Stanford historian to give talk on Electoral College Jan. 11 | January 6, 2017 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 6, 2017

Stanford historian to give talk on Electoral College Jan. 11

Jack Rakove to speak on the institution's history, present implications and future

by Elena Kadvany

The results of the 2016 presidential election — with Republican nominee Donald Trump securing nearly 80 more electoral votes than Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who won nearly 3 million popular votes more than Trump — have revived ongoing debate over the value of the Electoral College in 21st century politics, with many citizens, academics and politicians calling for its abolition.

Jack Rakove, a Stanford University historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, falls in that camp. He will speak about the history of the Electoral College and the implications of the system in today's world at a free talk at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills on Wednesday, Jan. 11, at 7 p.m.

The talk, "Can We Ever Get Rid of the Electoral College?" is co-sponsored by Congregation Beth Am, Beth Am Women, the League of Women Voters, Avenidas and the American Association of University Women.

The goal of the event, Rakove said in an interview with the Weekly, is to provide historical context to help people think critically about the Electoral College, which gives each state as many votes as it has members of Congress, and encourage open dialogue about a thorny political issue.

"Everybody is curious to know about the Electoral College," Rakove said. "Not many people really understand its origins or how it evolved. There are a lot of reasons to think critically about it today, especially when you have a disparity between the electoral and popular vote."

That disparity played out in two of the last five presidential elections, in 2016 and in 2000, when George W. Bush was first elected.

Rakove, whose "Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution" won the Pulitzer, is a leading advocate for doing away with the Electoral College. The framers of the Constitution created and adopted the Electoral College at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 as a compromise between those who supported electing the president by popular vote and those who favored a Congressional appointment.

Rakove would like to explore what it would take to determine the nation's president by the outcome of the national popular vote — a reform that was proposed but failed once before, in the Senate in 1970.

"You do have the 'one person, one vote' problem, which is that votes have a different weight in the states which they're cast" because of how the Electoral College is structured, he said. "If you believe as I do that each vote should have the same weight wherever it's cast, that's troubling."

The logic of the Electoral College — that smaller states need a "senatorial bump" to get greater electoral weight — is at odds with the fact that people don't vote in presidential elections based on the size of their home state, Rakove said.

"If, say, environmental sustainability or abortion or the Second Amendment is your dominant concern, it does not matter whether you live in Wyoming or California, Pennsylvania or Delaware," he wrote in an August 2016 piece in Stanford Magazine. "The size of a state does not affect our real political preferences, even though the Electoral College system imagines that it does."

But what would it take to eliminate the Electoral College? Rakove believes the only successful path would be a constitutional amendment. He's critical of an alternative proposal that has been floated — to "impose" a national popular vote by getting a simple majority of states to commit to cast their electoral votes for whichever candidate won the popular vote.

A national popular vote could, Rakove said, help mitigate an increasingly divisive electoral process.

"If we come to think the nation is divided into blue states and red states with a fraction of battleground states, that compounds the adversarial nature of what already an intensely partisan political process," he told the Weekly.

With an election by national popular vote, however, "The parties (would) have a strong incentive to turn out their votes wherever their votes are. It doesn't matter whether you're in a battleground state or not. A vote is a vote is a vote."

Admitting that there is no "happy solution" to the Electoral College question, Rakove said, "My basic advice is: We need to talk about this."

IF YOU'RE GOING...

What: "Can We Ever Get Rid of the Electoral College?" talk by Jack Rakove

Where: Congregation Beth Am, 6790 Arastradero Rd, Los Altos Hills

When: Wednesday, Jan. 11, 7 p.m.

Information: bit.ly/2iQ5trL

Staff Writer Elena Kadvany can be reached at ekadvany@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Gary Ruppel, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 6, 2017 at 12:08 pm

Good for Mr. Rakove for volunteering his time to this topic. The Electoral College has seen its day (opinion) and should be abolished. Why is "one person, one vote" used for all other members of Congress and not for the Presidency? Ridiculous in this day and age.






Posted by Perez Helton, a resident of University South
on Jan 6, 2017 at 5:32 pm

Let's call it for what it is. If Hillary Clinton had won the Electoral College with 270+ votes. Jack Rakove would not be having this meeting on January 11th, and not be saying a damn thing. Just celebrating.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jan 6, 2017 at 6:49 pm

Without California and New York, Trump wins the popular vote by 3 million.

[Portion removed.]

Also, consider the fact that Hilary spent drastically more money than Trump... on advertising, infrastructure, I mean she went all out, her spending on this campaign was unprecedented, so that had to win her a lot of "fluff" votes... on top of the money advantage, she had virtually the entire established world order & media monoliths on her side...

