The Electoral College Was Created To Protect Slavery

trump-and-jefferson

The common belief that the electoral college was created to protect the interests of smaller states is a myth. Historian Paul Finkelman writes (pdf link):

The implication of Hardaway’s argument is that the electoral college was created to placate the small states. However, in all the debates over [how to elect] the executive at the Constitutional Convention, this issue never came up. Indeed, the opposite argument received more attention. At one point the Convention considered allowing the state governors to choose the president but backed away from this in part because it would allow the small states to choose one of their own.

Any discussion of the original reason for the electoral college that doesn’t talk about slavery is nonsense.

The Electoral college was proposed by the slave-owning states, and supported by the pro-slavery coalition at the Constitutional convention, in order to give extra influence to slave-owning states.

The most influential delegate, Madison argued that “the people at large” were “the fittest” to choose the president. But “one difficulty . . . of a serious nature” made election by the people impossible. Madison noted that the “right of suffrage was much more diffusive in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of the Negroes.” In order to guarantee that the nonvoting slaves could nevertheless influence the presidential election, Madison favored the creation of the electoral college.

Hugh Williamson of North Carolina was more open about the reasons for southern opposition to a popular election of the president. He noted that under a direct election of the president, Virginia would not be able to elect her leaders president because “[h]er slaves will have no suffrage.” The same of course would be true for the rest of the South.

Direct election by voters would have meant that (for example) Virginia’s 200,000 slaves wouldn’t give them any extra power in presidential elections. With the electoral college, however, Virginia and other slave states got an enormous boost in electoral power.

Virginia – at the time the most populous state, but not if only free citizens were counted – was the state that initially benefited most from the electoral college.

Virginia emerged as the big winner—the California of the Founding era—with 12 out of a total of 91 electoral votes allocated by the Philadelphia Constitution, more than a quarter of the 46 needed to win an election in the first round. After the 1800 census, Wilson’s free state of Pennsylvania had 10% more free persons than Virginia, but got 20% fewer electoral votes. Perversely, the more slaves Virginia (or any other slave state) bought or bred, the more electoral votes it would receive. Were a slave state to free any blacks who then moved North, the state could actually lose electoral votes.

If the system’s pro-slavery tilt was not overwhelmingly obvious when the Constitution was ratified, it quickly became so. For 32 of the Constitution’s first 36 years, a white slaveholding Virginian occupied the presidency.

Of course, slavery was defeated eventually – but the unjust and anti-democratic electoral power held by the slave states, both in the electoral college and in Congress, meant that it took a war to end slavery. It’s interesting to wonder how American history might have gone differently if the Constitution hadn’t been written to give a powerful boost to slaveowning states. Historian Gary Wills writes:

Without the federal ratio as the deciding factor in House votes, slavery would have been excluded from Missouri; Andrew Jackson’s policy of removing Indians from territories they occupied in several states would have failed; the 1840 gag rule, protecting slavery in the District of Columbia, would not have been imposed; the Wilmot Proviso would have banned slavery from territories won from Mexico. Moreover, the Kansas and Nebraska bill outlawing slavery in Nebraska territory and allowing it in Kansas would have failed. Other votes were close enough to give opposition to the South a better chance, if the federal ratio had not been counted into the calculations from the outset. Elections to key congressional posts were affected continually by the federal ratio, with the result that Southerners held ‘the Speaker’s office for 79 percent of the time [before 1824], Ways and Means for 92 percent.’

The malignant effects of the pro-slavery Constitution continue to the present day, of course, most obviously in the election of Donald Trump, which almost certainly would not have happened without the electoral college.

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53 Responses to The Electoral College Was Created To Protect Slavery

  1. 1
    Humble Talent says:

    My understanding, and I admit that I’m not a seasoned constitutional scholar, but my understanding is that even during the War of Independance, slavery was a deeply divisive issue. That there is documentation of founders who found slavery abhorrent, but for the sake of actually having independance, they compromised with slave owners, both inside their ranks and out, functionally kicking the can down the road in order to actually form the Republic*. It seems to me that at the time the choice they faced was between a free nation with slaves, or a colony with slaves, because at the time slavery was codified in British commonlaw and quite frankly, America probably wouldn’t exist if the conscientious founders had chosen that hill to die on.

    On a slightly different bent, Independance Era voting laws weren’t good for particularly anyone. Depending on the state, you’d generally be right in saying that only white, male, landowners could vote… But that would leave out that that group was extremely exclusive, in 1778, and estimated 6% of America was all that was eligible to vote. Jews, Catholics, Quakers, and non-landowners were also disenfranchised. It also bears to note that even then, only around 1% of Americans owned slaves. If the arguement was that slave owners gamed the system by manipulating the numbers to give the states they resided more power in the EC, I could buy that. I find the contention that this was to the direct benefit of slavery a weaker arguement though, because 5/6ths of eligible voters did not own slaves. I think, and again, I’m coaching this in all kinds of qualified language, I think it’s more likely that slaveholders assumed that slavery would exist in perpetuity, and thought that by giving the state they resided in more power, then they would have more power by extension.

    What’s the difference? Slavery, in my interpretation, was the tool to get power, as opposed to the goal. And this kind of fishtails back to the point I made originally: There are rules in place, rules that we are all aware of, rules that whether we like them or not encourage certain behaviours. Independance era politicians understood that, and as abhorrent as I find the practise, worked within the that process to solidify their own power. Even if my interpretation is completely out to lunch and the system was not designed specifically with giving more power to sparser population centers, that’s how it’s worked out, it’s a justifiable practise, and everyone who is interested in politics has a duty to understand the system and work within it, even if they plan on changing it down the line.

