September 22, 2006

"When people complain that it’s an end run, I just tell them, 'Hey, an end run is a legal play in football.'"

So says John R. Koza, a computer scientist who thinks he's devised way to bypass the Electoral College by statutes. But law isn't football, and judges like to see things for what they really are, especially when legislators openly admit to illegitimate ends and devious means. The Electoral College is a structural safeguard, built into the Constitution. If you want that changed, you need to change the Constitution.

Should you want the Electoral College abolished? One way to think about it might be to look at who supports reform right now:
[California Republican assemblyman Chuck] DeVore said, “I just took a look at who was behind the movement, and they were left-wing partisans.”

Dr. Koza acknowledged that he had been a Democratic elector, twice, and his living room is festooned with photographs of him beside former Vice President Al. Gore and former President Bill Clinton.
His living room? I'm sorry. I can't accept the judgment of someone who has a lot of pictures of himself with politicians in his living room.

It is -- I hope you see why -- utterly foolish to think that because Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000, he would have won the election if only we had had a system of election by popular vote in place at the time. Many people in safe states don't bother to vote, and the campaign would have been entirely different if the goal had been to win the popular vote.

The popular vote in 2000 probably favored Gore -- we don't know for sure because there were no recounts in states with safe margins -- but there is no reason to conclude that because of that, in future elections, the Democrat would do better if the method of election were by popular vote. Candidates and issues would be chosen in a completely different way. If the Democrats are now good at "winning" by a set of rules that don't apply, that may simply mean that the Republicans are better at focusing on the rules that do apply and functioning effectively in the real world. Why wouldn't you expect the Republicans to focus on whatever new rules actually apply and to adjust their behavior to keep winning?

42 comments:

Telecomedian said...

His living room? I'm sorry. I can't accept the judgment of someone who has a lot of pictures of himself with politicians in his living room.

Apparently you haven't been to this side of the Potomac much. 1/2 the folks in DC seem to have at least a Hall of (Near) Fame, if not a Room, featuring nothing but pictures of themselves with every Rep, Senator, Ambassador, Cabinet member or Joint Chief they can find!

To wit...you don't accept the judgment of most of DC.

Heh, once you see it written down, it's hard to find fault with your thinking.

AllenS said...

Was there a 2004, where there is now a 2000? It's kinda early.

George said...

Abolishing the Electoral College would be as dangerous as putting spot remover on a dog.

If we got rid of it, the whole nation might disappear.

Pogo said...

Looks like the left is still trying to win the last war.

This effort also serves as a good example why 'democracy' is not an end in itself, but a means. Democracy can easily be subverted to anti-democratic ends, as this self-important machine intelligence guru demonstrates. The Founders devised a system to limit as far as possible the factious and selfish nature of citizens. Leave it to a lefty intellectual to find a gamer's cheat to bypass its safeguards.

I'll say it simply: Koza is proposing something that is factually correct and frighteningly anti-American. Yes, you can eliminate the Constitution mathematically (after changing a few state laws). And it would be wrong to do so.

Why can't the Left win honestly, when they complain so bitterly about electoral theft?

Ann Althouse said...

Allen: Yeah, I corrected a typo.

WisJoe said...

Gore "probably" won the popular vote? I think that is indisputable. If memory serves, I think it was close to if not over 1,000,000 votes.

On the subject of weird home/office decorating - there is a DA locally who I has so much crap on his wall in his office that I sometimes wonder if he really maintains pride in his 3rd place finish in the pinewood derby.

I know there are policy arguments both ways, but I think the average citizen still believes that the candidate with the most popular votes wins.

Gahrie said...

The more democratic, and less republican, (the systems not the parties) this nation has become, the worse things have gotten.

Instead of removing another plank in our nation's foundation, I would like to restore a few. We can begin with the repeal of the 17th Amendment (and the 16th while we are at it).

Pogo said...

wisjoe said: "I think the average citizen still believes that the candidate with the most popular votes wins"

Which merely proves that the average US citizen doesn't know much about his own country's Constitution.

OhioAnne said...

WisJoe said...
Gore "probably" won the popular vote? I think that is indisputable. If memory serves, I think it was close to if not over 1,000,000 votes


WisJoe, I believe that Ann was referring to the uncounted votes - not the counted ones.

When it is impossible for the other candidate to win in a state, they stop counting the votes for that particular office or issue.

If the difference is small within a state - all the votes are counted.

If Bush takes Texas or Gore California by a wide margin, there may have been a million votes in that state alone that never were counted because it wouldn't have made a difference if they had been. The opponent couldn't make up the statisitical difference.

The popular vote within a state is to get enough popular votes to win that state - but isn't necessarily all the votes for that state cast for that particular office.

