorities are not protected by a mere bill of rights. That protects only those things that we are smart enough to articulate at the time. Madison was right to be worried that people would interpret an articulation of some rights as an itemization of all rights. You exemplify that risk.

                  Re: progressives vs conservatives – bullshit. Who is calling for an end to free speech? Who wants to curtail the right to bear arms? Who is infringing on the right to freedom of religion? Conservatives do not have entirely clean hands on the question of rights but your blind assertion that progressives are any better is laughable.

                  If you don’t understand the two wolves and a sheep analogy, I don’t know how to explain this to you any better. You are one of the wolves and can’t even see why your position is wrong.
                  That lack of empathy is disturbing.

                  1. Rossami, people who support Jim Crow have the right to elect officials who support Jim Crow. And if those officials enact Jim Crow into law, the courts should promptly declare it unconstitutional. You protect minorities by removing certain subjects from the ability of the legislature to pass laws about; not by disenfranchising people by disallowing majorities their choice of elected officials.

                    I will grant that there are some rights the left is better about than the right and vice versa, but that wasn’t my point. My point is that those of us who believe in living constitutionalism, unlike the originalists, believe in it because it generally expands rights. You are far freer today than you would be if the Warren court had never happened.

                    And it’s not that I don’t understand the wolf/sheep analogy, it’s that it’s a really stupid analogy. First, as a voter, why should I take seriously a politician who insults his constituents by likening them to wolves? Second, you have still not answered my question about what makes the minority any better at decision making than the majority (other than that you agree with them)? To use your analogy, maybe we need a strong Bill of Rights to keep the sheep off the dinner menu, but that’s a better solution than giving the sheep (who are not the brightest animals around) a veto over any policy the majority wants to enact. Sheep are stupid. And before you jump on me for inferring that flyover voters are stupid, please be reminded that it’s your analogy and I’m simply running with it.

                2. Your first problem is patience. Your second problem is thinking that the President is intended to represent YOU. You’re whining because the President hasn’t been exclusively a Democrat, and that Republicans have had some opportunities to serve in that position.

                  You think the cliché is dumb, yet you’re advocating precisely the idea that the people who order Blue Apron meal kits should have the right to control the entire country at the expense of the people who actually provide your food. It would benefit your preferred political party, so you don’t care whom it would harm.

                  You do have a right to try and elect people who will pass policies with which you agree. They are called Representatives and Senators.

                  “The right to self governance — which means that the presumption is that the majority gets what it wants — is a pretty significant right too.”

                  See above. Complain when you aren’t allowed to vote for your Representative or Senator.

                  You admit to being a progressive, which is precisely (and exclusively) why you want a popular vote for President. Disingenuously you complain about not knowing who the President is, but in reality your complaint is that Republicans sometimes win.

                  Also, I’ve made it quite clear on this very page that I am not a Republican, or Democrat, or affiliated with any political party whatsoever. I never have been, and I never will be. Unlike you, my positions on these issues are not driven by partisan bias.

                  1. Jason:

                    If the Republicans routinely won the popular vote for president, I wouldn’t be happy about it, but I’d ultimately shrug my shoulders and say that that’s the way democracy works. My issue is not that Republicans are elected president. My issue is that Republicans lose election after election after election and manage to maintain power anyway.

                    So same question I put to Rossami: Where is the evidence that the minority is any better at governance than the majority?

                    1. “My issue is not that Republicans are elected president. My issue is that Republicans lose election after election after election and manage to maintain power anyway.”

                      Except they aren’t losing those elections, because the ‘popular vote’ for President is not, and never has been what determines the winner.

                      I don’t need to answer your hypothetical (you’ve addressed virtually none of what I’ve written), because the minority sometimes wins, and the majority sometimes wins. They both have flaws, but you’re trying to eliminate a political party which you don’t like by attempting to change the rules to favor the one you identify with.

                      You think that a few elections over the last 40 years indicates that the system is fundamentally unfair, because your person didn’t win all of them every time.

