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Saturday, January 01, 2005


2005 The year of the Spectrum

As we enter our first full year, we look forward to the challenge of keeping this a fresh blog, with interesting team members and guest posting all the time. We here at BlogSpectrum look forward to meeting that challenge. We aim to exceed your expectations. In the next few weeks, we will add more members, more side issues, and more content. Our aim is to make this the first blog you read everyday. How can you help? Tell friends. Send comments and suggestions. Read often. Suggest additions to the team. Have a safe and happy New Year, from The Blog Spectrum Team.

The Casual Observer on behalf of:
Michael Z Williamson
Sidial (aka Pest)
The Cunning Linguist


1) I am not infected with the Blog-o-Virus (as I call it), and have little interest in going to anyone else's blog. Quite frankly, I'm posting here under threats sufficient to convince me to, threats, I will add, only a friend can make and get away without me pushing the issue. All arguments should be posted here, rather than elsewhere, for ease of access, among other reasons.

2) Electoral Vote VS. Popular Vote

Electoral College critics point out the elections of 1824, 1876, and 1888 in their arguments to prove the system doesn't work. In those three elections
the candidate who won the Electoral College vote, did not win the popular vote. Besides forgetting the 50 other elections where the Electoral College agrees with the popular vote, critics conveniently ignore the factors that caused these three situations.

The link goes on to explain the factors which played into the first three points where the popular vote and the Electoral College do not agree. The next link deals with the fourth one.

3) Election 2000 (Article)

Quote from that link, which is likely a better phrasing of what I've been trying to say:

In this most recent election [2000], we have seen a candidate win a majority of the popular vote, but his faction failed to kindle a nationwide base. The voting base for the party came from 21 of the 51 available states. With the exception
of New Mexico, all of the states were highly urban with large populations. In terms of sheer numbers, these states possess the numbers to oppress the others in matters resolved by popular vote. Clearly our founding fathers set out to guard against just this type of majority rule, whether the issue is taxation, national defense, or the election of the chief executive, the rights of the smaller states must be protected. This protection, offered by a representative republic, has helped to ensure the strength and survival of our nation by reducing the amount of interstate conflict that marred the original Articles of Confederation.

This is what I have been attempting to say. Does it decrease the per-person value in the more populous states? Yes. That IS the idea, you know. To make it so the smaller states/population centers have a chance to have equal rights, equal representation in the president. Do you remember what I said about "Majority Rule, Minority Rights"? The Electoral College is fundamental to preserving that aspect of American representational democracy. The country is too diverse to let a single topic determine the next president -- so the president-elect must have gotten an across the board support, instead of support from high population centers only. By forcing the issue to those without the population weight, it means there is a more equal application of the end result.

What you advocate is like saying that, at a pizza party, if someone doesn't like anchovies on their pizza, and everyone else does, it should be wrong for them to order a pizza without anchovies just for that person. They should be glad all they get to do is pull off the anchovies, and still contend with the taste of it having been cooked on there. After all, that would be being "completely equal", right? Does it really work that way? Is that even truly fair?

Perhaps the difference in opinion stems from a difference in the usage of "equal". I am referring to equitable, and you are referring to equality. Whereas I am referring to the end result of it being fair in terms of the end result being less biased than a popular vote would cause, you are referring to precise exactness of the method.

But the existance of "Majority Rule, Minority Rights" means that we cannot let the majority dictate the rules without the minority having a chance to have input. The Electoral College is the best option we have at evening out the heft of voting blocks. It's the most fair option.

As you continually are harping on, the President is the representative of the people. The only two people in the entire country to be voted on by the entire country are the President and the Vice President. They should be more the representative of the ENTIRE country, instead of a select few areas.

As for Ohio -- is that the fault of the Electoral College? I think not. It is the fault of poor planning, poor resources distribution, and would have existed no matter what voting system was being used. Votes UNCAST are still votes UNCAST, no matter how you try to phrase it, and it would have been just as detrimental to the popular vote as to the Electoral College. The candidates have no control over that side of things, no one does except for the state at fault.


Week 2: Response to Sidial on the EC

I apologize for my blatant disregard of your blog’s word limit. If this poses a problem, we’d be more than happy to host the debate over at Hawkenblog.

It’s true that in the history of US presidential elections, the winner of the EC has won without winning the popular vote 3 or 4 times (depending on your interpretation of how voting directly for electors in Alabama affected the popular vote in Kennedy-Nixon). You say that’s “very rare,” hence good enough. I say it’s not good enough, but I suppose this disagreement, relative to most of the other ones, is simply a difference in opinion. However, I think it’s worth noting that we nearly had two consecutive elections where the winner of the EC was the loser of the popular vote, which shows how likely it is any time there’s a close election. If Ohio state voting officials had provided an adequate number of voting machines for all citizens, this may well have been the case. Furthermore, why would you defend a system that has failed several times and is liable to fail during any close election when you could replace it with a better system that would always correspond to the will of the majority? Another point I made on Hawkenblog is that the current system disenfranchises millions of voters in the 2/3 to 4/5 of states whose winner-take-all outcomes are all-but-certain weeks before the election. So, under the current system, the popular vote always must be taken with a grain of salt, because there are millions of people out there who, like me, could have decided to just stay home on the basis that their vote would be worth infinitely less to the outcome than someone’s in a swing state.