Ann Althouse said...

Also, the reported margin was 543,000, not 1 million.

Quite aside from not bothering to count everything, there aren't challenges over fraud and which votes to counts. We saw in 2000 how much can be done trying to get recounts in Florida, but no one did that with, say, New York and California.

By the way, that points out a key problem with a popular vote approach. Every damned vote in every state could be fought over after the election. It's nice to think of the candidates before the election fighting for every vote, but horrific to think of them fighting for every vote after the election.

bearing said...

Yes, can you imagine the scuffles at the precinct level?

dave said...

Should you want the Electoral College abolished? One way to think about it might be to look at who opposes reform right now...

Typo fixed.

dave said...

...the reported margin was 543,000, not 1 million.

Ooooh - this changes everything!

SteveR said...

"It's nice to think of the candidates before the election fighting for every vote, but horrific to think of them fighting for every vote after the election."

Very true

Smaller states like New Mexico, where I live, and that tend to be close in elections, would be ignored. You can argue that perhaps we aren't as important as all the attention we get every four years would suggest, but it would make the election really about a few populous states.

Anyway nobody likes a sore loser and no matter how much bs goes into the arguement, it still come across that way.

knoxgirl said...

Heck, there's people suing for global warming now. If this guy somehow got his way and it came out bad for democrats, they'd be suing to bring back the electoral college 4 years later. It's a disorder called "no shame."

Bruce Hayden said...

Ann I think hit some of the big problems here. By some indications, there was some massive vote fraud that occurred, but because it wouldn't change the election results, nobody cared. I seriously doubt that Gore had 543,000 fictitious, demised, canine, felonious, and duplicative votes, but he probably did have tens of thousands of them. But then, maybe Bush benefitted from some voter suppression.

Just imagine the vote if all the cows had been allowed to vote in Texas. As was, there were plenty of real live people, elgible to vote, who didn't bother because their guy was winning the state by some million votes.

As was, the problem was managable. There were states as close percentage wise as Florida, but since they didn't count in the end, no one bothered with a recount. But under the new scheme, we would get a nationwide recount.

Plus, what would be really fun is that most likely, the state laws couldn't really be tested until they forced a state to throw its electors differently than the way the popular vote went there. Thus, we can expect another Florida replay, only this time in a bunch of states at once, with those having a Supreme Court leaning towards one candidate breaking one way, and a Court leaning the other way, breaking the other. And so, in order to even guess at who won the election the pundits would also have to be handicapping the state Supreme Courts for the states in the pact.

Oh, and then what happens if this isn't complete by the date that the electors are supposed to vote? We have the real possibility of multiple slates of electors being certified for some states, while other states don't have any.

Bruce Hayden said...

George

I don't know how bad that would be for a dog, but it could be pretty bad for a cat.

When I was growing up, I brought a kitten home from my best friend's house for Mother's Day. A couple of years later, one of my brothers dumped something like that on the cat, and as a result, the cat couldn't groom himself. As a result, he went through the last 15 or so years of his life with huge clumps of hair. He was an outdoor cat, so refused to let us groom him either.

I always found it interesting that he lasted so long outdoors, whereas all of his successors, who were indoor cats (because of coyotes), lived for a decade at most. But during his long life, he was one ugly cat.

Fenrisulven said...

Ann: utterly foolish to think that because Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000, he would have won the election if only we had had a system of election by popular vote in place at the time...the campaign would have been entirely different if the goal had been to win the popular vote.

Exactly. Back to the football analogy, if the game was determined by "yards gained" instead of "points scored", last year's superbowl would have an entirely different strategy.

Ditch the Electoral College and the issues of California, Texas, New York, and Florida will determine the election. If you live any where else, no one will care about your problems.

Fenrisulven said...

Of greater importance, my adopted state is going back to paper ballots. Thank God.

And measures against voter fraud are gaining ground. How will the Demcrats win if illegals and dead people no longer vote?

Dust Bunny Queen said...

The entire purpose behind the Electoral College was to persuade the smaller colonies to join in the newly minted United States. Each colony was an independent entity with their own armies, constitutions and laws. To avoid being swallowed up and rendered irrelevant by the larger colonies such as New York, the system of the Electoral College and our representative government system was to allow an equal voice for the small and large colonies.

I wrote about this before here: http://dustbun.blogspot.com/2006/05/electoral-college-prevents-civil-war.html

Living in the northern part of California, we are used to having our votes not count, being overridden by the numbers of voters in the urban and southern part of the State. If we abolish the Electoral College, then there is no purpose in voting if you live outside of the Metro States.

