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MIT student blogger Lulu L. '09

Did you know about this? by Lulu L. '09

This is big.

First some backstory.

It’s 2008, a leap year and a presidential election year. It’s business as usual for most seasoned Americans but, for me, a citizen only as of last summer, I’m pretty especially excited to be voting for the first time. In 2004, I’d worked as an election official, on that day which began 4 more years of the Bush presidency, and I remember opening up the backs of the machines and counting up the votes at the end of the night, by flashlight, for some reason, after the stragglers have also all had their shot, and knowing in my head who I would have voted for.

As you can imagine presidential elections generate a lot of buzz on campus. All over student groups and living groups are hosting presidential debate bingos and register to vote parties. Well, I’ve been getting a little distracted as of late. Thursday night, I read the news for hours and never finished my 8.07 problem set which was harder than I anticipated. Tonight, pretty much the same story, but with no deadlines to shaft. I have something to show for it this time, though, I found something pretty awesome.

First of all, I’m against the electoral college system. I feel it does more harm than good. Back when it was instated, it did a whole lot of good. It helped make national interest possible when all there was was state interest. It did a big part in helping to unite the country, or even allow people to think on a more national level. This obviously isn’t the case any more, not for our generation, the driver’s license is really all that tells us apart nowadays.

Consider this a trial in true democracy. You know, the kind that we go around the world waving our hands about? The fact is, you’d think swing states like Ohio and Florida had 75% of the American population from how much time candidates spend in them addressing their concerns. The fact is, small states are overrepresented in the electoral college system at this point in time. Wyoming has the largest electoral votes to population ratio of any state. Ever wonder how much your vote is weighted in the general election?

Well, simply reference this here table, the last column, the ratio between electoral votes and population normalized to Wyoming. [1]

 

STATE ELECTORAL VOTES VOTES votes per elector (VPE) Your vote counts as
WY 3.00 147,947.00 49,315.67 1.00
VT 3.00 149,022.00 49,674.00 0.99
HI 4.00 205,286.00 51,321.50 0.96
AK 3.00 167,398.00 55,799.33 0.88
NM 5.00 286,783.00 57,356.60 0.86
ND 3.00 174,852.00 58,284.00 0.85
DE 3.00 180,068.00 60,022.67 0.82
RI 4.00 249,508 62,377.00 0.79
SD 3.00 190,700.00 63,566.67 0.78
MI 18.00 1,168,266.00 64,903.67 0.76
WV 5.00 336,473.00 67,294.60 0.73
NH 4.00 273,559.00 68,389.75 0.72
NV 4.00 301,575.00 75,393.75 0.65
AR 6.00 472,940.00 78,823.33 0.63
ME 4.00 319,951.00 79,987.75 0.62
MT 3.00 240,178.00 80,059.33 0.62
ID 4.00 336,937.00 84,234.25 0.59
NE 5.00 433,850.00 86,770.00 0.57
DC 2.00 171,923.00 85,961.50 0.57
IO 7.00 638,517.00 91,216.71 0.54
OK 8.00 744,337.00 93,042.13 0.53
TN 11.00 1,061,949.00 96,540.82 0.51
AZ 8.00 781,652.00 97,706.50 0.50
SC 8.00 786,892.00 98,361.50 0.50
UT 5.00 515,096.00 103,019.20 0.48
LA 9.00 927,871.00 103,096.78 0.48
KA 6.00 622,332.00 103,722.00 0.48
IN 12.00 1,245,836.00 103,819.67 0.48
CT 8.00 816,659.00 102,082.38 0.48
OR 7.00 720,342.00 102,906.00 0.48
AL 9.00 941,173.00 104,574.78 0.47
MO 11.00 1,189,924.00 108,174.91 0.46
PA 23.00 2,485,967.00 108,085.52 0.46
CA 54.00 5,861,203.00 108,540.80 0.45
VA 13.00 1,437,490.00 110,576.15 0.45
KT 8.00 872,520.00 109,065.00 0.45
GA 13.00 1,419,720.00 109,209.23 0.45
CO 8.00 883,748.00 110,468.50 0.45
OH 21.00 2,350,363.00 111,922.05 0.44
WI 11.00 1,242,987.00 112,998.82 0.44
WA 11.00 1,247,652.00 113,422.91 0.43
MD 10.00 1,143,888.00 114,388.80 0.43
FL 25.00 2,912,790.00 116,511.60 0.42
NC 14.00 1,631,163.00 116,511.64 0.42
TX 32.00 3,799,639.00 118,738.72 0.42
MN 10.00 1,168,266.00 116,826.60 0.42
IL 22.00 2,589,026.00 117,683.00 0.42
NY 33.00 3,924,215.00 118,915.61 0.41
NJ 15.00 1,788,850.00 119,256.67 0.41
MA 12.00 1,616,487.00 134,707.25 0.37
Bush 271 50,456,002 AVG VPE BUSH: 186,184.51
Gore 266 50,999,897 AVG VPE GORE: 191,728.94

