The venerable C.G.P. Grey is back with another interesting and educational video, this time tackling the problems with the American Electoral College. (If that term is a fuzzy memory from high school government class, he also has a good five-minute video on how it works). The problems he points out with the system:
- It’s unfair to people living in large states, because of a rule that redistributes some electors to smaller states, to keep presidential candidates from ignoring them. As a consequence, a vote from a person in Vermont counts for three Texans’ votes and someone in Wyoming counts for four Californians.
- But candidates still ignore the small states, which get pretty much no visits or money from candidates.
- What’s more, they also ignore the big states, like California, Texas and New York. Why? Because where candidates spend their resources is in big “battleground” states — the ones that could go either way. These days, Texas is a lock for Republicans, while California and New York are firmly Democratic; so why even bother preaching to the choir? Instead, candidates focus on a handful of states like Florida and Ohio that have big populations from both parties.
- In fact, in the two months before the 2008 elections, just four states (FL, OH, PA, VA) received the majority of visits and money. So the opinions of the citizens in those four states tend to dominate politics, making it really unfair for someone in Colorado, for example.
- It is technically possible to win the presidency with 22% of the popular vote. That means 78% of the people could vote for Obama in 2012, and he could still lose. This should absolutely not be possible in any democracy, much less in a country with the United States’ stature.
- Throughout American history, there have been three elections in which someone became president with less than 50% of the popular vote — most recently, G.W. Bush in 2000. That means that 5% of the 56 elections since 1788 have failed. Any critical system that has a 5% failure rate is broken: if the electric utility failed that often, you’d have no power for more than two weeks a year; if the DMV failed that often, 5% of drivers would be blind or kids.
Clearly, much of government is broken — e.g., the economic system, the justice system — because they have much higher failure rates. However, at least we’re doing the best we can for most of them. But that’s not true for the electoral system: as he points out in the first video, the electoral college was created because in the 18th century, information traveled at the speed of a horse: having a small-ish group vote at the same time and place was the best way to do an election. But now, information travels at the speed of light and the electoral college is just simply archaic.
If you liked this video, Mr. Grey has a few other interesting ones:
- What’s wrong with Daylight Saving Time
- Why no one knows how many continents there are
- The difference between England, Britain and the U.K.