    * https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Founding-Fathers-and-Slavery-1269536

  2. 2
    Doug S. says:

    We see dimly in the Present what is small and what is great,
    Slow of faith how weak an arm may turn the iron helm of fate,
    But the soul is still oracular; amid the market’s din,
    List the ominous stern whisper from the Delphic cave within,—
    “They enslave their children’s children who make compromise with sin.”

    – James Russell Lowell

  3. 3
    Chris says:

    It also bears to note that even then, only around 1% of Americans owned slaves. If the arguement was that slave owners gamed the system by manipulating the numbers to give the states they resided more power in the EC, I could buy that. I find the contention that this was to the direct benefit of slavery a weaker arguement though, because 5/6ths of eligible voters did not own slaves.

    Most Republicans are not rich. And yet, most Republicans support decreasing taxes on the rich.

    The idea that only slave owners cared about preserving slavery strikes me as silly. Not only was it one of the most common pro-slavery arguments that the institution was crucial to the South’s economy, but whites in the South directly benefited from slavery by not having to compete with blacks for jobs, and had a whole slew of other benefits stemming from simply being higher up on a racial caste system.

  4. 4
    Ampersand says:

    HT:

    On a slightly different bent, Independance Era voting laws weren’t good for particularly anyone. Depending on the state, you’d generally be right in saying that only white, male, landowners could vote… But that would leave out that that group was extremely exclusive, in 1778, and estimated 6% of America was all that was eligible to vote. Jews, Catholics, Quakers, and non-landowners were also disenfranchised.

    No, this isn’t correct.

    First of all, the voting qualification laws varied by state. For example, most states did allow Jews to vote – although Jews weren’t allowed to hold elected office. Only Maryland had an explicit requirement that voters had to be Christian.

    Second of all, in most or all states by 1778, the trend was to weaken property requirements for adult white men. (I should mention that in some states in 1778, “white” wasn’t actually a requirement, and free property-owning Black men did vote. But Blacks were actively disenfranchised in the following decades.) So you didn’t have to own land; in some states, you just had to own some sort of property; in other states, you had to show that you had a certain amount of money in currency (and since they accepted paper currencies, which at the time were debased, that wasn’t a hard qualification to meet for most employed people); in some states, like Georgia, you just had to swear you’d paid taxes the year before the election. And even those laws that did exist were poorly enforced.

    Historians now believe that around 80% of adult white men could legally vote in 1788 (pdf link), and the number grew over time:

    A more careful examination of the same sources made earlier by Robert Dinkin calculated that by the end of the 1780s the qualified electorate in the thirteen states probably fell in the range from about 60 to 90 percent of adult white males, with most states toward the upper end. When some of his figures for individual states have been slightly adjusted to conform to revised figures given above, his tabulation places six states at around 90 percent (New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Georgia), and three states above 80 percent (Massachusetts, Delaware, and South Carolina); Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Maryland stand between 65 and 70 percent, followed by Virginia and New York at about 60 percent, or just below. Revised or not, Dinkin’s survey suggests that, across the nation as a whole, about 80 percent of adult white males were eligible to vote in the late 1780s. […]

    …in practice in most states the opportunity to vote was gradually extended so that by 1812 very few adult white males outside Rhode Island, Virginia, and the new, unusual state of Louisiana were denied access to the polls in elections for state and federal legislatures.

    In a oversimplified nutshell, the very poor were excluded, but all other white male adults could vote if they wanted to. The idea that the majority of adult white men couldn’t vote in the 1780s seems to be a myth.

    * * *

    Yes, I agree, compromise with the slavers was necessary to found the US. It’s not clear that was a good thing.

    * * *

    I agree with what Chris just said. (Notably, during the constitutional convention, Charles Pinckney and John Rutledge both argued that if the Constitution didn’t support slavery, their constituents would never agree to it.) (Source.)

    In addition, although it may be true (it seems plausible, but you didn’t link to any source) that only 1% of Americans owned slaves at the time of the Constitutional Convention, we’re discussing how the delegates at the CC came to decide on the electoral college. For that, it’s more relevant to remember that 49% of the delegates at the Constitutional Convention were slave owners. This included some of the most powerful and influential delegates, like James Madison, and John Rutledge. And even some of the non-slave-owners, like Oliver Ellsworth (who was personally anti-slavery), argued that this was a decision to be left to the states, which meant that in practice they voted with the pro-slavery faction.

    Now, it probably is true that conceding extra power to the slave states was necessary to get to a constitution that could get enough votes to pass. But that doesn’t refute anything I said in my post. It may be understandable, it may be strategically necessary, that the founders voted for system intended to undemocratically magnify the power of slave states. But that doesn’t change the fact that it is a system intended to undemocratically magnify the power of slave states.

    I think, and again, I’m coaching this in all kinds of qualified language, I think it’s more likely that slaveholders assumed that slavery would exist in perpetuity, and thought that by giving the state they resided in more power, then they would have more power by extension.

    I don’t think this is correct. Slavery was (as you said) an enormous controversy, and abolitionism had steadily grown. Slaveholders in the 1780s saw slavery as an institution that they had to actively protect, not as an institution that was safe for perpetuity. Virtually none of the slave debates of the 1700s and 1800s make sense otherwise; the southern states worked hard to protect slavery and to keep abolitionists from speaking and holding power. This was not something they would have done if they thought slavery was safe in perpetuity without their intercession.

    I mean, yes, of course they wanted more power for a bunch of reasons. It’s not like their only thought in the world was slavery; they cared about other issues. But there’s no doubt that one of the major issues they cared about was slavery.

    Even if my interpretation is completely out to lunch and the system was not designed specifically with giving more power to sparser population centers, that’s how it’s worked out, it’s a justifiable practise, and everyone who is interested in politics has a duty to understand the system and work within it, even if they plan on changing it down the line.

    I disagree on a bunch of levels, but I have to go get some work done today, so I’ll have to respond to this another time.

