CONCERNING THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE, OR THE TWADDLE HAS FINALLY GOTTEN TO ME
As those of you who regularly visit this web site or my Facebook page know, I don’t often post political statements. There are two reasons I don’t. The first is because most people who visit the sites are either family or personal friends of mine who are already well aware of my political views, or people who are mostly interested in me as an author. The second reason is even simpler. If there is a more monumental waste of time than arguing politics on the internet—especially Facebook—I have yet to find it. (Watching paint dry comes a distant second.)
That said, occasionally I get annoyed enough to break my usual rule, and after some months of the campaigning that’s been going on for next year’s presidential election, I have reached that point with respect to one subject.
THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE, about which historical ignorance, incapacity to reason, blindness to reality driven by ideology and just plain stupidity have produced an ocean of twaddle.
It should be blindingly obvious by now that the Electoral College is at best an antiquated institution which never matched the vision of it held by the Founding Fathers and has become an impediment to modern government. In times past, the reason most people shrugged off its grotesque features was because in practice it didn’t seem to make much difference. In the first two centuries of the nation’s existence, a candidate won the Electoral College while losing the so-called “popular vote” only three times (in 1824, 1876 and 1888). But it has happened twice in the past five elections (2000 and 2016), so now it has become a major topic of debate.
[NOTA BENE: I put the phrase “popular vote” in quotation marks because the term is a silly redundancy. By definition, the “vote” is the will of the majority, i.e., the “populi” There is no other kind of vote EXCEPT a “popular vote.”]
Those who support maintaining the Electoral College almost always begin with a sonorous statement: “This is a republic, not a democracy”—thereby exhibiting that they don’t know what either a republic or a democracy is in the first place. I will attempt to educate them.
The term “democracy” simply means “rule by the people.” In other words, it refers solely to what you might call the content of the government, not the specific organizational form that might take. Historically, there have been essentially two forms in which democracy can be effected: what’s called “direct democracy” and a republican structure. In a direct democracy, the voters themselves enact the laws. In a republic, the voters choose representatives who enact the laws. The voters have no direct control over the making of those laws, or over the implementation of them by the executive. What they retain is the power, at periodic intervals, to change their representatives if they are dissatisfied with the ones they have.
In the context of a dispute concerning the Electoral College, the phrase “this is a republic, not a democracy” is simply asinine. OF COURSE, the United States is a republic. EVERY democratic polity above a certain (very small) size has to be a republic because the scale of modern societies is far too large to be governed by direct democracy.
What people who prattle “this is a republic, not a democracy” as if it had any bearing at all on the question of the Electoral College are saying is that the United States is the ONLY republic in existence because we are the only nation that uses an Electoral College to select its executive.
Huh? It will certainly come as a surprise to well over a hundred nations in the world to learn that they are governed by “direct democracy,” not as a republic. Try spouting this nonsense at a session of Parliament (the United Kingdom), Bundestag (Germany), Parlement (France), Folketing (Denmark), Eduskunta (Finland)…
Never mind, it gets ridiculous. EVERY DEMOCRATIC NATION IN THE WORLD IS A REPUBLIC—but the only one which has an Electoral College is the United States.
So let’s dispense with that nonsense. The next proposition advanced by those who support the Electoral College is that it protects small states—small meaning “least populous”—from the tyranny of those states which have a large population. And they almost always add “as was intended by the Founding Fathers.”
Historically, this is ignorant twaddle. The Senate does, indeed, benefit small states and was designed that way. But the size of states has almost nothing to do with the Electoral College, either in theory or—as we will see in a moment—in practice. The Founding Fathers were, in general, distrustful of the political judgment of the populace as a whole—whether they were citizens of large or small states, it didn’t matter—so they created two institutions to buffer the federal government against the passing whims of the moment.