It’s true that the EC was developed in part to satisfy the concerns of large states, slave states, and small states. In the beginning, those entities were able to argue that they might need a special boost in national elections. I think it speaks for itself that you’re not arguing for what the value of that boost might be today, you’re simply advocating the preservation of unfair weighting. You’re saying that the vote of people in small states must count for more—much more—than the vote of someone in one of the largest states. Why is that good? I’ve already stated why I believe each vote should be equal. The onus is on you to explain to us why some people’s vote should be worth much more others’.

Even if you wanted one group’s vote to be more valuable than another’s, why would you want the arbitrary distinctions created by state lines to determine the groups? Wouldn’t you want a more meaningful demographic distinction? Let’s take your figures that 80% of the population is “urban” and the other 20% is “rural.” That seems like a pretty big disparity, and most farmers are surely in the rural category, and farming is essential to the livelihood of our country. Let’s change it so that instead of someone in Wyoming having a vote that’s worth four times more than mine in California, which really doesn’t seem to be for any reason anyway, and let’s make it so we multiply the value of a rural vote by four times instead. Okay, so now rural voters have as much of a say as urban voters. First of all, this would never happen, because the majority of the country—the 80% in so-called urban areas—would never allow their congresspersons and states to go along with it. Secondly, it would give the reigns of the country’s highest office to a minority group, and there’s no telling how much this would offset the balance of power in the US, most likely, I would guess, for the worse. Can we agree that we shouldn’t do something like that? You say the EC, “evens out some of the gross inequalities a purely popular vote method incurs.” Does it not, in fact, create gross inequalities that a purely popular vote method would eliminate?

I agree with you that we are not a single entity all across the US. But the president (and the vice president) is the single person in the US who is elected to preside over all Americans. We have senators and representatives to represent the geographically-determined minority interests. Your argument that the diversity of this country requires that some people should be given more of an ability to determine the president is an egregious affront to the concept of Majority Rules, Minority Rights.

Why would it take longer to count the votes in a direct election than through the EC? Obviously, it took several weeks to call the election in Florida in 2000 (and proper recounting by an independent commission didn’t conclude for more than a year, if I recall), and if the margin had been, say, 50,000 votes instead of 130,000 in Ohio (which, as I said, it easily could have been, if people in “minority areas” in that state had been given approximately equal access to voting machinery), it would have taken at least two more weeks to count all the provisional, absentee, military, and oversees ballots, because Kerry would not have conceded on November 3. Sometimes it’s just going to take a while to get a winner, and I hope we can agree that in this case correctness is a higher virtue than quickness. If we made it through the aftermath of the 2000 election (and Kerry quickly conceding the 2004 election despite lingering questions in Ohio) without inciting anything even resembling civil war, it’s not going to happen over presidential elections. Also, under a direct vote system, taking additional time (at least beyond the time when all provisional, absentee, military, and oversees ballots are counted) to determine a winner would be rarer.

What you’re failing to consider is that the more votes there are, the less likely it is that the outcome will be very close. Consider how close it was in the EC in 2000 and in 2004: differences of 537 and about 120,000 votes, respectively. Then consider how close it wasn’t in the popular votes in 2000 and in 2004: differences of about 500,000 and 3,500,000, respectively. Historically, the margins in the closest states are much closer than the margin in the popular vote. It’s mathematically less probable for an election to be meaningfully close in the popular vote than for it to be so in the key swing states. So, if someone wanted to commit fraud in Florida in 2000 (assuming the actual outcome would have been determined before the Supreme Court stopped the dispute), they ended up only needing to switch 537 votes to change the outcome of the entire national election. In Ohio in 2004, someone wanting to commit fraud would have had to impact what turned out to be about 120,000 votes (something which, arguably, Secretary of State Blackwell indirectly did by not providing adequate voting machines in minority areas), as opposed to 3.5 million on the national scale. Most if not all cases throughout the history of presidential elections will confirm this effect. So, while supporters of the EC say it quarantines fraud in just one or two states as opposed to on a national level, when fraud does happen in the critical state(s), it’s result is grossly magnified into a national result. Whereas, it would be prohibitively difficult to cause, say, 500,000 votes worth of fraud on a national level without getting caught, which is what you’d have to do to overturn an entire direct election. So, the EC actually makes the outcome much more susceptible to fraud.

You go on to argue for “the illusion of semi-unity between states.” (This seems ironic, because you were just saying that a, “purely popular vote would be treating everyone like they all lived just down the road from each other,” as if that would be objectionable.) Don’t you think lot’s of liberals in this country are still pissed specifically at rural Ohioans, the people of Columbus and Cincinatti, and Mr. Blackwell for putting their enemy back into office? I’m not sure they’re justified, but I get the sense that it’s the reality of the situation. It seems to me that breaking things up by state in a way that doesn’t ensure that the majority determines the victor actually makes it much easier for people to say the election was decided by people in “Red states” or “Blue states” (which can be highly divisive) and, even, that the election was a sham (as many people are saying, considering the problems in Ohio in 2004 and the illegal way the recount there has been handled). I think perceived unity is a good thing, and I think direct voting would encourage that by making every eligible voter equally responsible for electing the president.