Our Constitution ensures equal representation across the states:
"I pledge allegiance to the flag... and to the REPUBLIC for which it stands."

Maybe this esteemed "Stanford historian" should look into California seceding and being a separate country from the United States of America.
[Portion removed.]


Posted by @Resident, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 6, 2017 at 8:05 pm

[Post removed.]


Posted by Sanctimonious City, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 6, 2017 at 11:33 pm

Interesting how Democrats were touting the merits of the electoral college just one election cycle ago.

In Defense of the Electoral College
Web Link

The historical fact is that the original colonies never would have agreed to the union if control of the Federal government was solely based on population. So they put in safeguards like the electoral college process and two senators for every state despite its size. It is a brilliant structure that balances power and protects the minority from mob rule.

If the goal is to instantly break up the United States then there could be no quicker way than to do away with those protections. All of the less populous states would secede to form separate countries and alliances.

Ultimately, maybe that is what the Democrats are truly after anyway.


Posted by Stephen, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 7, 2017 at 12:04 am

I am just curious to know for which scholarly work about Revolutionary America was Sanctimonious City awarded a Pulitzer Prize. Hmmm.I think the topic of the electoral college about which Professor Rakove will lecture is worth hearing. I wonder what our founding fathers, men who developed a system of governance that was quite different from what had come before, would think of our rigid adherence to what I gather Hamilton (in Federalist 68) thought was a very clever political compromise that enabled the formation of a national government.


Posted by Sanctimonious City, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 7, 2017 at 1:33 am

Fortunately, the debates and opinions of the founders are well documented by primary sources. Anyone with the desire can read them and form their own opinions on the issues.

Human nature has not changed much in the 200+ years. The concerns about the centralization of power into a large federal government remotely trying to rule over a diverse country while unaccountable politicians exploit the citizens for personal enrichment are as relevant as ever.

Liberal elites love the idea of using small majorities to force their will onto others. That's how we got Obamacare. Using identity politics, they attempt to craft temporary coalitions so that the 51% can tell the other 49% what to think, how to live and even what words can be used.

Too bad the electoral process is woven into the constitution and its veins of liberty weave their way throughout the checks and balances of government and the Bill of Rights. It is still doing its job today protecting individual liberty from the tyranny of others who would hope to take their freedoms away.


Posted by Stephen, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 7, 2017 at 6:47 pm

Sanctimonious City repeats the currently popular view that the opinions of people who know only a little about some subject are just as valid as those of people who are, to use a word that used to be considered a good thing, experts. There are many, many different pieces of information such as the many, many letters the founding father wrote or of their awareness of past history (e.g. of the English Civil War). As for his comment about the tyranny of the majority, I am struck by the amazing willingness of Sanctimonious City and others to be willing to accept the tyranny of the minority - exactly what we have now. For example, what of the freedom of women to choose? The freedom to marry whom one chooses? I think the freedoms that Sanctimonious City sanctimoniously refers to are the freedom to steal the labor of others, the freedom to destroy our the world we all share - I could go on.


Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 7, 2017 at 10:04 pm

"...protects the minority from mob rule."

In other words, one's favored group should always "win" even if it has the fewest members. The opposite of democracy.

Not a surprising point of view for a Republican, considering that Republicans lost the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections. They need the Electoral College anachronism to save them from extinction.


Posted by Yes, I watch FoxNews!, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 8, 2017 at 12:53 am

I am glad to find some people here who share my moderate beliefs. So tired of CNN and the media bashing our prez elect. Kellyanne Conway gets no press for being the first female campaign manager to win an election. So lopsided, those hypocrite Dems. If Hillary won and the Russians were involved, there wouldn't be a peep from Dems. She can only blame herself for breaking the law in the first place by using that personal server. I would vote for ANYONE besides her, and I am a female.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 8, 2017 at 3:09 am

"save them from extinction". So I guess Curmudgeon doesn't mind if anyone who disagrees with him politically goes extinct.
[Portion removed.]


Posted by Sanctimonious City, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2017 at 6:08 pm

Elite Liberals are not only bad at history but also at math too. The electoral college is comprised of the number of Senators + the number of House of Representatives + 3 extra for the District of Columbia.

So it is fair, proportionate and as democratic as the rest of our congressional representation. It is certainly more legitimate than the predetermined scam the Democratic Party uses with Super Delegates for its primary that stole the election from Bernie Sanders. I don't hear any more complaints about that disgrace anymore.

Given that liberals have lost control of the Senate, the House, the Presidency, the majority of state governors and state congressional seats (over 1,000 in total) maybe it does not matter anymore. The Democrats are a 3 state party (NY, CA and MA) and their Cultural Marxist ideology is becoming irrevelant as people have caught on to the self serving hipocracy and propaganda of its leaders.