The Senate as originally designed was not elected by popular vote—whether in small states or big ones. That distinction was irrelevant. The Senate was indirectly elected by the legislatures of the various states. That only changed with the passage of the 17th Amendment in 1913.
The second buffer against the populace as a whole was the Electoral College. The idea was to create a body of the nation’s elite who would be the ones to choose the president, rather than having that office filled by the populace voting as a whole. THE SIZE OF THE VARIOUS STATES HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT.
In practice, the Electoral College never functioned the way it was envisioned by the Founding Fathers. The reason was that the Constitution leaves it up to the various states to decide exactly how the Electoral College votes will be apportioned. In the first few decades of the nation’s existence, the specific procedures fluctuated, but by 1836 almost all states had settled on the winner-take-all rule, by which whoever wins the popular vote in each state gets all of that state’s Electoral College votes.
Notice, by the way, that this makes a mockery of the claim made today by its advocates that the EC somehow sidesteps the evils of majority rule. No, it doesn’t. It simply replaces the “evil” of national majority rule with the “evil” of majority rule in 50 different states. It’s still majority rule.
The change was motivated entirely by partisan calculation. Adopting the winner-take-all method enhanced the political power of whichever party dominated any given state. And once a few states started doing it, all the others soon followed suit so that they wouldn’t lose their own partisan influence. None of this had anything to do with the “intent of the Founding Fathers.” In his letter to George Hay in 1823, James Madison stated that few of the men who framed the Constitution had envisioned such a development
But whether they’d foreseen it or not—much less advocated it, which none of them did—once the winner-take-all method was adopted, every state became locked into it because for any one state to change its method would be to weaken its partisan position in the nation’s governance. If California, for instance, were to adopt a more representative method—apportioning the EC votes to whichever candidates won the majority in each separate congressional district, for instance—the Democratic Party would lose a lot of its power because there would be no guarantee that a Republican-majority state would do the same.
Leaving aside the historical ignorance involved, the claim that “the Electoral College protects the small states against the tyranny of the states with big populations!” is just plain stupid.
No, it doesn’t. In fact, it does the exact opposite—it disproportionately disenfranchises the least populous states. Because of the winner-take-all method that the EC actually uses—never mind what the Founding Fathers wanted; that’s ancient history, dead and gone—the only states that matter in a presidential election are the so-called “swing states.” Size is completely irrelevant to the calculation. “Can State X be won over to our candidate?” If not, to hell with that state, whatever its population is—and all candidates will make the same calculation because even for the candidate sure to win that state’s EC votes, the state itself is irrelevant.
In practice, in the real world, states with small populations tend to be more politically homogenous than states with large populations. That means that almost no small state is a “swing state.” So their vote simply doesn’t matter. They are for all practical purposes disenfranchised in presidential elections.
These eight states have the smallest populations in the nation:
Nobody cares what the people in those eight states think during a presidential election. In all likelihood, no candidate of any party—certainly not the two major parties—will even bother to campaign for one day in any of those states. Why waste the time and money? Everybody knows from the start how the majority in each of those states is going to vote and therefore all of the EC votes are a foregone conclusion. Wyoming, Alaska, the Dakotas and Montana will give their electoral votes to the Republicans; Vermont, Delaware and Rhode Island to the Democrats. Yawn. Subtract them from the equation. Nobody cares what they think.
Let’s flip it around. In every presidential election, at least two-thirds of the states are irrelevant to the election. The exact number and composition fluctuates a bit from one election to the next, but as a rule the number of “swing states”—which are the only ones which actually make a difference in the election—is around fifteen.
In the upcoming 2020 presidential election, the following sixteen states are most likely to be either one of the swing states or close enough that the major candidates will actively campaign in them. I’m ranking them in the order of their population size:
North Carolina (9)
New Mexico (32)
New Hampshire (44)
Maine really shouldn’t be part of this list because it’s one of the two states in the US which don’t follow the winner-take-all rule. (The other is Nebraska.)