  5. 5
    Humble Talent says:

    In a oversimplified nutshell, the very poor were excluded, but all other white male adults could vote if they wanted to. The idea that the majority of adult white men couldn’t vote in the 1780s seems to be a myth.

    I’ll read that, and I’ll do more digging… But I find it… Frankly unbelievable.

    The population of America was about 3.9 Million people in 1780*. Of those 3.9 million, about 2.9 came from countries where you could generally expect the people to be white (same citation, I removed the 757,000 people from Africa and the “other” category), assuming a 50/50 male to female ratio, that means that about 1.45 million were *probably* white males. Usually around 15-20% of a population is under the age of 20, let’s use 20% to be safe. so around 1.16 million Americans were white, male, and of voting age.

    The election in 1779 was decided by 43,782 votes**. That means that 3.8% of white men voted. Now… Either there were additional qualifications that kept people from voting, or between 80 and 90% of the eligible electorate stayed home to the first election after the Revolutionary War. At the risk of being embarassed after I go looking, the latter seems facially absurd.

    * https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographic_history_of_the_United_States#Population_in_1790

    ** https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election,_1788%E2%80%9389

    The idea that only slave owners cared about preserving slavery strikes me as silly. Not only was it one of the most common pro-slavery arguments that the institution was crucial to the South’s economy, but whites in the South directly benefited from slavery by not having to compete with blacks for jobs, and had a whole slew of other benefits stemming from simply being higher up on a racial caste system.

    I’m not saying that only slave owners cared about owning slaves, but there is a difference between someone primarily effected and someone who isn’t. To use your republican rich-tax example (the premise of which annoys me but I’ll use for brevity)… The rich are willing to spend money to avoid paying tax out of pocket, where your average republican voter isn’t. Although slavery wasn’t as entrenched in the North as it was in the South, Northern state white men still benefitted from slavery, and still chose to back abolitionist movements, which could be seen (through a very cold lense) as being against their own interests. I think that if there was a a way for slavery to have been peacefully abolished in the South, it would have started with the people not primarily effected by slavery, and so my point is that if these policies were enacted *primarily* to the benefit of slavery, it would have been counterproductive to put so much additional power in non-slave owing hands.

  6. 6
    Ampersand says:

    Yes, voter turnout was incredibly low. In fact, voter turnout in the first two presidential elections was the lowest in American history (other than 1820). These folks – who I’m pretty sure used better methods to calculate their figures than your back-of-the-envelope calculations, with all due respect – estimate it at 11.6% and 6.3%.

    I suspect that unopposed elections have low turnouts – and Washington effectively had no opposition either time he ran. When the first contested Presidential election took place, in 1796, voter participation more than tripled from 1792. And in 1820, when Monroe ran without any notable opposition, the turnout dove back down to 1889 levels.

    This seems intuitively correct, too – in a time when travel was much more difficult and time-consuming, why go all the way to the polling place, wait on line, etc., to vote for an election where the outcome was predetermined? (Even in the current day, unopposed elections have tiny turnouts.)

  7. 7
    Ampersand says:

    Oh, and from the academic article by Donald Ratcliffe I quoted earlier:

    Before 1790 voters had not used the right to vote in large numbers even when they possessed it; in a routine election like that for governor of Connecticut in 1793 only 5
    percent of eligibles turned out.

    He says that the introduction of smaller election districts – meaning people didn’t have to travel too far to vote – later helped increase voter turnout.

  8. 8
    MJJ says:

    It’s interesting to wonder how American history might have gone differently if the Constitution hadn’t been written to give a powerful boost to slaveowning states.

    Well, we would probably have formed two separate countries with two separate Constitutions.

    I don’t think that the Constitution appeased slave states because no one thought slavery was bad; its just that those who did faced the choice of appeasing the slave states or not being able to unite the entire country (either the U.S. would stick with the extremely weak Articles of Confederation or it would split into two or more countries if it wanted any more power in the federal government).

  9. 9
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    “Myth” is the wrong word.

    There are more historians who are growing in their arguments that the framers were biased by slavery. That would be pretty unsurprising, since they were a bunch of knowledgeable smart people who were well aware that Southern states had slaves.

    But there were also a lot of other reasons which some Framers gave. And we know that in the House/Senate split they were keenly aware of the delicate steps to try and find a balance between representation and the tyranny of the majority.

    I’m certain that slavery was discussed–how could it not be, given that there were slave owning states. And it was surely considered, openly or in private.

    But it’s one thing to say “the effect of slave votes and population was probably a factor in all of the decisions which the Framers made” (of course it was!) and another thing entirely to use “myth” to describe considerations of power balance.

  10. 10
    Ampersand says:

    G&W, you’re making a strawman argument.

    I didn’t say it was a myth that “considerations of power balance” were considered – but “power balance” is a broad term that covers a lot of subjects. I said it was a myth that the intent of creating the electoral college was to protect the interest of small states. We have records of what the framers discussed at the constitutional convention, but there’s no record of anyone making the argument that we should have an electoral college to protect small states.

  11. 11
    Ortvin Sarapuu says:

    It’s worth bearing in mind that had the USA not declared independence slavery would presumably have been abolished in in 1833, when the British Empire abolished it. (Or possibly even earlier – it was abolished in Ontario in 1793, and across the entirety of what’s now Canada in 1819)

  12. 12
    Jameson Quinn says:

    I think it’s better to say that slavers held slaves than that they “owned” them. “Owning” other people to the point where you could sell their children was always illegitimate and never uncontested.

    Also, when discussing the problems with the EC, it’s worth mentioning the solution too: a National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

  13. 13
    delurking says:

    “…had the USA not declared independence slavery would presumably have been abolished in in 1833, when the British Empire abolished it.”

    Maybe. Maybe not.