Presumably, you were talking in the following quote about how EC results tend to magnify the outcome to give the illusion that the winner won by more than the popular vote indicates: “It has the chance at making those who are going to go out and vote anyhow feel more like they’re part of a national group.” Believe me, nothing would make people feel more like they were voting as a group than if everyone went out and knew that their vote counted equally toward the majority election of a candidate. My vote for president in 2004 was utterly and completely arbitrary, whereas the votes of hundreds of people I knew back home in Ohio were arguably the most meaningful of the election.

You and I both believe in representational democracy for this country. Pure democracy is perhaps a useful thing with certain issues, as in 2004 when there was a strong response to initiatives on banning gay marriage in many states and approving $3b for stem-cell research in California, among many others. But, for the most part, our system is representational. Let’s remember that we elect our national and state congresspersons by direct vote, and yet they are still our representatives in the democratic process that occurs in state capitals and in Washington. Just the same, whether the EC or a direct vote is used to elect the president, he is still the nation’s representative—the people don’t get a chance to vote whether (s)he goes to war or whether (s)he proposes or repeals any initiative (s)he wants.

The proposed change of divying up EVs on the basis of a state’s popular vote does not do anything to invalidate the fact that some individuals’ votes count a lot more than others under the EC, nor does it effectively address most of the criticisms I have leveled at the EC, either here or on Hawkenblog (although it could encourage candidates to actively campaign in more states, if it was uniformly implemented). If states were gradually to move to such a system, those who did it first would be committing suicide with their power in the EC, because no candidate would campaign heavily in their state for the difference of just 1 or 2 votes (as we learned in the debate on Colorado’s initiative to do this in 2004). For example, if Florida were to do that, no matter how close it might be there, candidates would give no more attention than any of the smallest swing states, like Nevada or New Hampshire, because both candidates would be virtually guaranteed of getting almost half their votes regardless. So, for such a system to be implemented it would have to be a Constitutional Amendment to ensure that it would go into effect everywhere at once. If we’re going to pass an Amendment on voting for president (as a senator and a representative soon hope to do), then why pass one that just fixes part of it when we could pass one that would improve the system in virtually every way without any negative consequences for the vast majority of the nation’s population?


Week 2: Response to David

This originally started out as a commented-reply to David's reply to my original post. The CO made me post it as a regular post, and said he'd add "flowery honorifics" if he had to do it himself. So I'm doing what he asked. At approximately 15 times the length.

Sidial the TechnoPest

Politicians may ignore some states during a campaign, but those states' electoral votes still can make a difference. Remember how everyone was biting nails over which way Nevada would fall, just two months ago(ish), now? One "little" (small population) state can tip the election either way. Without the Electoral College, that state may as well not go to the polls at all, because their votes are a drop in the bucket compared to Texas' or California's pure popular vote. In a way, it adds weight to the vote of the smaller states/population centers, compared to the much larger population centers.

Let me put this into historical perspective:
A) The popular vote and the Electoral College vote results are very rarely at odds. The percentages may not be exactly correct, but if you look at the history books, it's actually noted when the popular vote and the E.C. vote do not jibe, not when they say the same thing. Which means this argument is more or less pointless, except once every fiftyish years. (I don't have exact numbers and dates, but I can only vaguely recall three or four times where the E.C. vote and popular vote didn't come out to the same result.)

B) The Electoral College IS the Great Compromise that enabled the delegates from the 13 original states to come to the agreement that is our Constitution. It is the voting side of the two house Congress, designed to give equal weight to all states, and still give weight to the states by population.

Back then, the plantation states had a very real concern: nothing would ever go their way, if they didn't have equal say in what goes on.

The North, which was far more industrialized, and thus more populous, wanted to be able to use its population heft to get things that the South didn't want to happen to go through.

The Great Compromise, as we now call it, called for both ways of doing things. The Senate -- more removed from the concerns of the public, less focused on getting re-elected in just two years -- gives equal weight to all of the states, and has comparable powers to that of the House. The Senate is supposed to be the "calm older advisor" to the House. The House, on the other hand, is supposed to be something of a dynamic firebrand, much more closely linked to the public because of voting turnovers, hence, why it is also based on population (and handles things like the money).

The Electoral College voting system is based on the number of Senators plus Representatives each state has. So each state is guaranteed a minimum of three votes. Now, compare this to the population differences. California ranks #1 in the country as of April 1, 2000, with 33,871,648 people. Wyoming ranks #51 (counting the District of Columbia, which ranks as #50) with 493,782 people. In other words, Wyoming has 1.46% of California's population. To put this into another perspective: the nine smallest states by population (New Hampshire, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, North Dakota, Alaska, Vermont, and Wyoming) plus the District of Columbia, have a grand total of 8,880,081 people. Which is only 26.22% of California’s population (1).

By contrast, those ten population centers have a combined total of 36 electoral votes, with New Hampshire, Hawaii, and Rhode Island having four apiece, the other seven divisions having three apiece – which is more than what Texas has alone, and 65.46% of what California has (2). This gives their vote more weight per person, and help cancels out the sheer number of people California has. But, mind you, the popular vote is NOT totally left out to sea. As I said in my previous post, most states apportion their Electoral College votes on a “winner takes all” system – but it still goes to the winner of the state’s popular vote.