And this really ought to concern you. If you’re an MIT student voting in Massachusetts, your vote is worth the least in the whole country. No wonder people opt for absentee ballots at home. I’ll be voting in Connecticut this year.

Now here’s what I found, that I never before knew existed:

National Popular Vote Interstate Compact

It’s pretty underground, huh? This really shocks me. Considering 70% of Americans support a Popular Vote system, probably a lot less than that know that bills have already been introduced in about half the states proposing a de-facto conversion to this system by an Interstate Compact. Hawaii, New Jersey, Maryland, and Illinois have already passed it into law. The bill assigns the “electoral votes” of that state to the winner of the national popular vote. Those 4 states have a total of 50 electoral votes, 19% of the 270 they need to effectively overturn the electoral college system. Of course, the agreement will not be enacted in those 4 states until the 270 electoral votes have been reached. Dear old Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill in California. But it has passed both house and senate and may be on its way to overriding his veto.

Don’t believe it? Well, that’s why there’s Wikipedia.

Also, here’s a really cheesy video on Youtube supporting the movement, but they’re dears for trying:

Anyhow, there are legitimate concerns against having a popular vote system and then there are racist and bigoted ones. I found this list of Unacknowledged Perils of such a system. Regardless of where you stand, you should read through it to get a sense. I think the best argument of the bunch is the creation of a presidential free-market so to speak, but that may be corrected with a bit of regulation. I’m not saying it’ll be easy or convenient, the switch-over, but that’s an awful reason not to try.

 

33 responses to “Did you know about this?”

  1. Livvy says:

    This is interesting stuff…shocking actually.
    I’m an international student and all this is new to me. Thanks for teaching me something new today.

  2. Laura says:

    Popular vote all the way! A couple of those “unacknowledged perils” really annoyed me, actually. “If you don’t like it, move to Russia”?? That type of argument always really ticks me off. Yeah yeah, the USA is great, blah blah blah, but there’s no reason we shouldn’t attempt to make it better, or tell people who are only attempting to do so to leave the country. Also, one of the reasons is basically “counting votes is hard,” which is a total BS complaint. In such a technologically advanced world, there should be no reason we can’t count votes quickly and accurately.

    But anyway, aside from my rant, great post! =) I did in fact know about the interstate vote compact, but only heard of it a couple of weeks ago. But I was proud to know that my home state (NJ!) had already passed the legislation. =)

  3. Lauren '12 says:

    Wow, really interesting post.

    I’m turning 18 in early December, and I’m reallllly bummed I miss this election.

    That chart was really informative though. Electoral college system does seem pretty messed up.

  4. anon says:

    RE: “I’m against the electoral college system.” Why dont we abolish the Senate too while we are at it? Can you think of anything more “inequitable” than the Senate? Wyoming gets 2 and so does California. And, why dont you run the numbers on congressional districts as well? These are not “equal” either. A citizen’s vote in one Congressional district is not “equal” to that of a Citizen in any other district. And, did you know that aliens, legal and “undocumented”, who are not entitled to vote, are being counted for purposes of restributing the number of congressional seats, resulting in the over-representation of Southwestern states with high resident alien populations, legal and illegal. [Many of those who advocate what you do, wouldnt touch this “inequity” though, since the demographics favor their candidates.] Indeed, those who are advocating the loudest for scrapping the constitutional requirements for presidential elections do so for immediate partisan political purposes. They think they stand a better chance of winning with that change. Witness your Gore would’ve won comment. The strength of the constitution is that it is designed to check and balance the interests of the small population states and the large population states and to protect us from these transient partisan political tactics. It’s worked for over 200 years and shouldn’t be scrapped to benefit anyone’s partisan politics.

