Fixing the Electoral College, tampering with polling places, and other election thoughts

After hearing horror stories of polling places where there was an “hour or longer” wait in the queue and a ballot that took “almost an hour” to fill out, I finally went into my local polling place and cast my vote today. Elapsed time was about 20 minutes total, mostly standing in line waiting for a booth (well, a rickety plastic table with partitions). Two things got me thinking this morning: first, about what would happen if it really did take two hours to vote and how that might affect the outcome of an election, and second, about Colorado Amendment 36, which will change the way that Colorado allocates electoral votes…


As I stood in line waiting to vote, I couldn’t help realize that if it did take two hours to vote, that would be a simple and effective way to skew the results towards the Republican side: as a vast over-generalization, Republicans are business owners, while Democrats are hourly workers. I know, I know, there are plenty of counter-examples, but roll with me a bit here…

In a situation where it takes an exceptionally long amount of time to cast your vote, the workers who have a harder time explaining why they’re late, or have to punch a clock, will be more likely to walk out without voting. After all, what’s more important, keeping your job so you can feed your family or casting your vote in an election where millions of people are also casting votes? By contrast, a business owner or manager can easily make the decision to be a bit late into work – or leave early – and take their turn to vote however long it takes.

Even the rumor of exceptionally long polling times could skew the voting, and when we consider less and less affluent voters, they have less and less ability to allocate lots of time to cast their ballot. But it wasn’t just a rumor: at 8am when my wife went to vote, the line was “out the door and down to the street” at our local polling place and it did indeed take over an hour for people to be processed and vote. Why? Because of a poor allocation of manpower and resources at the polling place: they know in advance how many people are going to be voting, and they know from historical data that there are two big waves of voters, around 8am (on their way to work) and around 5pm (on their way home). So why not have the polls planned for the maximum capacity and then have plenty of empty polling stations the rest of the day? Hmmm…. if I were the type, I’d wonder about some sort of Republican-backed conspiracy, honestly.

And then there’s the fascinating Colorado State Amendment 36, which, if passed, will cause the electoral votes for the state to be allocated proportionally to the
actual votes cast, rather than the current all-or-nothing system.

Here’s the typically incomprehensible ballot wording:

“Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado Constitution concerning popular
proportional selection of presidential electors, and, in connection
therewith, creating procedures for allocating Colorado’s electoral votes for
president and vice-president of the United States, based on the proportion
of ballots that are cast in this state for each presidential ticket; making
the terms of the proposed amendment effective so that popular proportional
selection of presidential electors applies to the 2004 general election;
setting forth procedures and timelines that govern the certification of
election results and the potential recounting of votes in elections for
presidential electors and in the election on this proposed amendment;
granting the Colorado Supreme Court original jurisdiction for the
adjudication of all contests concerning presidential electors and requiring
that such matters be heard and decided on an expedited basis; and
authorizing the General Assembly to enact legislation to change the manner
of selecting presidential electors or any of the procedures contained in
this amendment.”

I voted a strong yes for this amendment. I’ve always found it completely baffling that the Electoral College is used as a buffer to ensure that we don’t actually have direct elections in the United States but rather have these mini-popularity contests and end up with “swing states” and other states where the vote just doesn’t really matter because the state is “firmly Republican” or “staunchly Democratic”. It’s a travesty of representative democracy in my opinion, and I believe that the Electoral College has long since outlived its usefulness in American politics.

The only drag is that if Amendment 36 passes, Colorado will be the only state that has proportional electoral votes, but I can only hope that we’re the first, the trailblazer, and that the citizens of all the other states in the union will realize what a dramatic improvement to our electoral process would come about from having every state use a proportional electoral system. Imagine, all those maps on sites like Newsweek would be obsolete. Never again would we see “red” states and “blue” states, but rather an accurate representation of the will of the public, the citizenry of this nation, in the months leading to the election and then, most importantly, in the election results themselves.

But I go on too long. Whatever you do, whatever your beliefs, just vote. We can’t be any sort of representative democracy if we all can’t even cast our ballot on election day.

8 comments on “Fixing the Electoral College, tampering with polling places, and other election thoughts

  1. The Electoral College allows states like Iowa to have a voice, and as such I agree with it.
    However, I think that it should go proportional in the event of the margin between candidates being smaller than the margin of error. This would eliminate much of the potential for vote tampering with razor slim margins.

