Saturday, October 02, 2004

Cutting That Baby in Half

Most interesting and strangest twist on the Electoral College:

Colorado's ballot measure (Actually a proposed Constitutional Amendment, #36) to change the allocation system in the Electoral College, will be voted on Nov. 2, the same day as the 2004 Prez election.

But, because the certification of electoral results, and "convening" of the EC, takes place weeks after the election, Amendment 36 would actually affect the outcome of THIS ELECTION. (Although...)

The bottom line is that under the current system, whoever wins Colorado on Nov. 2 gets all the EC votes, because in all the states except two (Maine and Nebraska) there is a "winner take all system." Colorado has 9 votes this year, based on the national reapportionment after the 2000 Census. IF the Amendment passes (and it may), in other words, the winner (right now, looks like Bush) would get 5 EC votes, and the other "loser" would get 4 EC votes.

Some observations:
1. Interesting strategic voting experiment: suppose you favor Bush (recent polls give Bush at least 3%, sometimes 8% or more, lead). Would you vote for the Amendment, knowing that the Amendment's passage would likely hurt Bush? Or would you vote strategically, voting "no" on the Amendment even though you favor a proportional system in principle? On the other hand, suppose you are a Democrat, but oppose the amendment. Given that the overall EC race may be close, would you vote for the Amendment, strategically, hoping that it would cost Bush 4 EC votes? Obviously, taking four EC votes for Bush and giving it to Gore would have made Gore President in 2000, with Gore receiving 270 and Bush 267.
2. I was on a radio show with Colorado's Gov the other night, and he made an excellent point. Even if the proportional system were a good thing, as a national system, Colorado is giving up all its leverage if it (to use Owens' words) "unilaterally disarms."
3. People seem to think that the Maine / Nebraska system (allocate the two Senate seat EC votes at large, and then split the rest of the votes based on who wins within each of the state's geographic Congressional Districts) is a compromise. But this is dead wrong. Our congressional districts are so gerrymandered that less than 10% of districts are competitive. In fact, only about 30 of the 435 districts are really and truly up for grabs. Why would we want a system that locks in the political cartoon drawing that redistricting has become? Maine / Nebraska is an absolute disaster.
4. Since there is no movement toward a national transformation, we are probably best off with the current system. Colorado may fall on its sword, but when other states see that Colorado has simply taken itself out of the game (if #36 passes) then that will be the end of it. No national movement, no big transformation at the state level. I had a long conversation on email with Betsy Newmark, and she convinced me this should just be a nonissue, no matter excited I am (was) in principle about the proportional system.

Background:
a story, and another, and another

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think an underappreciated virtue of "winner takes all" is that it encourages candidates to build the broadest coalition every where they can.

Thought #2: The most important function of an election is to clearly determine who the losers are.

Thought #3: If the porportional system were applied country wide, I suspect the Democrats would lose more electorial votes than they gain.

Anonymous said...

I'm picking up a recent swelling of the meme in various Democrat political and philosophical blogs and comments that "winner-take-all" systems aren't "fair." That is, it may be a radiant meme or idealized rule of thumb in the minds of many who are "for" it, not always a thought-out-for-consequences policy. As was support for McCainEtc. campaign finance reform. The outcome of Election 2000 traumatized the non-prevailing party, and this next push is seen as a dismantling of the Electoral College mechanism without an amendment on the national level, associated with an assumption it will "make it all better."

Sorry, just can't be bothered to register under all these different systems...

bc, TX

brc1246 said...

Governor Owens' argument that Colorado will lose "clout" by moving to proportional electoral votes is preposterous:

He talks about Colorado losing federal dollars by reducing the number of electoral votes in play, but Colorado, with our history of winner-take-all electoral votes ranks 44th in federal dollars for every dollar of taxes paid by Coloradans. Every single neighboring state, even Wyoming with its paltry 3 electoral votes, gets significantly more federal dollars per dollar of taxes paid. Maine and Nebraska, both states that have proportional electoral votes and both states with far fewer votes than Colorado, get significantly more federal dollars than Colorado as well. Perhaps federal dollars have nothing to do with electoral votes. Perhaps federal dollars have to do with the effectiveness, or ineffectiveness as the case may be, of a state's Congressional delegation.

Governor Owens also has asserted that Colorado will not get visits from presidential candidates if we go proportional and reduce the number of electoral votes in play. Yet, Bush has made more than a dozen visits to Maine for the 1-3 votes that he might pick up in that proportional state. Why would Bush go to Maine to fight for 1-3 votes there and not come to Colorado to fight for 1-3 votes here? Doesn't make sense, does it.

The truth is that the Governor is wrong. And he knows it.

mungowits said...

I would say (in fact, I DID say) that the Maine/Nebraska system is not proportional, because of the gerrymandered congressional districts.

In fact, neither Maine nor Nebraska have EVER split their votes.

In short, if one says something stupid, really loud, it is no less stupid. In your personal emails, and now in this anonymous comment, you have revealed yourself as someone incapable of making a logical argument.

If you don't like the Governor, move out of Colorado. Just please don't move to North Carolina. We have enough people more interested in name calling than good policy already.

brc1246 said...

I don't believe I said anything disrespectful of Governor Owens. And I certainly meant no disrespect to you for repeating what he said. I'm simply pointing out that Governor Owens has yet to make a credible argument that the State of Colorado will lose anything by moving to proportional representation with our electoral votes.

You are correct that the two states that currently have proportional electoral votes (by Congressional District), Maine and Nebraska, have not, in fact, ever split their votes. But Bush lost Maine's northern CD by just one percentage point in 2000. And according to NBC News, Bush has been to Maine more than a dozen times this year on campaign stops, presumably to try and tip that one electoral vote in his favor, but in no event to pick up more than the 4 total electoral votes that Maine holds. If Colorado had 1-3 electoral votes in play, and if presidential races continue to be as closely divided (5 electoral votes in 2000 I believe), it just doesn't make sense that candidates will choose not to compete for those 1-3 electoral votes (a 2-6 vote swing nationally) from Colorado.

And it also doesn't make sense for the Governor to assume, even if candidates didn't land their planes in Colorado as they jet from swing state to swing state, that that would mean something bad for Colorado. Aside from the local network affiliates losing some ad revenue.

Again, no disrespect intended. But like anyone else, we take our presidential votes very seriously. And the Governor's intimidation tactics don't serve the conversation about electoral reform (one of his claims was actually that we might find ourselves with nuclear waste being dumped on us if we split our votes).