  5. Barack Obama says:

    Yeah! VOTE FOR ME…I have always been the loyal reader of all your blog entries…hehe…CHANGE!!

  6. '11 says:

    I agree with Lulu. I have lived in different countries throughout my life so I have experienced popular vote, and I still don’t understand why America continues to support using an Electoral college. It just doesn’t make sense anymore.

    I can see why it is so difficult to get people to vote; it’s because our votes don’t really count. Democracy is, by definition, the will of the people, not of a select few. If one candidate gets 550 votes and another candidate gets 551 votes, the second candidate should win the election. It’s what the majority decided. I’m sure y’all MIT folks know that 550I agree with Lulu. I have lived in different countries throughout my life so I have experienced popular vote, and I still don’t understand why America continues to support using an Electoral college. It just doesn’t make sense anymore.

    I can see why it is so difficult to get people to vote; it’s because our votes don’t really count. Democracy is, by definition, the will of the people, not of a select few. If one candidate gets 550 votes and another candidate gets 551 votes, the second candidate should win the election. It’s what the majority decided. I’m sure y’all MIT folks know that 550<551. I thought so.

  7. '11 says:

    55o (less than) 551, for some reason, this is reading the (less than) sign as some HTML tag.
    550
    55o (less than) 551, for some reason, this is reading the (less than) sign as some HTML tag.
    550<551

  8. lulu says:

    lol, you don’t know anything about my political standings, “anon”. The gore vs. bush conclusion was an artifact from the website where I got the numbers. I didn’t write that. I hope you didn’t base your whole argument on my “gore would have won” comment. I’m actually a registered independent. I mean, take away the base assumption in your post that it’s only those “evil democrats” plotting takeover of the US government who support this bill and you have no ground to stand on. So here goes:

    Republican voters also support the national popular vote movement by a strong majority, 60% to 35% according to national polls. The only one ramming partisan politics down everyone’s throat is you. There’s nothing inherently partisan in equalizing the vote of one citizen to the vote of another. But opposing it because you’re republican and you perceive the current system to slant the votes in your party’s favor and you’re afraid of losing this so-called edge and because “those damn democrats are up to something”? Are you really a champion of the best interests of the American people? Besides, it’s not even the case: from the list above you see that small states are just as likely to be democratic as large states, and Texas is one of the worst represented states in the country. You know, republicans have won the popular vote before. Like, 2004, for instance. What’s there to be so nervous about? This whole party politics thing really blows my mind sometimes.

    In fact, abolishing the electoral college may actually encourage private citizens to vote outside of party lines and make the whole process less partisan. There will be problems, certainly, and there are good reasons against abolition of the electoral college but yours aren’t them. I don’t even know what you’re trying to say bringing up other “inequities”. I think the senate is fine as it is, and having the existence of other “bad” or “inequal” systems is no reason to do nothing about the systems we can immediately improve. Get rid of this outdated system and I’ll be proud if the republicans win the next election or the democrats win. Give the American people a reason to go out there and vote and who knows what might happen.

  9. lulu says:

    @ laura-
    “counting votes is hard”, lol

  10. '12 says:

    While I agree that the electoral system is no longer the best available, I believe as well that it has merit over a straight popular vote system. A major concept in America is minority rights, and as soon as you say 51% wins, those are gone. If memory serves, currently a candidate could feasibly win the election winning only the 11 most populous states. Is winning only the top x number of urban areas any better (literally, BosWash + SoCal would put you almost there, add Chicago and you’d probably have it)? I have long considered that proportional representation within each state so that electoral votes are given in proportion to the number of people that voted for a candidate, might be the way to go…

    Thank you so very much fot this post, though. I was not aware of this Interstate Compact, and am very, very glad to be made so.