  2. The electoral college protects states with low populations from states with dense populations. The issues that matter in NYC do not matter in Cheyenne. The people in Wyoming are afforded a (tiny) bit of protection from having their voices completely drowned out.
    But it’s all beside the point. We are not a democracy; we are a republic. It is up to the states to decide how to allocate electors. It is simply egalitarian that they all decided to let the citizens vote for the electors they send.
    You do not have a “right” to vote in federal elections. It simply isn’t in the Constitution.

  3. But if that’s the case, then having proportional allocation of electoral votes would go further towards protecting the vote of citizens in smaller states. As it stands now, there’s not much point for members of the minority party to vote: if they don’t get the majority, their party gets nothing. Republic or Democracy, that doesn’t make much sense to me, Phil.

  4. I understand your concern, Dave. Goodness knows I have felt the same way, at times, but as I see things now it seems that Phil is correct. The electorial college compromise is something like the house and the senate. With the senate, states with small populations are afforded some say in national politics, whereas if we only had the house, Rhode Island’s opinion would be completely ignored in public policy. Needless to say, this would not make Rhode Island’s citizens very happy.
    Likewise, if the electorial college were done away with, all our large population centers (LA, NYC, Washington DC, Atlanta, …) would control the elections, and politicians would spend all their time campaigning in those areas. It seems to me that the electorial college gives those of us in sparsely populated states a fair chance to have our opinions heard.
    Also, if I may quote another article, (http://www.deanesmay.com/archives/005634.html), “The electoral college is a very strong force for moderation in Presidential politics. In order to win the Presidency, you cannot concentrate on only getting Christian voters, or white voters, or the votes of everybody in one region. Instead, Presidential candidates are forced to travel the country, pay attention to numerous local issues, and pay more attention to minority interests and minority views than they ever would if they were simply required to get a popular vote majority.”
    I also recommend reading Kim du Toit’s thoughts, which are linked in the article that quote is from. Simply put, we are a republic, not a democracy. The electorial college protects minorities from having their opinions snuffed out by the majority view without due consideration. This is a good thing, because minority opinions need to be heard, or we may find ourselves faced with civil unrest, violent demonstrations, and all sorts of undesirable things.
    By all means, however, keep criticizing the system. It is only through criticism and dissatisfaction that the system can be improved.

  5. Take a look at how the states decided. Look at that giant swath of red across the middle. Look at the paltry smatterings of blue around the edges. The paltry smatterings amount to about half the electoral college. They also amount to about half the population. Think that makes *your* point? Then look at the county-by-county maps. It’s still rather red-looking. http://www.princeton.edu/~rvdb/JAVA/election2004/
    Like Brandon says (paraphrasing), if we didn’t have the electoral college, no candidate would care about Colorado’s voters. It wouldn’t help him get elected.
    Similarly, if amendment 36 had passed, no candidate would care about Colorado’s voters. Campaigning there would not change his chances of being elected.

  6. But you’re looking in the short term, when you say “if amendment 36 had passed…”, Phil. The reason I thought that 36 was a good idea, though, was because it could begin a process of reforming the electoral college throughout the nation.
    By contrast, when I look at the earlier maps of party alignment by state, I see a lot of states that weren’t “swing states’ and were indeed ignored by the opposing candidate. For example, there wasn’t much point in Kerry campaigning in Texas since it’s staunchly republican and the birthplace of our current president. Similarly, Bush didn’t need to spend much time campaigning in Texas – that is, in telling the citizens of Texas how he’d be addressing their concerns in his second term – because it was already ‘locked up’.
    By contrast, in a world where the electoral votes are allocated proportionally then there would have been a very good reason for both candidates to campaign in every state of the union, not just those that were the swing states.

  7. Surely not… You think the candidates will visit every state if there’s no electoral college? Or will he only visit the population centers where he has a chance of being heard?
    Oh wait — I see your ploy now! Get rid of the electoral college so the Democrat strongholds (urban centers) will get all the attention. Sneaky!
    Here’s another county-by-county map link. This one has population data for each county. Looky how skewed it is. Perhaps we should have electors from each county. 🙂
    The electoral college, like income taxes, only works if everyone plays by the same rules. You won’t change the system one state at a time, imho. But I could be wrong. I guess.

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