The Electoral College manages both things needed for the writers of the Constitution to come to an agreement: it gives weight by population, but also evens out some of the gross inequalities a purely popular vote method incurs. We are NOT a single entity across this country. There are countries in Europe that are smaller than Texas, let alone the rest of the country. There are vast cultural differences between NYC, Houston, and LA, I can bloody well guarantee it. Are a bunch of things the same? Sure! But we are not a homogenous society, and a purely popular vote would be treating everyone like they all lived just down the road from each other.

Another variant of the perspective: 241, 395, 996 people in this country live in urban centers. 49, 413,781 people are rural (3). So just 20.47% of the population is rural – and not all of those are involved with the food production for the other 80% of the country. What about their votes? I, being a farm girl myself, can definitely tell you that what you city folk think is important isn’t precisely what’s important out here in the sticks. (Sorry about the slight drawl on that.)

There is another part of the Electoral College voting system you are failing to take into consideration, however.

Right now, we have a very clear idea of what constitutes a President-Elect: 270 of 538 Electoral College votes declares our winner. Now, our latest estimates for the population of the United States is 290,809,777 (at the end of 2003) (4). How many of those are of voting age? How many are registered to vote? How many are going to vote? We never know for sure, until the last vote is counted on Election Day. At what point can we guess reasonably close as to which candidate has been elected, if we’re doing a purely popular vote? If it’s close enough of a popular vote, even just the slightest bit of voting fraud could throw the vote. Online, many of the polls are voted in by robots, not real people, and can totally throw the real demographics and information those polls gather.

Consider what happened with Florida in 2000. Consider that the Democratic Underground was raring to go off to Ohio at the drop of a hatpin, if Kerry chose to fight those electoral votes being called for Bush. Consider how many fraudulent voter registrations were being done, and how out-and-out dirty this past election was. The Electoral College minimizes the ability to have widespread voting fraud, as well as minimizing the overall impact such can have. I’m sure that was an unintended side effect of the whole thing, but it works. It’s a bit like an isolation ward: keep the infection from spreading outside of these areas.

One last comment on the Electoral College:

It provides an illusion of semi-unity between states which otherwise might not feel like they have that much in common.

You may scoff at how bad of an idea that is, but is it really? From a purely psychological viewpoint, this country is so bloody diverse that feeling more unified is not a bad thing. It has the chance at making those who are going to go out and vote anyhow feel more like they’re part of a national group. (Which they are, a very important group, voting is the easiest and most important civic duty any American can perform.)

Do I believe in democracy? Hell yes. But I believe in a representational democracy, rather than a pure democracy. In small groups, pure democracy is functional. In a country as large as ours, a representational democracy is what is needed instead. And, yes, I believe that extends to the Electoral College. There’s a quote inscribed on the side of one of the buildings (E. Cullen, I believe) at the University of Houston, which goes something along the lines of this: The only aristocracy that democracy should embrace is that of intellect.

Take it as you will. But the Electoral College is, was, and will remain for the foreseeable future, the best compromise between calm-and-collected and public sentiment, rural and urban, small state and big state. Until there is a completely fool proof method for preventing voter fraud (which there never will be – someone will always be smart enough to hack the technology), it remains the best way to minimize the possibility of widespread fraud in ways that a purely popular voting system would actively encourage. And it also remains the best way to have a good benchmark for who is the “winner”, so it doesn’t take forever and a day to declare the winner – that would be a fast way to incite civil war.

Again, don’t wish for the abolishment of the Electoral College system. Campaign in your state to have the state divvy up its Electoral College votes according to the percentages of public opinion within the state itself. That would be a good “perfecting” touch on the best system possible for our kind of democracy.


1. US States (Plus Washington D.C.) Population and Ranking.

2. Electoral Votes.

3. State Fact Sheets: United States.

4. ibid.

Friday, December 31, 2004



Excuse the irregularities in this blog while its being tinkered with. I've been assured its all my fault.


Electoral College Debate

Thanks, TheCO, for extending guest posting privileges to me. I've posted my thoughts on why the Electoral College (EC) should be abolished over at Hawkenblog, if you'd like to get a more comprehensive analysis. Here I am responding to commentary made by Sidial regarding his/her recent post on the American electoral process. Please refer to that post and comments attached to it for the background on the points here expressed.

I'll tell you what's quite simple: the fact that in our country we claim to support the concept that all humans are created equal, be this a self-evidency or philosophically-derived, such as by Objectivism. If you believe that--and it's really quite difficult, or at least not socially acceptable, to disagree with--then among the population of those who are eligible to vote in this country, all people should have a vote that is of equal value to everybody's else's. That's very simple logic, and it's the heart of the argument for a direct, popular vote for president.