  11. lulu says:

    A few things. First, I share your concern about the disproportionate power of major cities and it is a good point you bring up. Perhaps a straight popular vote is not the ideal reform option, but it does plant the seed of reform in the minds of legislators anyhow. I see that as its merit, even if it is not eventually the road we take. If it can spur the rise of a couple of counter proposals to be debated over publicly with the goal of reform, then it’s done its job, I think.

    On the other hand, I can’t agree that the electoral system of winner-takes-all state can be likened to freely distributed votes in large cities. I think the atrocity of the 11 (or was it 9) states take all situation, is that there need not be a blow-out in any of those states. 51% of 11 states which is a tiny fraction of the general population is enough to tilt the scale in a massive and decisive way. Your scenario of a few large cities controlling the election requires a huge majority win in each city (near 100% according to your calculations), — as 51% percent in each major city would have a negligible effect on the general election–, and that freak occurrence rides on the premise that people in large cities think systematically differently from people in small cities and towns and in the country, which, I think, as communication networks widen, will be less and less the case. As anon pointed out, each state will continue to have its lawmaking representation regardless of its size, so in all practicality, very little would change under this new system.

    Overall, I agree, a very important ideal in America has always been minority rights, but in my mind the minority has no right to elect a president for the majority. Especially since we’re all equally misinformed.

  12. royseph says:

    @- ’12

    I’m not sure what you mean by the “minority rights are gone” thing. First of all, you seem to assume that the decisions of minorities will automatically conflict with those of majorities. Minorities would still be able to tip the scales since people don’t always decide their politics because of the group they’re in. And even if they did, and Blacks, Asians, Latinos and Whites never voted for the same candidate, shouldn’t the president of a country be decided by whatever group is largest in the country anyway?

    And as far as candidates only focusing on the most populous states, the fact is that that’s pretty much how it is now, except instead of eleven populous states, it’s three or four Swing states. I’d say eleven would be a pretty significant improvement. And plus, if they were working on more populous states instead of states with more electoral votes, more people would be able to make better informed decisions, and more people would probably vote.

    But proportional electoral votes would be good too. It would make a lot more sense than the way we do it now, and it’s a more feasible change than ditching the whole system.

  13. My issue is that for now, at least it’s not the 9 or 11 most populous states that are controlling the election, because they’re at least somewhat divided, so winning just those isn’t an option. What you would end up with with a popular vote is something along the lines of “swing demographics”, with certain subsets of the population rather than certain states getting more focus during the campaigns. I’m not sure one is superior to the other.
    On some level, that’s how it will always be in a two party system – two sets of people with their minds made up, and one with their values somewhere in the middle. Ideally, there would be enough different issues that different people would have different ordered priorities and shift sides periodically based on policy plans, but that hasn’t been a viable option in our history.

    I absolutely love discussing things like this, and feel that if people would just learn some basic facts and start talking, something more or less in the right direction might actually happen.

  14. anon says:

    lulu: lol to you too. Contrary to the approach that you advocate, we dont (or at least havent)made a habit of changing the constitution based on sticking a wet finger to the wind. Moreover, by erecting strawman arguments for the opposition and refusing to acknowledge that others have relevant information, you are only displaying the bankruptcy of the position you advocate. Since you dont, wont or cant answer the several points that I made, there is no purpose in continuing this with you. I dont regard the “Senate is fine as it is” and a recital of the mantra of “one man one vote” as meaningful responses. [Do you remember how the number of electors per state is computed? Doesnt it hurt the consistency (if not, the credibility) of your argument that you are not insisting on “equalized” voting for the Senate (or the House)? And, you certainly injected partisan politcs into the debate by bemoaning Gore. But, obviously, you are entitled to form and express an opinion on whatever basis or lack thereof you choose. That’s in our constitution too.

  15. Anonymous says:

    @anon: The Senate is fine as it is. It was designed to give a voice to the smaller states, just as the House of Representatives gives voice to the bigger states.