    Note that the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 exempted slaves in “territories held by the East India Company,” and a few other places. It’s not hard to imagine similar exemptions being granted to other holdings in the British Empire, where the land owners argued that slavery was vital to their operations.

    Notice also that when Great Britain passed the 1833 act, they paid the slaveholders for the slaves they freed. The number of slaves held by Southern land owners, and the cost involved in paying for those slaves, would also argue against those slaves being covered by the act.

  14. 14
    Ortvin Sarapuu says:

    ” It’s not hard to imagine similar exemptions being granted to other holdings in the British Empire, where the land owners argued that slavery was vital to their operations.”

    Except that the areas where slavery was most common within the British Empire, namely the British Caribbean, were not exempted from this law despite land owners making exactly this kind of argument. The economies of island colonies like Barbados and Antigua were just as dependent on slavery as any antebellum Southern plantation economy.

    (Despite what the Pirates of the Caribbean movies tell us, the East India Company did not hold any property in the Caribbean)

  15. 15
    Ben Lehman says:

    I feel like the counterfactuals re: abolition and the thirteen colonies remaining under British sovereignty are ultimately futile. A Britain that included the 13 colonies would have been a very different country!

  16. 16
    Ortvin Sarapuu says:

    It’s true counterfactuals are difficult.

    I guess what I’m trying to do is to get people to question the trade off of “keep slavery in return for independence”.

    In my opinion that trade off only seems worth it to the ruling class.

    I know from the perspective of an American patriot it seems different. But I think a slave in the 13 Colonies would have cared very little about whether their ultimate sovereign was in Philadelphia or London, and cared very much about whether they would remain in slavery or not.

  17. 17
    delurking says:

    “The economies of island colonies like Barbados and Antigua were just as dependent on slavery as any antebellum Southern plantation economy.”

    This is true. But I think you’re underestimating the number of slaves in the American South in 1833.

    Britain nearly bankrupted itself paying for the slaves it bought out as it was. Add on the slaves in America, and maybe the 1833 Act doesn’t even pass — maybe *no* slaves get freed in 1833.

  18. 18
    Sebastian H says:

    “I guess what I’m trying to do is to get people to question the trade off of “keep slavery in return for independence”.”

    Yes but the question is never posed the other way: does keeping US-Commonwealth unity end up thwarting or strongly delaying what in our world was a British Empire abolition of slavery? There are lots of reasons to suspect it might.

  19. 20
    RonF says:

    Jameson @12:

    Also, when discussing the problems with the EC, it’s worth mentioning the solution too: a National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

    Seems to me that an Interstate Compact runs afoul of Article I, Section 10, Paragraph 3 of the U. S. Constitution:

    “No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, lay any Duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.”

    My emphasis.

    Unless you think Congress will go along with this, which I very much doubt.

  20. 21
    Ampersand says:

    Ron, it’s not that clear. The Supreme Court has ruled that Article 1, Section 10 only applies to interstate compacts which infringe on Federal government supremacy. But electors aren’t a Federal position, but a state position. And the Constitution guarantees that the state legislatures can choose their electors in any way they choose.

    I’m not saying I’d know how a court would decide. But it’s not clear-cut.

    Also, if someday it’s actually possible to get enough states to sign on to the NPVIC, that would mean it was a lot more popular than it is now; which might mean that it could just get Congress’ approval.

  21. 22
    Phil says:

    Jameson Quinn,

    I think it’s better to say that slavers held slaves than that they “owned” them. “Owning” other people to the point where you could sell their children was always illegitimate and never uncontested.

    What are you talking about? Are you saying that American slaveowners did not have the legal right to sell the children of the slaves they owned? If so, I believe you are mistaken.

  22. 23
    Mookie says:

    As Phil says, that is not historically accurate. The relevant doctrine is partus sequitur ventrem, based on the status of the mother.

    Even so, why would “ownership” of someone be defined by what one does with the progeny of the person they are “holding” indefinitely and against their will? What does “selling” someone else have to do with the slave? How would such a sale directly affect the relationship between slaveholder and slave?

    Human slavery is distinct from temporary forced labor, indentured servitude, and debt bondage, but the distinction has nothing to with children per se, particularly because slaves were not granted any rights as parents.

    always illegitimate and never uncontested

    Which means it happened, but reveals little about how successful were objections to “contested” sales of children.

  23. 24
    RonF says:

    You’re right on that one, Amp. If the States involved ever invoke it it’ll end up in the Supreme Court for sure.

  24. 25
    RonF says:

    … most obviously in the election of Donald Trump, which almost certainly would not have happened without the electoral college.

    I don’t see where the level of certainty is that strong. People are well aware of the effects of the Electoral College stopping their Presidential vote at the State line, and there are a number of States where it was quite sure who would win that State and thus not a lot of other reasons for voters supporting the minority party to turn out to vote (e.g., California). If there was no EC and State-level minority party voters therefore had a reason to turn out to vote there’s no telling what would have happened. Heck, Pres. Trump won the popular vote if you take out California. I’m not saying that means he would have won; certainly there were GOP-dominant States as well. But I think it’s valid to say that there’s a high degree of uncertainty as to what would have happened, especially since both candidates would have run a much different campaign.

  25. 26
    Charles S says:

    I agree that we can’t really guess what would have happened in an election run under NPV, because the campaign strategies would have been completely different.

    On the other hand:

    Heck, Pres. Trump won the popular vote if you take out California.

    is a worthless non-argument.

    If we take out California and take out a similarly sized set of states that Trump won overwhelmingly (South Central: Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas; or Appalachia:Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia; or the far South: Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia), Clinton still wins the popular vote. In each of those cases, the Trump supporting states have fewer total voters than California does.

    If Republicans didn’t bother voting in California, the same is likely to be true of Democrats in any of the Republican bastions (particularly since the Republican bastions were pulling out the vote suppression stops, and California makes voting very easy).