                      I’ve said it three times: The President represents the Republic as a whole. That means the 50 States, and US territories. S/he is not there to represent you.

                      If you’d like to actually pretend that you’re interested in a more appropriate system, as opposed to one that selectively benefits your side, then you should be advocating that States get rid of the ‘all or nothing’ method that 48/50 in our Republic use to allocate Electors. Quite literally, the political parties which implemented those State laws are responsible for the very problem you’re complaining about, and instead of correcting the errors, you want to throw out the entire system to benefit your POV and disenfranchise everyone else.

                    2. James, I’ve said multiple times that the issue isn’t whether my party wins or loses; its that the people lose because they’ve been disenfranchised. So why do you keep imputing to me a position I’ve already repudiated?

                      And you like the electoral college at least in part because it provides affirmative action for Republicans who couldn’t win fair elections. In fact, the entire GOP strategy for holding power seems to be to disenfranchise people.

                    3. Sorry, don’t know why I said James rather than Jason.

                  2. Your second problem is thinking that the President is intended to represent YOU.

                    The president is supposed to represent everyone. Why is this suddenly controversial?

                    Complain when you aren’t allowed to vote for your Representative or Senator.

                    That would be all the voter suppression efforts that liberals and Democrats have spent years complaining about, including, most recently, Republicans standing outside poll-counting locations chanting “stop the count”.

              2. Rossami,

                This is nonsense.

                First of all, in areas that are legitimate concerns of government, there is nothing wrong with the majority getting its way. You can call it “tyranny” if you like, but others might call it democracy. Anyway, the alternative is the “tyranny of the minority,” which we have too much of.

                Second, why is it only geographic minorities that concern you? There are others – religious, racial, ethnic, etc. Should Blacks be awarded disproportionate voting power to prevent being tyrannized?

                All these arguments amount to simply this: people who live some places should get more power than those who live other places. That’s unreasonable.

          2. Confirming that your argument is disingenuous to begin with, because clearly the coastal urban population’s political persuasions should dominate the entire country when selecting a President of the 50 States.

            No. The majority of the voters’ political persuasions should generally outweigh the minority’s. Where those people live should be irrelevant.

            I understand protecting minority rights. I don’t understand letting the political preferences of geographic minorities outweigh those of majorities.

            Majorities can be unwise, tyrannical, etc. So can minorities in power. Within the normal scope of political decision-making there is no reason to privilege these minorities.

    3. If it were a popular vote system, you might have different candidates, you would certainly have seen them campaign differently, and the voters would have had different incentives. So there’s no telling what the outcome would have been.

      1. In addition, in all but the swing states, the Electoral College system depresses the turnout. If you are in a very blue state and support the red candidate, there is less incentive to vote, and vice-versa. (This is exacerbated by the jungle primary system in California).

        That is one of the reasons I propose a proportionate allocation of the electoral votes. Even in a red or blue state, there is almost always a significant enough percentage of the opposite color that proportional allocation would yield some votes. For example, California in 2020 voted 65% Biden and 33% Trump. Under the current system, that means all 55 of the state’s electoral votes go to Biden. Under proportional allocation, that would split 35 to 20 electoral votes.

        If you are a Republican in CA, you have much more incentive to show up under the proportional system.

        Same applies in reverse in the red states.

        This would also force the candidates to spread their appeal across the whole country. As it is, most of the states are written off by one side or the other.

        1. Whoops, it is more like 37 to 18 for CA. Point is still the same.

        2. I too have called for this reform in this blog. It would remedy the bias of purple state voters having more influence than red or blue state voters while maintaining giving smaller states a disproportionate say. So perhaps it could gain bipartisan traction.

          On the other hand, in the last two elections Democrats have been running up the score in CA and NY producing what may be a sustainable winner-take-all advantage for Republicans (there has been no post-WWII partisan advantage until now), so Republicans might not like it.

        3. I’m big on proportional representation, too. It would solve a lot of the problems with our political system. (While admittedly introducing some new ones.)