Posted by Stephen, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 8, 2017 at 6:59 pm

Sanctimonious City is really on a tear - definitely high on the use of liberal and elite as pejoratives, with even a little bit of 1950's Red-baiting thrown in for good measure. Get serious, compared to say Britain or Australia, in the main, our Democratic Party is pretty darn centrist while the Republican party has shifted right to be on par with folks like the UKIP in Britain and Le Front Nationale in France, or perhaps even the Austrian party, Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, that was founded in the '50s to be a political home for ex-Nazis (and who were recently defeated in the 2016 Presidential election). How about we liberal elite refer to GOP supporters as "Fools for Fascists"? I don't think it is true (at least not for most Republicans), but does have a nice snarky ring to it doesn't it? Maybe I should tweet it...

My point is that Jack Rakove knows a lot about the founding of the US, probably more than almost anyone else living, so when he gives a historical context to the Electoral College that shows that it is no longer functioning as intended and that indeed originally was a compromise needed to produce a means of electing the President that everyone who mattered could agree on, no more no less. The small state thing is a bit of a red herring since there are also small Democratic states like Delaware and Hawaii. What the electoral college does guarantee however is that in strongly Democratic states like California, Republican votes for president don't count and in strongly Republican states like Texas or Montana (which did elect a Democrat for governor), the votes of Democrats for president don't really count.

As for liberals and math: Under Reagan we tried the Republican experiment where we lowered taxes on the wealthy to improve the economy and all we got was a big increase the federal debt and a shift of the overall wealth and income of the country towards the few at the top. You might want to read what Nobel-Prize winning economists like Krugman and Stillest have to say on this point - I think they are both pretty decent at doing their sums.


Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 8, 2017 at 9:33 pm

"I guess Curmudgeon doesn't mind if anyone who disagrees with him politically goes extinct."

Well, OK by me if they do. It's their right in a free country.

But what's with this 'him' thing?


Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 8, 2017 at 9:43 pm

"Kellyanne Conway gets no press for being the first female campaign manager to win an election. So lopsided, those hypocrite Dems."

Geez, how come those Dems gotta do EVERYTHING? Get those no-account Reppies off their duffs and make 'em write their own copy.

All is not lost for Miss Conway. Maybe Trump upped her 1-10 rating a point. Suppose she made [portion removed] locker room grade?


Posted by Plane Speaker, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 9, 2017 at 9:40 am

The Electoral College just had its chance to do what was intended [portion removed.] That shows there is no point to the Electoral College and it like most of the rest of government now has been twisted to serve the far right so the largest corporate and financial interests can be guaranteed to be heard at the expense of everyone else.

Representation by state is done in the House and Senate.
That is not going to change, but why a few people in Wyoming get so much
representation, and that representation turns out to be heavily influenced
by right-wing industrial and mining interests is beyond being fair and balanced.
What is being represented in Wyoming,

Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, North and South Dakota and Delaware have
less than a million people.

Montana, Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Idaho, West Virginia
and Nebraska have less than 2 million people.

While, our state, California has 12% of the country's population and when have
we ever had a say in a Presidential election?

The median state population seems to be about 4 millions, so there are a
lot of little states that are able to be swayed by strongly backed financial
campaigns and a consolidated media that gave Donald Trump enough free
media coverage to push his pseudo Hitler rallies at the expense of the issues.
Group after group has reported that this has been the most issue free election
ever held in the US, and we are got a candidate who was all over on the issues
and promises but surprise, now he is so far right-wing he is picking people to
represent the country that are far-right extremists with similar low morals
and low character as himself.

It's not like getting rid of the electoral college is going to save the union.
That may be impossible, at least as the country most of us alive form the
last century grew up with.

No, the Electoral College needs to be retired as each incident that brings
this debate up gets worse and worse. Neither side campaigned or did anything
for anyone in California.

America's chief executive is a national office that should represent all of us
and should be elected by all the people in the US equally.

But while we are at it we should change up and maybe randomize the order of
the state primaries so different states can actually get some say in the President
and not just the same old irrelevant players.


Posted by Sanctimonious City, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 9, 2017 at 12:30 pm

Sanctimonious City is a registered user.

I hope people go to listen to Mr. Rakove's lecture or read original sources about the issues. Then they can consider both sides of the debate and make up their own minds.

As to all the name dropping, I think some people put too much faith in titles and institutions. Dr. Krugman received his Nobel Prize in economics for furthering the liberal elite ideology on globalism and urbanization. I guess he deserved his award as much as Obama did for getting the Nobel Peace Prize ex ante or before the event ;-)


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