Are our elections unfair? Should we fix them? What will work? | An Alternative View | Diana Diamond | Palo Alto Online |

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By Diana Diamond

Are our elections unfair? Should we fix them? What will work?

Uploaded: Nov 10, 2020

All it took was one sentence on p. 3 of Saturday's, Nov. 7, NYT to finally convince me that my long-held stance on eliminating the Electoral College in the U.S. was wrong.

Well, mostly wrong.

I knew the Electoral College was part of our original Constitution in order to make sure voters unthought-out preferences could be corrected in an emergency (the electors would presumably be wiser than some of the voters). I know for years the system has worked, for the most part. I do remember two recent elections (Bush vs. Gore and Clinton vs. Trump) where Gore and Clinton won the majority of the popular vote but lost the majority of the Electoral College vote.

I also know that to get rid of the Electoral College will be a very difficult job, since it is embedded in the Constitution and thus needs a two-third Congressional approval of both the Senate and the House and then have three-quarters of the state legislatures ratify it. The women's Equal Rights Amendment has so far taken 40 years since it was adopted by Congress, and not only do we need a couple of more states to approve it, but also lawyers are questioning whether the earlier approvals are still valid, since the time to approve an amendment may have expired,

So what was this now-famous NYT one-sentence that changed my mind?

"Why, when somebody has won millions more votes than their opponent, are we still deliberating over 10,000 votes here 5,000 votes there?"
---Carol Anderson, a professor of African-American studies at
Emory University speaking about the Electoral College

She's right. It's a strange way to conduct an election, thanks to the winner-take-all regulations in 48 states to choose members of the Electoral College -- and it's simply not fair. Those 10,000 votes in Pennsylvania carried more weight than the 4 million already cast for Biden. That's because to get the magic 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency; Pennsylvania played a key role in getting either Trump or Biden over the top.

Yet the reason I was (and still am) reluctant to get entirely rid of the Electoral College is because I think a popular all-states winner can be very unfair to people in smaller states. For example, the biggest states (population-wise) are California, Texas Florida, New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois. Texas and Florida are becoming purple states. The other four are predominately Democratic.

It wouldn't take too much for these six states to cast a majority of Democratic votes -- and the rest of the country's votes really wouldn’t count much toward determining future presidents. That's why I think it's unfair. (I once lived in a small state where my vote just didn't count at all, and I know how upset I felt.)

However, advocates of the Electoral College say the votes in a big state like California carry much less weight and count less than votes in smaller states, like Maine or Wyoming. California has 39.4 million people; Wyoming has 580,000. California has 55 electoral votes. And Wyoming has three. Do the arithmetic -- the electors are certainly not proportional. And remember, in the U.S. Senate, California and Wyoming also each have two senators. That also doesn't seem fair.

So part of the solution for me is proportionate voting to determine our state electors to the Electoral College. For example, if 60 percent of California voters cast Democratic ballots and 40 percent cast ballots for the Republican candidate, then the Electoral College members from this state would be ordered to vote 60-40, in a precisely determined manner. And they would be held to that for at least their first two votes.

I certainly agree with Prof. Carol Anderson that's with a 4 million majority, it does seem weird to have our country agonize for days about 10,000 or 20000 votes from small rural counties in Pennsylvania to determine whether that state will swing to the Dem or GOP column.

And since I just changed my mind about the Electoral College having proportional voting, I haven't yet thought out what kinks could occur in this new system, and I am sure there are other quandaries we will have to face. But at least, for me, proportional voting is a good step in the right direction.

NOTE: The NYT ran a wonderful chart in their Monday, Nov. 9 special Election section that shows by state the total votes cast and the electors awarded. It provided each state and the number of electoral votes it had, the number of votes cast, and the percentage of votes for each of the two presidential candidates.

I would love for someone skilled in statistics to determine what would have happened in this election if we had proportionate voting in each state. Who would have won the election? What difference would it have made? If someone is willing to take this on, send me an email ([email protected]) and we can talk, and then if you do the research, I will print what you have discovered. (The article on p.2 of this Election section is titled "While Trump Refuses to Concede, Biden Turns Attention to Transition. The chart is independent of what is in the article itself.)

The result could change the way we vote in this nation.