If you, as a State, have no voice or ability to participate in the government of the United States, what is the point of belonging to the Union.

George said...

I agree with Bruce. If we got rid of the Electoral College, we, as a nation, would be one ugly cat.

Kent said...

Your observation that the abolition of the Electoral College will change the public choice incentive structure, and thus the way politicians campaign, is of course quite right.

It is, however, only a particular case of a general principle: The most important consequences of representative democracy are manifest long before a single vote is cast. The mere fact that a politician must please a goodly segment of the public means that powerful filtering takes place long before the election itself.

Abolishing the Electoral College changes the filter. My feeling is that the new filter is worse than the old one, but then I live in a sparsely populated western state.

OhioAnne said...

It does give rise to some interesting conpiracy-type plans. ;-)

Do away with the Electoral College and even some rather large populous states (including my own) become somewhat insignificant in national politics. Some of the smaller population states could fall right off the map and no politician would notice.

Montana, North and South Dakota and Wyoming may seek a better deal with some of the southern Canadian provinces and form a third country. Washington state could declare all the aircraft carriers berthed there as state property .... Florida - the space program .... and where are the nukes again?

Maybe I should develop a college course and beat the rush? :-D

Ross said...

First of all, this stuff about not counting the votes when you know who won --- that's just not true. They don't recount and re-recount and go to court over the definitions of a vote and search the deputy county clerks' shoes for "lost" ballots, but they certainly count all the votes.

As for the Electoral College and its protecting the rights of smaller states, yeesh. How would things be any different? As things stand now, many small-population states -- Wyoming, Idaho, Vermont, Rhode Island -- are ignored in presidential elections, while many large-population states -- Florida, Ohio -- are lavished with attention.

Fenrisulven said...

?How would things be any different?

They would be worse. That Wyoming, Idaho, Vermont, Rhode Island are ignored is not a good argument for throwing another 40 states into that basket.

Henry said...

When people complain that it's an car crash, I just tell them, 'Hey, car crashes are legal in auto racing'"

I almost want Schwarzenegger to sign this bill just to see the national Democrats recoil in horror. Suddenly the Republicans will have California's electoral votes back in play. They won't need to care if they lose Ohio or Florida by a whisker. But the Democrats will have to care, even more so.

Pogo says why can't the left win honestly. With ideas like this they can't win sneakily either.

Seven Machos said...

I, too, am very pro-Electoral College. I also think State legislatures still should elect Senators.

mcg said...

After the 2004 election, John Kerry was basically bragging about how he was only a few thousand votes short of winning the election. Of course, he wasn't talking about the popular vote; he was talking about the Ohio vote, whose electoral votes were enough to swing the election. And of course, plenty of the lefty blogs were whining about unsupported allegations of election stealing under just those conditions.

Suddenly the EC system was pretty attractive!

Mark the Pundit said...

I, too, am very pro-Electoral College. I also think State legislatures still should elect Senators.

Repeal the 17th Amendment!

I dunno if I agree - do we really want state elections to become nationalized?

Vote for State Senator Jones - he'll send someone to the Senate that will cut taxes/pull troops out of Iraq/whatever issue you want here

johnstodderinexile said...

I wrote about this a few weeks ago, too. The potential scenario for California if Arnold signed the bill would be: Five candidates running. The candidate with "the most popular votes" gets just 30 percent. But that candidate doesn't play in California, which only gives him 5 percent. Under the law, all of California's electoral votes would go to a candidate that 95 percent of the voters didn't choose.

The Electoral College is one of the underpinnings of the two-party system, because only a large, broad-based party can have a chance of competing in enough states to win an EC majority. If that's no longer necessary, you'll surely see the rise of more independent candidacies and breakaway parties, some with purely regional appeal. The more candidates in the race, the greater the incentive for still more to join, since the odds of winning the whole enchilada go up with each new entrant.

If the US ever abolishes the EC, it will have to have a run-off system. The "end run" approach doesn't allow for any other reforms to offset the loss of the EC.

Seven Machos said...

Mark -- I don't have a problem with that at all. State Senator Jones, who probably represents a small part of a State, ought to represent those people in every way -- how they farm, how they do business, how they want the federal government run. (Are State senators at large, by the way? I don't know. It may vary.)

Anyway, in my mind, the effect of indirect election of U.S. Senators would be ironic: less direct representation would lead to more actual representation of people and the needs of their communities.

nypundit said...

Seven Machos, I don't know about other states, but here in New York the State Senators are regionally based.

Ernst Blofeld said...

It would also increase the incentive for vote fraud.