You wrote: "Remove the Electoral College, and all a presidential candidate would have to do to win is campaign in the big cities such as NYC, LA, Chicago, and a couple of others. The rural, outlying areas ? including some entire states! ? could be ignored completely, in a purely popular vote situation. The Electoral College was designed for exactly that reason, to prevent exactly that scenario." It is untrue that the EC was developed primarily, or even secondarily, for this purpose. Furthermore, your argument that all a candidate has to do is win key cities is logically flawed. In any given election, the majority of the people in those cities, as well as in rural areas, are likely to have made up their mind before the candidates are even determined. It's infinitely easier for the Democratic candidate to win all the electoral votes from New York and California than it would be for him/her to win even 75% of the votes in either NYC, LA, San Francisco, or San Diego. Anyway, to address this issue, I wrote the following on Hawkenblog:

"Some people who support the EC have suggested that eliminating it would put the focus of candidates only on large urban areas where there are the highest concentrations of voters, effectively taking the emphasis away from the concerns of people in less-populated areas. So far as I can tell, this argument doesn't make sense. Obviously candidates are going to go to areas where there are more votes, but candidates are also always going to try to appeal to a representative cross-section of Americans. Under the EC, Bush and Kerry spent more time in Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania than they did in New Hampshire, Nevada, and New Mexico specifically because they had more to gain in the states with more electoral votes (EVs). But, in all those states, the candidates when to and catered to rural areas, in addition to suburban and urban areas. There?s no reason candidates should care more about those people than about urban voters?after all, urban citizens make up the majority of the people in the US. But regardless of whether candidates focus on 10 states or 50, the amount that they focus on different demographics isn't likely to change significantly. Now, someone in a rural area of a perennial swing state, like Ohio or Missouri, may be opposed to going to a direct voting system, because under the EC a presidential candidate is, say, five times more likely to visit them. But, with the rapid improvements in technology, people can watch events in areas like their own (such as a downtrodden farming community) on cable or the Internetz instead."

The central problem with your reasoning--which concludes that citizens of small states may as well not even vote--is that you think a person in a small state should have a vote that counts for more than a person in a big state, especially in a big city. How can you possibly support that? That is minority rule, and that is not a principle upon which our country claims to be founded and governed. In a popular vote system, everyone's vote would be equal, so in a close election my vote (as a San Diegan) would count as much as my brother's (as a rural Ohioan) as much as some illiterate guy in Wyoming as much as former President Clinton's as much as yours as much as Carrot Top's. If popular vote becomes the method, why would a person decide not to vote just because they live in a particular state that doesn't have a large population? Their state's population is rendered meaningless in the context a direct voting system. As I pointed out on Hawkenblog, as the system is right now, I know that as a Californian my vote is many orders of magnitude less likely to affect the outcome of an election than that of someone in a swing state, particularly one with a low voter turnout and a high number of EVs. That is disenfranchisement. But, why should it matter where you live? The president doesn't (or at least shouldn't) serve the states' special interests - that's the job of the US Congress, Governors, and the state legislature. The president serves the American people. The will of the majority of the American people (who are eligible to vote) is the only thing worth considering when determining the president, and the EC is in direct violation of that.




Well our left most poster has finally arrived after some technical difficulties. But it appears the right of center posters are just too over awed by the quality of the center and left to post. That or they agree with us.... Any righties out there that aren't afraid to post? Drop me an email...

Thursday, December 30, 2004


I think I've arrived

Well, goddamn, I think I just made it into your cyberspace. I'm here to tell you that we cannot continue to think of ourselves as somehow smarter, or better, or whatever, than the rest of the electorate, the people, however you want to call them, no matter how old, or young, or educated--or not--we are. How about our fellow citizens?

It's comforting to think of them (voters, viewers, voyeurs, voldemortians) as stupid, as most of my fellow bloghounds want to, but where does that leave us? Yeah, we're superior. Who cares? Does the power of numbers matter any less, or more, than the power of [your] intellect, weapons, or money? I hope not. Otherwise popular government is impossible.

And do we, can we, believe in democracy? You ask if the electoral system is broken. Yes and no. Abolish the Electoral College, let ANY kind of state identification function as voter registration. BUT!

The elephant in the room is the other kind of politics, the kind that gets done "out of doors," the kind that Abraham Lincoln conducted. "Our government rests in public opinion," he insisted. "Whoever can change opublic opinion, can change the government, practically just so much."

First debate with Douglas, back in 1858, he says, and we should be repeating after me, "In this and like communities, public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed. Consequently, he who molds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed."

Notice what Lincoln said about public opinion. He was almost an abolitionist, but he didn't think his fellow citizens were stupid because they didn't, and couldn't, agree with him. He knew that public opinion was the practical embodiment of CONSENT, the principle that underlies and animates the Declaration of Independence and, not accidentally, that makes us Americans.

You can't assume your fellow citizens are stupid and try to move them. If they're stupid, there's nothing to be done about them, for them, with them. If you begin where Lincoln did, with the Declaration in mind, your question is, what happened here, why did a people "conceived in liberty" fall so far? He knew, and he said many times, that American political debate had coarsened in the years he came to maturity.

What was to be done? He could have said, these fucking peope are stupid. I know I would have. He didn't. Good thing, too. What he tried to say was, We've lost our way, here's how, here's why. We should try, too.

I know I'm late on the electoral question. Shoot, I'm late on the impending question, which I assume is unknown as yet.


Week 2: The American Electoral Process

I swore I wasn’t going to post to this blog, because of my allergy to politics. I have this feeling that the so-called Casual Observer decided to pick one of my rant buttons on purpose, and then had me look over his post to edit it, for the specific purpose of seeing if I had an opinion on the subject. Which he could then harass me into posting why I told him off, for what he wrote, in private. (I thought it was for a class, dammit!) Cheater. Anyhow. On with the show: 1) This is not intended to be completely inclusive or comprehensive. 2) From this point on, this is 1402 words.

