Re: [pcp-discuss:] Probleming through Florida

From: John J Kineman (
Date: Fri Dec 01 2000 - 16:59:31 GMT

  • Next message: Norman K. McPhail: "Re: [pcp-discuss:] Probleming through Florida"

    Norm, some further thoughts embedded:

    "Norman K. McPhail" wrote:
    > John:
    > I like your points about trying to fit the Presidential election process
    > into either a zero sum game model or a survey of voter preferences
    > model. However, I don't think this should be viewed as an "either/or"
    > choice. To my way of thinking, our Electoral College system has
    > elements of both the models you are suggesting.

    Yes, as presently formed it is statistically based on the game/contest
    model, althought it is advertised as a survey model.

    > I may be wrong, but I think that under the current set up, states do
    > have the option to split their Electors in proportion to the popular
    > vote. But I would estimate that there is practically no chance of
    > getting two-thirds of the states to ratify a Constitutional amendment
    > that would require a proportional split of a given state's Presidential
    > Electors as opposed to the winner-take-all method currently in use.

    Right. I have no idea of the feasibility of implementing the idea, just
    its statistical correctness. A convincing argument would have to be
    made. The fact that the issue itself wasn't even mentioned in the first
    week following the election results indicates to me that there is a huge
    educational hurtle to overcome.

    > Keep in mind that the way the Presidential election system works now,
    > the states themselves have a certain amount of power. But a
    > proportional or popular election system would reduce the power of the
    > states and increase the power of the federal or central government. To
    > my way of thinking, this would tilt the balance of power too far towards
    > the central government.

    Well, it would indeed decrease the "power" of the State legislatures,
    but it doesn't increase the Federal power at all. It could result in an
    increase in power of the EC as a temporary representative body, but that
    is not Federal, it is composed of State party members. Also, the "power"
    of the State legislature may be limited anyway (we'll see today!) if the
    courts eventually rule that the legal exercise of their authority
    requires their decisions to correspond with the popular vote, as best it
    can be determined. That would leave their strong influence to operate
    only during a very close election, such as this, where the argument can
    be made that the vote was ambiguous. But in that case, I think most of
    the public would prefer to see that ambiguity reflected in a more even
    split of electors, rather than a either-or switch that ultimately gets
    based on some factor of individual influence in the system that is
    completely unrelated to the vote.

    > Keep in mind that do not have a direct democracy. We have
    > representative democracy through several overlapping and yet independent
    > jurisdictions. These overlapping jurisdictions are self governing at
    > the local and state levels. Then the states and the individuals within
    > them combine to empower a central government. So we end up with a
    > federation of local self governing units organized within and by states
    > and a central government that has a Constitution that empowers and
    > protects both in a balanced system. The tension between these competing
    > levels of self governing entities helps ensure that our individual
    > rights and sovereignty are protected.

    Yes, I realize that. I think the model gets stretched beyond these
    limits when we fall within this scale problem (the Zeno thing); which I
    don't think anyone anticipated. The States have authority to conduct and
    resolve internally organized elections, then to represent their vote
    results to the EC for a final decision. I believe (but am not certain -
    again todays Supreme Court discussion may shed some light) that they are
    legally bound to reflect their internal popular votes as accurately as
    possible in their electoral decision. A State could not, for example,
    assign its electors oppositely to a decisive popular vote. I think this
    may have a legal basis, not just a political one -- again, I'll be
    listening closely to the Supreme Court debate.

    I think two states have proportional representation now. I suspect, but
    don't know, that a Federal law could require proportional representation
    of electors. Naturally it would have to be passed by Congress, and the
    biggest implication is that it would instantly empower 3rd parties,
    because in that model even someone getting 3% of the vote like Nader
    would end up with an influencial number of votes in the EC. I think that
    would be the main issue of contention, not a States ability to overturn
    its popular vote.

    > I think the federal government already has too much power in this system
    > of checks and balances. If we make the mistake of swinging the balance
    > even further towards the central government, we run a risk of losing
    > more and more of our individual sovereignty and human rights. So I for
    > one would strongly oppose the proportional state Electoral voting you
    > propose or any system of direct popular voting for the United States
    > president.

    Well, consider my argument that the EC is NOT Federal, but locally
    composed and temporary so it can more easily reflect the immediate
    issues surrounding the election. In fact it would do just what you want,
    keep it farther away from the federal government by keeping it out of
    the Supreme Court, first of all, and by minimizing the chances of it
    being thrown into Congress secondly. Take an extreme case like Florida
    (25 electors) or California (54 electors). If the State legislature,
    which normally just certifies a vote, inherits the power due to a close
    election to decide the entire outcome, then the Fed becomes very
    concerned. That's too much influence from too small a representative

    > Norm
    > John J Kineman wrote:
    > >
    > > Just an added thought. I think there is a major question of semantics
    > > involved in the election process. I raised this in the article I wrote
    > > ( It is whether we believe that a vote is a
    > > survey of voter preference, or a contest. If it is a survey, than it is
    > > a sample of a larger population, with estimable variances. A statistical
    > > tie can be quantified, below which the index (the vote) no longer
    > > indicates anything, and the small differences are uninteresting. At that
    > > point one must invoke another process, such as the electoral college
    > > (suitably modified to make it a decision making body), the legislature,
    > > and ultimately Congress; with the Judicial making sure it all passes on
    > > properly. If, on the other hand, it is perceived as a game or contest,
    > > then the loss of indicative value of small differences is completely
    > > irrelevant - the contest gets even more interesting as the outcome
    > > hinges on narrower and narrower margins, just like a game show or
    > > football game. The public and media is so used to the second model that
    > > it was a full week before I heard any intelligent statements about
    > > uncertainties and ties.
    > >
    > > This difference in meaning also determines how we structure the process.
    > > I was referred to a proposal that State elections were a way to
    > > "maximize" voter "power" with power defined as the chances that any one
    > > voter will be able to cast the "deciding" vote. In a gaming/contest
    > > scenario, one would want to maximize that, but in a survey scenario one
    > > would want to minimize it.
    > >
    > > My own conclusion was that the Electoral College could be transformed
    > > into a useful arbitor of elections if we had proportional allocation of
    > > electors instead of the "winner-take-all" rules that are part of the
    > > gaming paradigm. In the present situation that would have given Gore and
    > > Bush a tie, or nearly so, with about 10 electors for Nader. College
    > > rules could be adopted so that those distributions could be run off to a
    > > final pair, and even debated if it is a tie. In the rare case that it is
    > > hung, and nobody can be convinced to change their vote, then it would go
    > > to the Congress. The proportional allocation would greatly minimize the
    > > current legal and legislative maneuvering, because it would at most
    > > affect only one elector. Also, the number of total electors (538) sets
    > > the definition for a statistical tie (2/538. or about .4%.
    Posting to from "John J Kineman" <>

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