Right now there's little incentive for presidential vote fraud in someplace like New York, because the state is going to go blue in any event. But if every extra vote in New York helps the election of a Democratic candidate, why not pad the ballot box with a few thousand extra votes? Many areas are effectively one-party states, so there are limited poll watchers. (If you're a Democrat, think of some place like Texas doing the same to you.)

Daryl Herbert said...

Suddenly the Republicans will have California's electoral votes back in play.

No, Henry, there's a catch to prevent that. It only goes into effect if 50%+1 of the electoral votes belong to states that have signed on to similar proposals.

Daryl Herbert said...

Candidates and issues would be chosen in a completely different way. If the Democrats are now good at "winning" by a set of rules that don't apply, that may simply mean that the Republicans are better at focusing on the rules that do apply and functioning effectively in the real world. Why wouldn't you expect the Republicans to focus on whatever new rules actually apply and to adjust their behavior to keep winning?

Do these "reformers" really understand how powerful Republicans could be if they went 100% populist? Most of the conservative positions Kos-ites hate (death penalty, tough on terror, religion in schools, etc.) are easily demagouged and popular with America at large.

The Drill SGT said...

a couple of comments:

1. first of all, nobody can compel an elector to vote for anyone. It is unconstitutional, and almost certainly a Federal crime.

2. Instead of the focus being on a few battleground states, the focus now shifts to a few battleground media markets where dollars can be most effectively spent to influence votes (e.g. Boston, NY, DC, LA, Chicago

3. the system as described can't possibly work IRL.

a. Let's assume for a second that 50%+1 of the EC votes/states sign up for it. thus triggering the revised method.

b. on election day, every single vote counts, therefore that virtually requires both multiple recounts in every precinct in the country, but also legal challenges in at least every state in the country.

c. the ability and incentive to commit vote fraud is dramatically increased.

d. some of those counts will get drug out beyond the date certain in December for the EC vote opening

d. The 50+ Judaical challenges are going to break various ways. If one or more of the challenges produces an outcome that puts the "bound by compact" count below the absolute 50%+1 EC count required by the compact, does that abrogate the compact ex-post facto and result in chaos?

Henry said...

No, Henry, there's a catch to prevent that. It only goes into effect if 50%+1 of the electoral votes belong to states that have signed on to similar proposals.

I should have figured there was a catch. So it's just posturing after all.

David Walser said...

First of all, this stuff about not counting the votes when you know who won --- that's just not true. They don't recount and re-recount and go to court over the definitions of a vote and search the deputy county clerks' shoes for "lost" ballots, but they certainly count all the votes. - Ross

Ross, I must guess that the practice varies by state. Where I've lived, the practice was to hold the absentee ballots (and now the early voting and provisional ballots) until all the machine counted votes are tallied. Then, absentee ballots are counted only if they might make a difference in the outcome. If there are 100,000 absentee ballots and the margin before counting them is 500,000, the absentee ballots would not be counted. (There may be local races that the absentee ballots might affect. If that's the case, the absentee votes for only those races are counted.) Why is the approach taken? Because the absentee votes need to be hand counted and that's an expensive task to undertake (no matter how little the cost) if it's not going to change the outcome.

altoids1306 said...

A question for Althouse:

Is such a law constitutional? It seems like a "state's rights" issue to me.

Ann Althouse said...

It might be a hard question, but I think it is not constitutional.

JorgXMcKie said...

I find it just a little odd that no one supporting this plan for an end run seems to take any notice at all of the outrage it might engender in the 15-20 very small (population and/or geography). I mean, I see people here mentioning that it might mean the candidates would pay no attention to such states, but have any of you considered how downright *angry* this might make the people of these states?

What effect would this have on national relations in, say, the Senate? Do any of you seriously think a candidate for a Senate seat in such a seat could *not* take a stand to punish the states joining the 'compact' and making the small states irrelevant in Presidential elections?

Do they really think effectively disenfranchising the American citizens of 20 or so states in what is arguably the most important election in the world today is a good idea?

Let me get this straight. Requiring actual ID to vote is horribly, horribly wrong because it might possibly make life a little more difficult for a few individuals, but effectively removing the vote for President from 30,000,000 Americans (total population -- effectively at least 15,000,000 potential voters) is okay because it gets you to a result you desire?

Lordy, lordy, can they not see the tyranny inherent in such a scheme? I guess not, and, unfortunately, I'm not really surprised.

The means does indeed justify the ends for too many.

Zach said...

Suppose one party had a lock on statewide offices in some state. Wouldn't there be tremendous incentive under a national popular vote system for that political machine to manufacture votes in vast quantities, secure in their belief that no local authority would prosecute them?

Political machines gathering huge power in isolated areas and using it to try and swing larger elections is hardly a new idea, after all.