The American Electoral Process:

It seems, every election year, this topic occurs, although the controversy swirls even tighter for presidential election years. I was taking high school government in 1998, during the congressional election. (Part of the class grade was “volunteer for a local party’s headquarters” or “sit in on the city council holding two of their meetings”. I chose the City Council meetings.) I was in my college freshman-level political science class (as a sophomore, poli sci isn’t my favorite subject) for the 2000 election, and I spent this past summer taking a senior level political science class (the last credit I needed for my degree) over the Presidency (it also played host to the graduate students – the only difference was the length of the papers wanted from the two sets of students). The electoral process is, of course, fundamental to the democratic process, and, of course, all three of my political science classes spent some time discussing what it is, how it works, and why we’ve never really managed to change it.

My good friend has asked if the process is broken, and can (or should) it be improved or fixed?

The answer is neither “yes, it is broken”, or “no, it is not”. It’s a bit of both. I’ll deal with the presidential part of the electoral process, since that’s what I’ve had the most information-dump on, as well as written the most papers on, the most recently.

The major problem with the current system is the way the parties choose their candidates. Until about thirty years ago, the process involved the political phenomenon called “the smoke filled room”. Or, in other words, political machines worked together to pick the best possible candidate, or at least the one they felt represented them best. The Democratic Party decided this was not “democratic” enough, as the delegates merely voted for the candidates backed by these machines. Not to mention, the delegates weren’t “representative” enough! So they set about to have “representative” delegates, and ended up with a lot of young stoners voting for the Democratic nominee. After this astounding disaster, both parties turned to another method: the primary.

The primary is an interesting creature. It has created a “new breed” of presidential candidate – one who must appeal to a broad base of people consistently. This requires much more money than the parties used to need to spend to campaign, particularly in a time where voter turn out is so low, even when you look at just the turnout percentage for registered voters, and not those who are eligible. Unfortunately, this has not increased the caliber of candidate offered to us; it has changed the kind of candidate. Charisma, sparkle, memorability, and money have become paramount qualities, and have lessened the previous emphasis on respectability and ability. I will not say all the candidates since then have been outstandingly poor, but if money were less of an issue, the candidates would be much easier to stomach.

Another factor of the electoral process which crushes the hopes of “third party” candidates is something that is dealt by the individual states, rather than the national level. One common complaint is the difficultly third party candidates face when trying to get on the national ticket. The fact of the matter is there is no national ticket! Most of the states in the union have their voting tickets designed around the two party system, and a third party candidate must buy their way on to the ticket. And the rules vary between states, wildly vary. Candidates for the Democratic and Republican parties are automatically added to the ballots, no extra charge. But most third parties simply don’t have the funds to bribe the states into putting them on the ballots (since that’s about what it amounts to, IMO), which greatly hampers the growth and spread of a secondary party, to take the place of the dying parties. (I call them dying because this past election has convinced me that the parties need to mutate into something new again – besides, we’re way overdue for a political realignment.)

The third major complaint most people have, particularly on a presidential election year, is the Electoral College. The other two complaints, I’d like to see something done about. I find them vastly annoying, myself, as well illogical. I’d like to let the third parties have more than a snowball’s chance in hell at winning even a single electoral vote, and I really would like a better set of options, when it comes time to cast my vote. But the Electoral College remains a vital part of democracy in the United States.


It’s actually quite simple.

We are not a pure democracy. We are a representational democracy. In fact, we aren’t even a “pure” representational democracy. We are a “Majority Rule, Minority Rights” representational democracy. The Big People may get to make the rules, but that doesn’t mean they can make rules to let them kill off the Little People (thank you, Justice System!). Remove the Electoral College, and all a presidential candidate would have to do to win is campaign in the big cities such as NYC, LA, Chicago, and a couple of others. The rural, outlying areas – including some entire states! – could be ignored completely, in a purely popular vote situation. The Electoral College was designed for exactly that reason, to prevent exactly that scenario. The electoral votes are awarded based on the number of Congressional members a state has, in the case of Texas, 34, in the case of some states, a mere 3, two Senators and one Representative. This gives the smaller states a fighting chance at having their votes mean something. It also keeps rural residents in West Texas from having to contend with the huge population centers out in California. I mean, really, folks, if you’re going to bitch about the influence the movie industry has on popular culture already, do you REALLY want to give that much political heft to Los Angeles and San Francisco? I really hope not. I like my guns and my knives. (Okay, so the twenty-odd rifles and handguns in the house are actually my father’s, but I still get to use them.)

One possible tweaking of the Electoral College lies at the individual state level, again. In 48 states (if I recall the number correctly, it may be 47 or 49), all of that state’s E.C. votes are awarded to the winner of the entire state’s popular vote. In the one or two exceptions to this, the E.C. votes are awarded on a percentage of the popular vote. So if one candidate gets 55% of the popular vote in that state, 55% of the E.C. vote goes to that candidate, and the remaining 45% is portioned out equal to the remaining popular votes. I think this is just as viable as handing a candidate all of a state’s electoral votes, without inflicting the damage of a purely popular vote. It gives greater voice to the other, minor parties, by allowing a closer-to-popular voting style, while still letting the smaller population centers a chance to have a voice.