  26. 27
    hf says:

    If everyone’s vote counted, there would be get-out-the-vote efforts in every US city, and the GOP would never have another President. That’s why states like Florida have failed to pass this despite widespread popularity.

    I’m also slightly aghast at the assumption that somebody would legally contest the imposition of democracy.

  27. 28
    Humble Talent says:

    Historians now believe that around 80% of adult white men could legally vote in 1788 (pdf link), and the number grew over time:

    Sorry it took me so long to get back to you, but it was a busy week, and I wanted to get all my ducks in a row. My take away is that I was probably wrong, and that 6% is low. That said, in cases like this it’s important not only to find a single source that agrees with you, but several, and you seemed to pick the only study out there to get anywhere close to 90%, because I couldn’t find another, and I tried.

    Even your other citation doesn’t back that up,

    These folks – who I’m pretty sure used better methods to calculate their figures than your back-of-the-envelope calculations, with all due respect – estimate it at 11.6% and 6.3%.

    No offense taken, my math was napkiny, and I believe that these folks DID do the math… But I think you misread it. That 11.6% was of eligible voters… And we know that 43,700 people voted… Which means that 377,000 people were eligible, and I think that represents closer to 25%, maybe 35% at the most, of adult, white, male America, as opposed to 90%. Even 60% is a huge reach. Either that or there were only 418,000 adult white men in an America of 3.9 Million.

    Regardless, my number is obviously wrong, and I learned something.

  28. 29
    Humble Talent says:

    If we take out California and take out a similarly sized set of states that Trump won overwhelmingly (South Central: Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas; or Appalachia:Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia; or the far South: Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia), Clinton still wins the popular vote. In each of those cases, the Trump supporting states have fewer total voters than California does.

    This arguement is kind of frustrating, because it ignores mine. Of course If you take populations of a similar size out of the equation Hillary still wins: She did in fact win the popular vote. But my point was that Trump’s support was more spread out over the rest of America, and Hillary’s was more regional. The fact that you had to bundle states together makes my point.

    If Republicans didn’t bother voting in California, the same is likely to be true of Democrats in any of the Republican bastions (particularly since the Republican bastions were pulling out the vote suppression stops, and California makes voting very easy).

    This assumes that Republicans didn’t vote in California, which I don’t think is in evidense, I think it’s much more likely that there are simply just more Democrats in California. I feel almost foolish having to write that. Obviously some amount of Republicans stayed home, but the voting results seem to mirror relatively closely polling results for the state, if voter discouragement was material enough to effect macro results, you’d think that wouldn’t be the case.

  29. 30
    Phil says:

    The fact that you had to bundle states together makes my point.

    Um, when you are discussing the electoral college, refusing to bundle states together is begging the question.

    I do find ridiculous the notion that swaths of land matter more than, or as much as, human beings. My dad’s farm in the Midwest takes up more space than my entire HOA. It does not follow logically that his 1 opinion is more important than the 110 of ours.

  30. 31
    Ampersand says:

    What Phil said.

    I really find the “but without California!” point bizarre. Why should California’s voters count less than other voters’?

    The only reason you’ve given is that votes that are “spread out more” – but in practice, that means that Democrats are punished because more of their voters live in cities. But, again, you haven’t explained why you think voters in urban areas should have votes that are worth less.

    This is incidental, but even within your own metric – which is a metric that you haven’t justified at all – you’re wrong. Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia are not “more spread out” than California is; the three states form a continuous area, so they aren’t “spread out” in that sense. And in terms of square miles, California is more spread out (that is, covers a larger portion of the country) than Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia. (California covers 163,695 square miles, while the other three states combined cover only 106,782.)

    So by your metric, you should be more willing to drop out Appalachian states than California.

    Here’s what I think: Every state counts. And every vote should be counted the same. The candidate who wins the popular vote should become president. Why do you think it’s wrong for all voters to have equal votes?

  31. 32
    Charles S says:

    my point was that Trump’s support was more spread out over the rest of America, and Hillary’s was more regional. The fact that you had to bundle states together makes my point.

    No, the fact that I had to bundle states together means that California is really big and that the two big Republican states (Texas and Florida) are (a) less than 2/3rds as many voters as California and (b) not the centers of Trumpism. And even though Texas isn’t a center of Trumpism, I could still throw it in with neighboring super pro-Trump states and get a region that has fewer voters than California and was pro-Trump enough to counter-balance California.

    Appalachia (TN, WV, KY) is about 370,000 square km. California is 400,000 square km. Admittedly, South Central (TX, OK, LA, AR) is geographically huge, but very sparsely populated (and Texas isn’t a Trump bastion, so it is pulling little of the weight).

    If you remove the lower North East (NY, MA, CT, RI), Clinton loses the popular vote just like when you remove California, but that isn’t a less meaningful region than California merely because several of the original colonies were tiny. If Silicon Valley billionaires had succeeded in splitting California into several states, that wouldn’t nullify your claims, would it?

    If we divide the country into 4 regions, Clinton won two of them solidly and came close in a third. Trump won one solidly and won narrowly in a second. I can’t see a way to spin that as Clinton has the more regional party.

    If we look instead at what states had the highest % margin for Trump or Clinton: Idaho, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Nebraska, West Virginia, and Wyoming all had higher % margins for Trump than California had for Clinton. Those states by themselves, with a tiny population of 4.4 million voters, have enough extra Trump voters that if we remove them along with California, then Clinton still has the plurality of popular votes.

    If we remove California and a smaller bastion of Trump support, Clinton still has the plurality of votes.

    The states Clinton won have nearly 4/3rds the population of the states Trump won. If Clinton’s states are regional in some way that Trump’s states are not, Clinton land is the region where people in the US live.

