Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Keep Presidential Voting By States

Although I have no problem with getting rid of the Electoral College where actual people vote for the president based on our November election results because the actual people could vote differently than the election results (becoming "faithless electors"), we should still retain voting by state (well, Nebraska and Maine do it a bit differently, but the generalization is true),

The alternative of simply counting up the national vote total to determine the winner would be a bad change.

Let me note three reasons.

One, winner takes all by state reduces the impact of and incentive to engineer election fraud.

That is, if you win a state's electoral votes by winning 51% of the vote, there is no incentive to cheat to get to 60%. Either percentage gives you the state.

If the winner of the national vote is based on national voting totals, you obviously have incentive to increase your total from 51% to 60%

Heck, if you are losing the state you have incentive to try to get your loss up to 49% from 40% by cheating.

So voting by state provides a sort of fire wall around each state to limit the impact of the voter fraud that exists and reduce the incentive to carry it out (if you believe it does not exist).

Two, winner takes all by state encourages candidates to spread out their campaigning to more states, keeping more of the people involved in the national election.

In a national vote-total method of election, would a candidate really go to Nevada to campaign to get that state's vote total a little higher when it would be easier to campaign in a big state to pad their total there?

Now, a candidate who has California sewed up when the polling shows them a bit up has incentive to go to a smaller state where they are behind to win their electoral votes because padding the lead in California does nothing to increase their chances for winning.

Indeed, with a total-vote method it might make the most sense to simply campaign in metropolitan areas where the bulk of the population lives, ignoring anyplace with lower population densities.

And then spend a lot on whipping up loyal voter anger even in what are safe states in our current system in order to push your turnout on election day for the purpose of adding to your national vote total in a system based on total vote counts.

And go negative to suppress opposition voter turnout even in states you will lose. Hey, sometimes you have to destroy the village to save it, eh?

The advantage of the current system for small states makes it odd that the small states of Nebraska and Maine undermine the winner-takes-all system. Do they really want the country to follow their example and make it more likely that politicians will ignore them in favor of the big states where the real votes are?

And three, if you liked Florida 2000 you'll love every state's legal battles under a system of national voting for president.

Right now, it just isn't important to "count every vote." A state clearly voting for one candidate can be off in their counting by several percentage points of the actual vote without changing the outcome. You don't need to spend the time and effort to recheck every district to make sure no honest errors crept in. This is distinct from the voter fraud issue.

With a national election based on raw vote totals, legal challenges will proliferate because it matters at the national level to claw for every vote you can churn up or deny your opponent every questionable cast ballot.

We'll be lucky if all the legal challenges are settled by January to have a winner to swear in. So much for the transition period to get ready to govern.

How will that struggle in the courts affect partisanship in our country when outside lawyers and poll watchers descend on every voting precinct in the country?

The notion advanced in the linked article above that a national vote would reduce partisanship is so 180 degrees wrong that I can't believe a professor advances it. Good Lord, that conclusion defies common sense.

His proposal to award electoral votes by state in proportion to their vote in that state is far superior to a national vote count, but it doesn't address my second defense of the winner-take-all system by state. And it adds to the incentive to fight for votes in my third point, to get your vote total to whatever level is needed to get another electoral vote. So maybe it he isn't 180 degrees off. Call it 100 degrees.

Keep our presidential vote based on electoral college voting by state. Even with the actual potentially unfaithful Electoral College, it is superior to determining the winner by total votes cast nationally.

But don't conflate the Electoral College of actual people--which should go, in my opinion--with electoral votes that as a rule go by state.

We could simply have direct election by state electoral votes determined by state voting--needing 270 to win--without the formal vote by Electors in December that is supposed to confirm the November vote.

Things can always be made worse by radical efforts to improve them. Don't do this to our elections in the mistaken notion that direct voting by national vote totals will improve our elections.

And remember, under our system the result of this election is legitimate. We can certainly change the system--for better or worse--as is our right. But that does not change the fact that Russia did not steal our election. Democrats in the government and press certainly did their best to bend and break rules to push the vote toward Clinton (and why Democrats are so opposed to preventing corruption even if it is rare as they say is beyond me--why not increase confidence in legitimacy?), but the biggest problem of this election is that we voted to make Clinton and Trump our nominees for the presidency.

Let's do better next time. Okay?

UPDATE: There is predictable whining from the Left because Trump won the electoral vote but appears to be losing the popular vote.  That's interesting if irrelevant. Two things:

One, we don't actually know the popular vote with enough precision given the close election to say with certainty that Clinton won the popular vote. As I noted in my point three, we don't make the effort to count every vote because our system doesn't require us to do that. As I write this, Michigan is still counting votes to determine which way the state votes. New Hampshire, too, seems stuck at undecided. Do we want this for every state?

And two, and forgive me for stating the obvious, but because we vote by states (again, with the partial exceptions of Nebraska and Maine), our candidates don't try to win the popular vote--they try to win the electoral vote majority.

If our elections were decided by popular vote, the candidates would have had very different strategies to win than the ones they applied to win in our current environment. Only then could you say that the popular vote matters.

UPDATE: And keep in mind that prior to the election Democrats were boasting about how their electoral vote advantage (their "blue wall") doomed a Trump campaign despite the inability of Hillary Clinton to get above the mid-40s in opinion polling support. Even a close election would give her a decisive electoral win, they argued. But now some want to change the rules.

I know it is frustrating to lose the electoral vote while appearing to win the popular vote. But just as it is frustrating to have your team lose a football game even though your team had more offensive yards, or dominated time of possession, or even led the entire game until that last desperate play, those margins are not how the game is scored. It is simple, the team with the most points wins. Electoral votes are the points in our presidential elections. It is that simple. And I think it works well enough. By all means, I think we should get rid of the possibility of faithless electors, but voting winner-take-all by states (and the District of Columbia, of course) is a superior method for such a large country than voting by national popular vote.