How likely do I consider the chances of the electoral process being changed much at all? Very, very slim. There have been countless bills and amendments authored and submitted to Congress over the last two hundred years. Only a couple, most notably, women and non-white males getting the vote, have ever had a real following among the voting public, and only those with a following ever got even considered. If folks want things changed about how the voting system works, it is the individual states’ governments which need to be worked on. Until third party candidates can get on the state ballots with ease, until the states apportion their E.C. votes according to the popular vote within that state, a lot of the changes necessary to “fix” the American electoral process will never make it.

But it has to happen at the state level. Because our Founders did not trust the national government, either, and they left those sorts of decisions directly to the states themselves. And I, frankly, have to admit to wanting it to stay that way. If a few illogicalities are the price we pay for keeping the federal government out of dictating how it itself is elected, then I say we’re making a steal on the deal.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004


BS predicts the future?

Is this coincidence or am I just a less right version of Karl Rove?
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of San Francisco and Rep. Zoë Lofgren of San Jose are set to introduce bills to abolish the Electoral College. There are two other groups attempting to remove the Electoral College from our elections, both have their versions of amendments to do so.

This story picked up from our friends over at Hawkenblog.


Week 2: The American Electoral Process.

We have gone over two centuries with our current electoral process. That is something that is truly amazing. As an extension of the Constitution with the longest life span of any such document, it has served us proudly for many, many years. Like Marilyn Monroe and her mole, our electoral process is however flawed. Incomparably beautiful, as powerful, and enduring, as the majestic warships in the era in which our Constitution was forged the process does have flaws.

Our electoral process clearly enunciates the suspicion, and in some cases ourright fear some of the founding fathers had of ‘mob rule’. Several of them held that ‘too much’ democracy was even worse than none at all. We originally did not get to vote for senators, and the popular vote still is virtually meaningless, essentially our current national elector process is a first draft by men who were not sure they were doing the right thing. That is not a prescription for an efficient well thought out system. In short, it is a first draft. It needs some editing but a total out with the old in with the new ‘solution’ isn’t the best. Several main areas need addressing.

The President cannot and will not ever represent most of the people. Most of the voters yes, but the population as a whole, no. I propose two changes.
First, we need to over haul federal election law so that any candidate or party who can get on the ballot in sufficient states to represent one third of the total electoral votes need for election to the presidency would be listed on all federal election ballots. (If this requires states to issue two ballots in federal election year’s one state and one federal so be it.) This would open the field up and give ‘third party’ candidates a more level playing field. For the election of the president, I’d also propose a three level voting structure. The first level would be your choice for president and that person would get three tallies. The second would be your alternate choice who would be awarded one tally. The third would be a no vote that was one negative tally for a candidate you did not want elected at all. Tie breakers would go: highest first level votes, lowest no vote, and then go to a count of electoral districts won. If that failed to produce a winner the candidate with the highest winning percentage in their districts won would be selected, and then the candidate with the most second level votes. If this failed to produce a victor by popular vote a run off between all tied candidates would happen with a one vote ballot six weeks after Election Day.
The other key point is to infuse the Senate with the nation’s opinion as a whole. To accomplish this I would institute five “Senator at Large positions” four elected directly by national vote in the same year as the president, the fifth slot being awarded to the second place contender for the presidency

Electoral College
Much as I would like to simply do away with the whole unseemly and counter democratic process, there should be a back up plan to the more straight forward and representative process of direct voting, even if it is no more than an emotional bandage. To that end, electoral votes would be tied to the popular vote of district they represent. In the event someone was to win less then fifty percent. The tie breakers would go in the same order as the above presidential format.

Term Limits
Personally, as much as I believe people like the Grand Duke of Kennedy and The High Wizard Strom Thurmond are not good for America, I firmly believe term limits on public office violate the free speech of those voting. It is always possible to vote someone out. With the massive amounts of media and competitive scrutiny paid to any office where more than a few thousand people are expected to vote I fail to see how anyone wishing to be informed on an issue or a candidate could fall short of the mark.


Week Two—American Elections

A post in which J'myle breaks the rules on when you are supposed to post, and badly exceeds the word limit, for the good reason that, if things go according to plan, he will be in no condition to write anything next week, and where he humbly asks TCL for a Christmas Pardon...

Even though the Ukrainian Intelligence Service offers us some of their delicious borsch whenever we say it, this is NPR.

—Tom & Dave
Car Talk

Asking if the American election system is broken is a bit like asking if the Bill Murray character in a Wes Anderson film (Rushmore, The Royal Tennenbaums, The Life Aquatic) is the good guy. Murray generally plays characters that are horrible psychotics, or at least horribly maladjusted nurotics. But people like them because Anderson drapes all his characters in a sort of cellophane charm—and because the only characters that are even worse are everyone else in the movie.

Like a Murray character, American elections are, as a rule, incompetent, unethical and immoral. Like a Murray character, people hold them in high esteem mostly through a fragile illusion of shallow charm. And like a Murray character, the only thing worse than American elections is everything else.