    The pro-Trump states that produce a voting pool the size of California went for Trump by nearly as many votes as California went for Trump. If we remove both the most Trump states and the most Clinton states until we’ve removed the same number of voters from each side, and stop at California, Clinton wins by the same margin as she won nationally.

    There just isn’t a good basis for claiming that Clinton’s support was more regional. Clinton’s voters were distributed inefficiently relative to the Electoral College, I’ll certainly grant that.

    This assumes that Republicans didn’t vote in California, which I don’t think is in evidence

    I was responding to RonF, who was making the argument you reject. I also largely reject that argument, but my point was that even if his argument held for California, it probably held for the deep South and Appalachia as well, so it couldn’t do the work he wanted it to.

  32. 33
    Mandolin says:

    Maybe when California gets to keep their fucking taxes, y’all can strip them of their votes.

  33. 34
    Humble Talent says:

    Um, when you are discussing the electoral college, refusing to bundle states together is begging the question.

    Maybe I’m missing something, but the begged question would seem to be “Why wouldn’t you bundle these states together?” And the obvious answer would be that the electoral votes from those states aren’t bundled.

    I do find ridiculous the notion that swaths of land matter more than, or as much as, human beings. My dad’s farm in the Midwest takes up more space than my entire HOA. It does not follow logically that his 1 opinion is more important than the 110 of ours.

    This is incidental, but even within your own metric – which is a metric that you haven’t justified at all – you’re wrong. Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia are not “more spread out” than California is; the three states form a continuous area, so they aren’t “spread out” in that sense. And in terms of square miles, California is more spread out (that is, covers a larger portion of the country) than Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia. (California covers 163,695 square miles, while the other three states combined cover only 106,782.)

    It’s not the land that matters, it’s the way politicians treat the people on the land. I feel like I’ve explained this really poorly. Physical area is relevant only as the number to which the population is the divisor, I’m talking about population density, and specifically the number of citizens per electoral vote. Your three examples, Barry: Kentucky, Tenessee and West Virginia are all pretty middle of the pack, WV is closest to benefitting, the five most benefitted states are Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont, DC and Wyoming.

    No, the fact that I had to bundle states together means that California is really big and that the two big Republican states (Texas and Florida) are (a) less than 2/3rds as many voters as California and (b) not the centers of Trumpism.

    I really find the “but without California!” point bizarre. Why do you think California’s voters deserve to have their vote count less than other voters’?

    I don’t… Actually. If you look here you’ll see that the State most disenfranchised by the EC is Texas, followed by Florida, followed by California, followed by Georgia, Followed by Arizona, and there’s three more states before we get to New York. The reason Hillary lost wasn’t because the Democratic states are disproportionately disenfranchised, it’s because Hillary was deeply unpopular, more unpopular than Trump, except for in a few very discrete regions. Part of the goal of the Union, I think, was to have leadership that represented the entirety of the country, not just the people of a couple states where they’re wildly popular.

    If we divide the country into 4 regions, Clinton won two of them solidly and came close in a third. Trump won one solidly and won narrowly in a second. I can’t see a way to spin that as Clinton has the more regional party.

    That’s because you Gerrymandered the Trump voters. Here’s what the opposite effect looks like: Trump Land Vs. The Clinton Archipelago

    The only reason you’ve given is that votes that are “spread out more” – but in practice, that means that Democrats are punished because more of their voters live in cities. But, again, you haven’t explained why you think voters in urban areas should have votes that are worth less.

    I think part of the misconception here is that I wouldn’t support this if it favoured Democrats. Canada has a similar system, although we have about 250 ridings, scattered throughout the provinces, as opposed to winner take all states, and like the American system, some provinces have denser populations per electoral district than others, and funny enough, the ‘winners’ in our system tend to be rural. What those rural voters aren’t necessarily is conservative. The Maritime provinces, who benefit the most, tend to vote consistently Liberal. The thing is that about 10% of Canada lives in Toronto, a heavy third lives in Ontario, and a light third lives in Quebec, if the riding system didn’t push federal Candidates out of Upper and Lower Canada, the prairies, the West Coast, the Territories and the Maritimes would never see a visit. It SEEMS facially unfair, but it aspires to balance political attention.

    If we remove California and a smaller bastion of Trump support, Clinton still has the plurality of votes.

    Kind of irrelevant, but of all your scenarios, this hit me as the least likely, Clinton won the popular vote by about 2.5 million votes. She won California by about 4 million votes, if you removed Trump’s two largest states: Florida and Texas, he only loses about 900,000 marginal votes. To be fair, Florida was really tight… Which states were you thinking?

  34. 35
    Charles says:
    If we remove California and a smaller bastion of Trump support, Clinton still has the plurality of votes.

    Kind of irrelevant, but of all your scenarios, this hit me as the least likely, … Which states were you thinking?

    The small bastion I referenced (in the paragraph right before the statement you can’t believe) was composed of the six most Trumpist states:
    Idaho, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Nebraska, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

    4.4 million votes total, roughly 1/3 Clinton, 2/3 Trump, roughly 1.5 million excess votes for Trump, equaling the difference between Clinton’s margin in California and her margin nationally. Remove those 6 tiny states and huge California, and Clinton won the plurality of the vote in the remaining states.

    Trump won Texas and Florida by relatively narrow margins, so those are the wrong states to look at. Although, again, you can combine Texas with its Trumpist neighbors and get a California sized (in population) super-state that, when removed along with California, leaves a plurality of voters supporting Clinton. Likewise, you can, again, take both Appalachia and California (similar size, similar population) out of the vote total, and Clinton was still the preferred candidate everywhere else.

    If we aggregate the states that Clinton won most strongly, and the states that Trump won most strongly, until we reach California, the populations are roughly the same on both sides, and the vote margin is roughly the same on both sides. The Trump side of the list has many more (small) states, and the Clinton side of the list is Hawaii and California. In the remainder of the country (the less partisan parts), Clinton won by about 2.5 million votes.