          I think one of the larger problems we’re facing right now are the long term consequences of actions the major parties took together back in the 80’s and 90’s to foreclose any chance of a third party becoming competitive.

          Yes, I’m aware of Duverger’s law; It describes a tendency, not an absolute rule. Even in a first past the post system, a party can become disliked and/or dysfunctional enough that a third party ends up replacing it.

          But the major parties got together to rig things to the point where a tendency was more of a prison.

          And now they don’t have to worry about their base liking them enough to not give up on them for a third party. They just have to make sure their base thinks the other major party is worse. Instant downward spiral.

          1. I support making ballot access easier (without precipitating bedlam, which means requiring some indication of relevance and competence) for political parties.

            But my experience with elections indicates it isn’t petition hurdles or similar issues that hold back non-major parties (Libertarian in particular and Green to lesser extent). Their problems tend to be caused by lack of preparation (readily avoidable issues become time-pressed emergencies); disregard for or lack of familiarity with rules; innate impracticality; inability to work collaboratively; failure to obtain good legal advice; an aversion to paying lawyers; and refusal to accept solid legal advice.

        4. Actually, in a very blue state, the Democratic voters also have less incentive to turn out, since they may take victory for granted. And vice versa of course.

  10. The Nebraska and Maine systems are cute curiousities that generate no significant opposition because they are so unlikely to influence the outcome in the Electoral College. If implemented nationwide, some sort of proportional allocation of electors would probable be better than winner-take-all. However, a big problem would arise if one one, or a couple, of states adopted proportioanl allocation, Suppose only Texas and Florida did so? Or California and Massachusetts?

    1. Not sure why we’ve blown by the fact that if *both* NE and ME acted just like everyone else, we’d have the same result. Trump gets one from ME, Biden gets one from NE. It’s a push. If NE doesn’t split theirs, the ME could cause a tie. So really a bunch of ‘meh’.

  11. Amazing that a politically active former s/c clerk with Georgetown and Yale Law degrees just heard of how nebraska and maine do the e/c votes two weeks ago.

    1. He didn’t say he just heard about it. He said that the results in Nebraska in the 2020 election (which we just held two days ago!) illustrate how that can make a difference in a very close election.

      1. Read the “hat tip” at end.

        1. I did. That again is talking about the effect on this election, not Nebraska and Maine’s systems in general.

          1. If he knew about it he wouldn’t have need a hat tip

            1. Post is generally pretty clueless, but I think you’re misreading him on this.

  12. Real Clear Politics has 7 states still in play, and they show Trump ahead in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Georgia.

    Biden is a head in Wisconsin and Nevada, but only by a plurality and with a margin under 1% Either could get flipped by a recount, and Trump has already requested a recount in Wisconsin.

    Assuming nothing flips from the numbers currently showing on Real Clear Politics, Biden wins in a squeaker (Biden 270, Trump 268).

    Oh, and the Republicans have held on to their Senate majority and are up several seats in the House (though not enough to unseat the Democrat majority).

    1. Your math only works if you assume stasis. While Trump leads in several states those states still have plenty of votes to count and those early votes were banked for Biden. I suspect Biden will be over 300 EC votes before the counting is concluded.
      Note that while Wisconsin is close at less than !% different that number is 20K absolute votes. This is more than can be shifted in a recount. Former Republican Governor Scott Walker noted that a 2016 recount, requested by Jill Stein found only an additional 131 votes for President Trump. The Wisconsin recount is only a formality.

  13. The EC is here to stay. Changing it would require an amendment that I think unlikely to pass.
    I think the biggest change we will see from this election is a shift to mail-in voting. Millions of people tried voting absentee for first time and found out it was very easy. You could request and track your ballot on line. You could fill out the ballot at your convenience at your dinner table. Just drop the sealed ballot in the mail or at a drop off location. I suspect mail-in voting is here to stay.

  14. As long as we’re considering hypotheticals, if Maine was like the other 48, then Nebraska wouldn’t matter.

    Focusing on Nebraska what-ifs but ignoring the same Maine what-if is kind of odd.

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