Incompetent, unethical and immoral? The actual process of elections in this country is handled on a state-by-state basis. Each state, and in some cases, each county, controls the mechanics of the election: choosing machines, counting ballots and keeping accurate voting rolls. The bigger problems are well known: recently it was revealed Black Box Voting's video of a monkey hacking a Diebold electronic voting machine was staged, and that, in fact, you need the intelligence of a sixth-grader with a playstation in order to change the results on a Diebold machine. What people don't see are the smaller, sytematic injustices.

Part of my job this fall, as an intern with the Kerry campaign, was to help people who called in find their voting place. The three public housing projects (read: poor people) in Charleston, West Virginia, voted in precincts 162, 165 and 167. The polling place for precinct 162 was in precinct 165 and the polling place for precinct 165 was in precinct 167. Two days before the election, the county clerk's office discovered that the polling place for precinct 162, a senior center, had in fact been close for six months. They found a new polling pace and declared an "emergency change" in polling place, moving voting to a community center, also located in precinct 165. Upon finding this out, some of our eager volunteers put up a very large sign on the senior center that read, "attention voters from precinct 162: you now vote at Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center." Now keep in mind that the senior center, the sign, and the community center were both in precinct 165, and people from that precinct—the people seeing this sign—all voted in precinct 167, halfway across town.

Sound a little confusing? Remember that all these things happened within two days of the election, that very few of the people in our office knew much about the precincts in that neighborhood of Charleston, and that even the people in the county clerk's office gave me contradictory information every time I called them. It took me six hours to sort out the information above, and in that time I sent a dozen voters to the wrong polling place: I know the people in the county clerk's office were sending people to the wrong polling place right up until election day.

And that's just the incompetent part of incompetent, unethical and immoral. Unethical? West Virginia handed down the first two indictments for vote buying to a sheriff and county clerk in a boondock county before we even had the first exit polls on election day. Meanwhile, back in my hometown of Salt Lake City, the county mayor, Nancy Workman, remained in the race until two weeks before election day, ignoring the first five times she was indicted for misappropriating county funds. After indictment number six, she was convinced—reluctantly—to drop out of the race.

Immoral? The supreme court in West Virginia is elected, and the reelection battle over a judge named Warren McGraw holds, in my view, the award for dirtiest smear campaign of 2004. No doubt my colleagues here have their own worthy nominations (I'm sure Tom Coburn is generally a nice guy, Quilly, but it's difficult for me to have sympathy for Mr. Bathroom Quote, no matter how out of context it may have been taken) but the McGraw smear campaign was truly astounding.

Two years ago, Warren McGraw failed to dissent—he didn't even sign, merely didn't dissent—when a convicted sex offender asked to be given a second chance in a halfway house work-release program instead of being returned to prison. And before the phrase "Candidate Koretz supports giving sex offenders a second chance" makes it to the airwaves, let me tell you the reason this offender was kicked out of the group home: drinking alcohol. He has not, as far as we know, been involved in any inappropriate sexual relations since the offense that he was first convicted for: consensual relations with another boy in a foster home where he had been placed after being taken from his sexually abusive father and uncle.

In any case, Warren McGraw failed to dissent when the supreme court allowed this offender to go back to the halfway house. Later the program put in an application for this man as an elementary school night-shift janitor. The school principal investigated the application and, upon learning the nature of the man's felony, sent the halfway house a polite "are you nuts?!" note.

And then, when Warren McGraw ran for reelection two years later, a shadowy group called "And for the Sake of the Kids, Inc" (ASK) made huge media buys, blanketing the airwaves with ads that pretty much accused Warren McGraw of personally "putting convicted rapists in elementary school classrooms."

Then Warren McGraw went off on what I am assured is an uncharactaristically paranoid rant, asserting that this "ASK" group was the product of some sort of powerful enemies he had made as a judge. This did him no good and only made the smear campaign more effective, right up until two days after the election, when ASK revealed it's donor list, and we found out that it was almost single-handedly funded by Jim Blankenship, CEO of a mining company notorious for screwing over it's workers and endangering the environment. A company that had a controversial case before the Supreme Court of West Virginia to increase the maximum load of coal hauling trucks, a case in which McGraw was expected to rule against Blankenship and in which his replacement is expected to rule in the mining companies favor.

So those are some anecdotal examples of all the things that are wrong with American democracy. And people's opinion that we have a good system is generally based on nothing more substantial than a high school civics class; which—as I'm sure Eddie can tell you—is good only for learning the basics of spin doctoring. The shallow charm Bill Murray characters have. For an excellent point-by-point breakdown of everything your history class doesn't teach you, check out books by Professor James Lowen, Howard Zinn and, of course, the best gift I got this year: America: The Book.

And the worst part—the real kicker—is that all the people who will hear no evil about their country will never be able to understand the strength of American democracy. That we have these ideals—life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—that we can always use as benchmarks, as a way of finding out if a particular candidate, cause or policy is a good or a bad idea. That, for all their never-talked about flaws and great big disagreements about how the government should work, our Founding Fathers did set down a lasting standard on why a government should work.

That is something no other country has. That is why, for all our horrible flaws, America had the greatest electoral system on the face of the planet. And anyone who disagrees is welcome to sit down for dinner with the presidential candidates in the Ukraine.

Monday, December 27, 2004


Week 2:The American Electroral Process

Is the American electoral process broken? If not, why and can it be improved? If it is broken, what needs to be changed?