    The Trump land vs. Clinton archipelago is shown at the wrong unit (we, sadly, decide elections by states) and isn’t weighted by population. Again, a substantial majority (4/7) of the US population lives in states that Clinton won. The “few very discrete regions” where Clinton was preferred are the states where most people in the US live (and, from the archipelago map, almost every major city in the country).

    Also, when you say I “gerrymandered” the 4 regions, you assume I have vastly more power over the US Census than I could ever dream of. Clinton won in the North-East and the West, lost in the South and barely lost in the Mid-West, as defined by the US Census.

    If Clinton had truly won the popular vote by being a regional candidate, then when you removed her strongest region and an equal sized part of Trump’s strongest region, Trump would be the plurality vote winner in the remainder of the country. You can’t do that for any reasonable definition of strongest region (e.g.: Appalachia, South Central, the Mountain and Plains region, etc; Florida and Texas are not the correct choice for matching region, Florida was a narrow win for Trump, and even Texas wasn’t all that strong), so it is incorrect to say that Clinton was more of a regional candidate than Trump. Without the small state benefit in the Electoral College, Clinton would have been elected President in this election, either in a National Popular Vote system or in a state-by-state winner-take-all system that lacked the extra votes for being a small state (since Clinton won states with the majority of the population).

  35. 36
    AJD says:

    Without the small state benefit in the Electoral College, Clinton would have been elected President in this election… in a state-by-state winner-take-all system that lacked the extra votes for being a small state (since Clinton won states with the majority of the population).

    Not true, I think—the actual total was 304–227. The extra-votes-for-being-a-small-state bonus is 2 per state, so since Trump won 30 states and Clinton 20+DC, the winner-take-all total without extra-votes-for-being-a-small-state would have been 274–206.

    (Uh, assuming the same number of faithless electors, I guess)

  36. 37
    Charles S says:

    AJD,

    You’re right, I was mishandling my spreadsheet calculation for that. The states that Clinton won have a smaller population than the states the Trump won.

  37. 38
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Ampersand says:
    Every state counts. And every vote should be counted the same. The candidate who wins the popular vote should become president. Why do you think it’s wrong for all voters to have equal votes?

    Well, “having equal votes” is merely one consideration. Put it this way how do you feel about the Senate?

    I expect you’re OK with Senate apportionment because you understand a lot of the complex issues like federalism, the “tyranny of the majority,” and whatnot.

    But the Senate is unequal voting, similar to the electoral college but far, far, worse. If you’re concerned about the differences in electoral college voting, the Senate should make you squirm in your seat. Does it? If not, then…

    Are you happy with the House apportionment?
    The House isn’t perfect either. In theory the one-vote minimum can create a similar disparity, should there be a sufficiently small state. Moreover, the granularity of the 50-plus-385 apportionment means that it will never be truly equal. We can certainly get more detailed if we want: are you happy with the House? I expect you’re OK with House apportionment because you understand a lot of the complex issues like federalism, the “tyranny of the majority,” and whatnot.

    If I’m right and if you’re happy with both House and Senate:
    The EC is # of House folks plus the # of Senate folks, for each state. Why would that be fully appropriate in the House and Senate, but not here?

  38. 39
    JutGory says:

    Claiming that Clinton should have won because won the popular vote is exactly as stupid as saying Trump should have won because he won more states than Clinton did.

    -Jut

  39. 40
    AJD says:

    Jut—no, that’s not true. “In a just system, the winner of the popular vote would win” is at least a defensible proposition (if not a self-evident one); “in a just system, the winner of more states would win” is not.

  40. 41
    JutGory says:

    AJD: that is not true.
    I do not want to sound insulting, sarcastic, or obnoxious when I say this: my statements are fully comprehensible if you understand the federalist system, or federalism. If you disagree with my statements, I question you comprehension of federalism. In that regard, the popular vote holds no special place for me, when the system was designed to be federalist. The EC attempts to balance these two interests.

    (Gratuitous swipe at progressivism): progressivism has been trying to blur these lines for 100 years, so it is no surprise if you are not aware of this.

    -Jut

  41. 42
    AJD says:

    Jut, I think you’re falling into the is-ought gap. I don’t deny that the system was designed to not necessarily award the Presidency to the candidate with the greatest support; I’m saying that I think it is defensible to contend that the system is unjust in that respect.

  42. 43
    Kate says:

    G&W @ 38 – I don’t know about anyone else here, but I’m NOT happy with apportionment in either the senate or the house of representatives. We have a system in which the public regularly casts more votes for Democrats, but Republicans still wind up getting control of congress and/or the white house. I don’t think the founders envisioned the system becoming this skewed by urban growth and gerrymandering.

  43. 44
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    JutGory says:
    April 7, 2017 at 5:46 pm
    Claiming that Clinton should have won because won the popular vote is exactly as stupid as saying Trump should have won because he won more states than Clinton did.

    -Jut

    I prefer to say: It’s as stupid as playing a game of one-hand-touch football where both sides agree on the rules in advance and then, after it’s done, claiming that your side would have won if everyone had played a different game.

    Honestly, given that almost nobody was able to predict this outcome, which involves a system that we’ve been using for ages, why on earth does anyone think that they can accurately predict the outcome of how this would have worked if we had used different rules?

    AJD says:
    April 7, 2017 at 6:18 pm
    Jut—no, that’s not true. “In a just system, the winner of the popular vote would win” is at least a defensible proposition (if not a self-evident one); “in a just system, the winner of more states would win” is not.

    The US is surprisingly similar to the EU–we have about the same size and roughly half the population, and a ton of geographic variation and a lot of local differences. The interests of a Manhattanite are wildly divergent from the interests of an Appalachian coal miner, which are wildly divergent from the interests of Coloradan rancher…

    The EU apportions votes in a manner similar to the electoral college. A lot of smart folks analysed a lot of systems to come up with that.