    The Electoral College on the other hand, whilst a good idea in theory, is, as evidenced in the table above, clearly an outdated feature of the electoral system. All democratic systems must evolve and change as time goes by, that’s just how it works. The process is refined and altered to suit the current situation to make it as democratic as possible. And I’m sure you can’t agree that the Electoral College’s’ unbalanced nature is democratic.

  16. lulu says:

    anon-

    Look, it’s simple. You accused me of being partisan-motivated (as evidence by the fact that Gore appeared on the table- so suddenly I am “bemoaning” Gore), and I defended myself — I said, no, sorry, that was just because I copied the table over from the website which did a Gore vs. Bush comparison in 2000. I favored neither candidate because I was 13 and what did I know back then?

    Then you accused those who are pushing for this reform for being partisan motivated, so I showed you that it was not the case, since republicans also support this bill in good number, since 2000 could have gone the other way equally likely (at least one would hope, otherwise, red flag– that’s a little inherently unfair isn’t it?), and since the smallest states tend to be democratic more than republican anyhow.

    I didn’t respond fully to the rest because I simply didn’t want to state things that I thought was obvious and useless to 99% of the people reading this blog. And because, in a nutshell, you’ve shown yourself to be quite incapable of (or not open to?) nuanced reasoning. And kind of belligerent, to boot.

    The way I see it, we should never treat the actual text of the constitution as anything but a base, a launch pad. As we grow and evolve as a nation and all together as a world, we, the intelligent, discerning people of today, can be trusted with adapting the law of the land to really capture the spirit of the constitution in the framework of the present time. At the time the electoral college and the senate and house were established, a compromise was made between the small and large states & north states and south states in terms of influence, as their needs were very different. I would get equal representation in Senate if you were to have more influence in the House. I would have no fewer than 3 electors if you are to have 55. If you wanted to count your slaves as citizens, fine, but count them as 3/5 of a person. This was all in the constitution at one point, but one of those clauses have already been thrown out due to its… well, unconstitutional nature, and also its present-day irrelevance. So yeah, it’s obvious from time to time fine adjustments ARE made to this original compromise to keep up with the times. As is the case with most compromises, it is a result of a clash of ideologies in which there really is no moral high ground or consistency to speak of. There is only the minimization of unhappiness. It may be time for another, is all we’re saying. Because a lot of people in the large states (and solid blue and red states) are unhappy about the electoral college, and because people in the small states (whom this system supposedly benefits), aren’t too happy either because they’re being ignored (3 or 5 electoral votes can be shrugged off no problem). So a recentering is necessary. And that means taking away some of the concessions made to states during a time of division. That means, reassessing just how different are the needs of delaware/wyoming/rhode island to new york/pennsylvania/ohio? And how much accommodation do they really need? As to… Why should the senate not be thrown out with the electoral college? Well, that’s preposterous, in my mind, compromise is about fine-adjustment, not going overboard one way or the other just to piss off the other guy. I don’t know about you, that’s not how I compromise.

    Well, that’s about all I’ll say on that. I felt like it was useful to reply to you this time, as this is an important discussion to have, but frankly, I’m not gaining much from this conversation with you in this form. If this is something you want to continue to debate or discuss with me in seriousness, offer up a name and an email address, heck you know mine, right? If you were just looking to beat your chest on a public forum, well you’ve done it, good for you.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Congrats on getting to vote (first time and you get such an interesting election). Thanks for the links, we’re talking about the electoral college in gov class right now so they help a lot.

  18. Anonymous says:

    This is fascinating and super surprising. Thanks for posting this.

  19. lulu says:

    what! but random partisan finger-pointing is so much fun

    I don’t mind talking politics, I’d also be happy to field any questions that are more immediately relevant to MIT.

  20. Anonymous says:

    As a person once said,
    “Those who cast the votes, they decide nothing. Those who count the votes, they decide everything.”

    Well, it’s not exactly nothing, but close to it. If *some* countries counted voting based on population, things would turn out very different because it’s obvious that urban and rural people have different opinions and different knowledge of the government and how efficient it’s been. Especially in a developing country.

    Thank you for pointing this out, lulu. I’ll be sure to use a similar concept to ensure control of the next country I overthrow (assuming it’s a developing country).

