Nov 2012 07

Electoral college versus popular vote

Randomstrings Voting

So, with the 2012 presidential election finally over, I'd like to discuss some of the things that I saw during the whole shebang.

I noticed at one point during the process Mitt Romney had more popular vote than Barack Obama but at the same time Barack Obama had more electoral votes which made me wonder if the popular vote actually matters at all.

I did a bunch of research that harkens back to my 20 plus years ago social study courses because I simply didn't remember the purpose of the electoral college with regards to the popular vote.

The electoral college was implemented in order to represent the population of a given state before people could travel to the election sites and actually cast ballots. Way back then it took several days if not longer to travel all those distances and so quite often votes weren't being made at all. The electoral college system changed all that and allowed people to have a voice even when they weren't able to directly cast a ballot. It's very much a winner take all system, so in one sense the general election popular vote does not matter when you consider the country as a whole.

Where it does matter is at a state level; As a rule of thumb, the electoral college will award the winner of your states popular vote all of the state's electoral votes. And, the winner of the most electoral votes wins the general election.

The use of the electoral college system is a debatable issue at this point in history it gives and takes. On the one hand, it makes dissenting votes in a non-swing state meaningless. For example, if your state is heavily Democratic, your vote for Republican party member (while it still technically counts) really has no impact on the election as a whole.

On the other hand, it prevents grossly overpopulated states from having total control of the election. Without the electoral college vote system in place and if the popular vote was all that counted, states like California, New York, Illinois and Georgia would have a huge influence on the election while entire states like Iowa or Alaska (which are very lightly populated by comparison) would not have any significance in the election at all.

What I find interesting is, I believe the electoral college system actually encourages people to not vote. Under the electoral college system, if you know your state is primarily Democratic or primarily Republican and you tend to vote the same way then you don't actually have to vote because really your vote won't count towards the popular vote of any other state and if your state votes your way already why bother taking the trip in the first place.

On the other hand, if your state primarily votes one way and you vote the other, then the electoral college system can be seen as a form of oppression or even tyranny of the masses because no amount of voting will actually make any difference -- so again why bother?

I think at one time the electoral college system was really a good thing, but I'm not sure it is any more. Maybe it's something of a bygone age that needs to be reconsidered in this modern time of fast cars, internet and ultra connectivity. I think the original intention was good but is it still relevant?

Let's take a vote...