  44. 45
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    AJD says:
    April 7, 2017 at 9:46 pm
    Jut, I think you’re falling into the is-ought gap. I don’t deny that the system was designed to not necessarily award the Presidency to the candidate with the greatest support; I’m saying that I think it is defensible to contend that the system is unjust in that respect.

    First, there are a lot of ways to look at “greatest support,” especially in a federalist system, only one of which is “overall national popular vote.”
    Second, there are a lot of ways to consider “justice,” especially in a federalist system. Most obviously you might expect people to investigate things like state control versus national control. Perhaps NYC is disadvantaged nationally but it probably exerts an large advantage on the state level; is it “just” to allow that? Any time you have competing parties there’s no single analysis of “justice.”

    Kate says:
    April 8, 2017 at 4:31 am
    G&W @ 38 – I don’t know about anyone else here, but I’m NOT happy with apportionment in either the senate or the house of representatives. We have a system in which the public regularly casts more votes for Democrats, but Republicans still wind up getting control of congress and/or the white house.

    With full knowledge of the rules of the game; and having had control of the congress and presidency ~ as much as the Republicans; the Democrats are still continuing to go after the wrong votes under the rules, and bitch about the outcome. Color me skeptical that the problem is inherent to the U.S. political system, and not the Democrats.

    Moreover, so what if the public casts more votes for Democrats? The public also knows the rules. Their votes and participation are based on their own interpretation of value-added and game theory. It could be that another million California voters would have come out for Hillary if they had any reason to do so; the same could be true for Trump as well.

    A big margin is mostly evidence of an unsound political strategy. Those extra California votes represent wasted effort and money and time, which could have been better used to actually play the game right.

    In any case, I am skeptical that folks are really looking at process and not outcomes here. My skepticism is mostly due to my perception that folks don’t spend much time complaining about the EC when their party of choice is in power, which suggests that the real issue is one of disliking the folks in power and not focusing on the EC as a whole. Personally I think the EC is no less valid when Republicans win.

  45. 46
    Harlequin says:

    The EU apportions votes in a manner similar to the electoral college. A lot of smart folks analysed a lot of systems to come up with that.

    As far as I understand it (and this is not my area of expertise, so I’m happy to be corrected if I am wrong), much more power rests with individual EU countries than rests with individual states in the modern US. A system like the EC or the Senate makes increasingly less sense as the federal government takes on a more dominant role. You can argue we should go back on this trend–and perhaps we should–but I don’t think it’s happening any time soon.

    Also, in constructing and refining the EU, not only good governance but getting people to agree to (continue to) be a part of it had to be considered. So their system may not be optimal for governance alone, even if it’s optimal for the particular situation they were trying to solve.

  46. 47
    Charles S says:

    It took me a while to figure out what feature of the EU government g&w was referring to as similar to the EC: small European states get a disproportionate number of seats in the EU parliament (which also approves the EU executive, which is selected by the even more disproportionate by population Council (1 seat per state)).

    The EU government is generally viewed as pretty disfunctional, no matter how smart its creators were. Enough power to utterly destroy Greece, but not enough power to figure out how to avoid a decade long recession.

    Personally, I am not happy with the structure of the House of Representatives, because I believe that personalized proportional representation (also called mixed member PR) is a vastly better system (New Zealand and Germany are the usual examples of this system). I think the Senate should probably be weaker (having more of a delaying and consulting function instead of being a coequal legislature), and it should probably be elected by one of the preference voting systems (since you can’t use PR for a single seat). I also dislike strong presidential systems generally. I think PR based parliamentary systems (like the EU! designed by very smart people who actually had several centuries of knowledge of how representative governments work best- but also like the German Bundestag, which is also the government of a Federal system- and one that is not nearly as dis-functional as the EU government) are generally preferable.

    A tiny quibble: the EU is about half the size of the US. All of Europe is about the size of the US, but the European part of Russia is huge (and Belarus and Ukraine aren’t small).

  47. 48
    AJD says:

    G&W, I’m not sure if you’re arguing against me or not. I’m not even claiming here that it’s unjust—I’m just saying that it’s defensible to believe that it is.

  48. 49
    Kate says:

    With full knowledge of the rules of the game; and having had control of the congress and presidency ~ as much as the Republicans; the Democrats are still continuing to go after the wrong votes under the rules, and bitch about the outcome.

    Rules of the game written exclusively by white men. The “wrong votes” being those of women and minorities left out of the initial decision making process.
    And, closing with a gendered insult. Nice.

  49. 50
    hf says:

    I didn’t fucking agree to anything. My state has passed the National Popular Vote Compact; I repeat that it would have many more signed on, and might already be in effect, if GOP legislators didn’t know it would deny them the Presidency.

    You’ve come up with several after-the-fact rationalizations for opposing democracy – like the claim that a smaller number of people denotes broader support, as if the subculture spread out over those states were more diverse in religion or race or even media consumed. But Republican citizens polled, like the general population, support ending the EC by at least two-to-one when there’s no party flag in the way.

  50. 51
    hf says:

    I don’t know how I felt about the Senate – which filibustered the Bayh-Celler Amendment – but as the Senate’s dead now it hardly matters. Enjoy your scorched-earth.

  51. 52
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Kate says:
    The “wrong votes” being those of women and minorities left out of the initial decision making process.

    No; the “wrong votes” are votes which are more likely to affect the outcome of the race. Do you seriously not understand that?

    FYI, you were left out of the initial decision making process, as was everyone else in the U.S., because it happened centuries ago and since the initial decision makers are all dead.

  52. 53
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    A very, very, detailed map. And an interesting article.
    https://decisiondeskhq.com/data-dives/creating-a-national-precinct-map/

    This is another level of detail past the county-level map.

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