  21. Publius says:

    Look. One of your main arguments is that our nation is democratic. Hate to break the news to you, but it’s not. It is a Democratic REPUBLIC. That means that the Framers did not want a direct election of the President because they knew that majority (or Mob) rule is a bad thing. If the majority always won, then the minority would be crushed. It would have no rights at all. The Framers experienced this with virtual representation in Parliament.

    Yes, royseph, the majority and minority have different ideas; that’s why they are not all one group! And royseph, are you serious? I really hope you were being sarcastic when you said that the President should be elected by the majority ethnicity in the nation. That is ridiculous. If the majority ethnicity elected the President, then all the minorities would be underrepresented and their voices would be silenced. To Lulu, just because the minority is represented does not mean they elect the president for the majority. It just means they have an equal say.

    Also, royseph, of course the presidential candidates focus on the Swing States. What point is there to waste time and money campaigning in a state you know you have already won? That’s simply illogical. The candidates focus on the Swing States because those are the states that generally win elections. They are the states that could go either way (Swing), so the candidates want an enhanced prescence there to influence voters to vote for them.

    Lulu-
    Your chart is so completely irrelevant and misleading that it hurts me. That chart is based on a ration of comparing every other state populaton to Wyoming’s. First off, who the hell cares? Second, bigger states have more electoral votes to better represent the higher population number. But of course your vote counts less in California than in Wyoming. That’s because there are way more people in California, and not a proportional number of more electoral votes for the state. Based on Wyoming, CA should have 118 electoral votes. But that’s not how it is. The government has installed a formula for determining the population to electoral votes ratio. Pout if you want, but life is not fair. If you really think it’s so unjust, move to Wyoming, “where your vote will really count.”

    I will comment on your other falsehoods at a later time.

    Until then, why don’t you go make sure your “research” is even accurate in the first place. As you said, we are misinformed, so don’t be so fast to call something fact.

    Signed,
    Publius

  22. @ All those people who are thinking of posting a comment:

    This isn’t a political blog, folks. Lulu hasn’t endorsed either candidate, in this election or in past elections; she is merely saying “Hey, isn’t it weird that if you vote in, say, Arkansas, your vote is worth twice as much as a vote from Ohio?” and talking about some of the neat things she has found out while exploring this issue.

    Now, any questions related to life at MIT, or how politics and schoolwork intertwine, or how easy it is to minor in Political Science? *Those* questions would be useful, and would be more appropriate to the intent of this blog.

  23. Anonymous says:

    @ John MCCain

    LMAO

  24. lulu says:

    Why would I move to WYOMING when I can move to Hawaii and enjoy the same representation? And then I can band together with all the democrats there and make sure that the minority Republican vote in Hawaii never sees the light of day in the general election. Just like the minority Republican vote in Massachusetts. Minority rights, right?

  25. Ehsan says:

    @ Snively

    I got one or two things to sa about change. Like the change we must change to the change we hold dear. I really like change! Do I make myself clear?

    LOL-Im Canadian

  26. Roger says:

    Several factors, basically ignored, need greater consideration in these discussions, such as:
    — there are not compelling reasons why the land called the USA should be carved up into sub-sections (“states”) like it is; at the very least, “state” boundaries should be re-drawn, and territories and the District of Columbia should be designated as “states” too
    — only a fraction of the people are allowed to vote; those who are now disenfranchised really should be allowed to vote, too (Puerto Ricans, Virgin Islanders, Guamites, convicted felons, court-adjudicated mentally ill, persons under 18 y/o)
    — only a fraction of the eligibles do register to vote
    — only a fraction of the registered do vote
    — only a fraction of those who do vote cast informed votes
    — only a fraction of the votes cast are actually counted (fraud, equipment failures, hanging chads, …)
    BTW, Susan, Lulu, and all: understanding, appreciating, and contributing to debates like this one is part of what makes life at MIT great.

  27. Publius says:

    Hey Lulu, I’m still waiting for an intelligent response to my first posting. Any time now will be fine.

  28. lulu says:

    well KEEP CHECKING BACK!

  29. Curious says:

    Which states are IO, KA, and KT?