Of the remaining states, eight of them—more than half of the total—are among the fifteen most populous states in the country, and eleven of them are among the top half of the nation measured by population. There are only five ranked in the lowest half of the states and only one—New Hampshire—in the lowest third.
Think about that. Fully ONE-THIRD OF THE NATION’S STATES—specifically, the one-third in which all small states are included—have only four meaningful Electoral College votes among them, those of New Hampshire. (California has 55, by the way.)
The disparity is just as bad if we measure it by EC votes rather than population ranking. These fifteen swing states represent 188 votes in the Electoral College—about 35% of the total. Of that 188 votes, the six states among the ten most populous states in the nation hold 114 of them, i.e., about 60%.
To put it another way, of the votes which will ACTUALLY MATTER in the upcoming 2020 presidential election, 60% of them will come from six of the ten most populous states in the nation and only 2% will come from states among the seventeen least populous states in the nation.
After considering the above, anyone who still thinks the Electoral College somehow favors small states over big one is…
The most polite term I can come up with is “mathematically challenged.” The more accurate one is “damn fool”. “Blithering idiot” is tempting but probably a bit too harsh. (A bit.)
The reason people on the right continue to vociferously support the Electoral College is because, as usual, they are politically short-sighted. “Penny-wise and pound-foolish,” as the saying goes. Since the Republican Party gained the advantage in the last two elections in which the winner of the EC vote was also the loser of the “popular vote”—Gawd, what a ridiculous term—they think this is somehow ordained by nature.
Actually, it isn’t. In the long run, maintaining the Electoral College will work to the advantage of the Democratic Party.
The reason should be obvious. As I just got through demonstrating, large states dominate the Electoral College, and it is in the large states that the demographic changes that are affecting the nation and will continue to do so are the most concentrated. It is in the large states that most minorities and most immigrants gravitate toward, as do young people and those with a college education. It is also in the large states—especially the big cities—where most economic growth takes place. Given that the Republican Party has staked its future on solidifying its base among the white, rural and older part of the US population, it is going to increasingly lose its position in the nation’s ten largest states—with, sooner or later, disastrous consequences for it. Once a political party gains a decided partisan advantage in any given state, the advantage tends to get locked in—especially by the Electoral College.
The truth is that the Republican Party is no longer even trying to win a majority of the nation’s population to its program. Instead, it is trying to maintain its current dominance of the US government (the presidency, the judiciary and one of the two houses of Congress) by gaming the system. More and more, it is relying on voter suppression, gerrymandering, governing through the executive and the judiciary rather than the legislature—the right adores activist judges, as long as they’re rightwing—and what they perceive (falsely) as a permanent structural advantage given to them by the Electoral College.
Regardless of partisan advantage, we should eliminate the Electoral College. It distorts democracy, it provides none of the benefits the framers of the Constitution thought it would, and it automatically injects an element of rancor into a huge nation that already has plenty of rancor to go around.
There are two ways to do that. The best way would be to pass an amendment to the Constitution. However, given the partisan politics of the moment, the prospect of doing that is close to nil. The other way, which wouldn’t require amending the Constitution, is called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC), which has been gaining support since it was introduced in 2007.
Remember that while the Electoral College itself is established by the Constitution, the power to determine how the votes are actually apportioned is left to the states.
Under the NPVIC plan, states would use that constitutional power to award their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote once there’s support among enough states to make it work—i.e., once enough states that have a total of 270 votes in the Electoral College sign on. That sidesteps the partisan problem of one state on its own giving up the winner-take-all rule. .
As of July 2019, the proposal has been adopted by fifteen states and the District of Columbia, which together, have 196 electoral votes. That’s almost 3/4 of the 270 votes needed to give the compact legal force.
It’s an inelegant if ingenious approach, but I don’t care. By now, I’m so sick of the prattle on the subject of the Electoral College that I’d vote for getting rid of it by exorcism, if I thought it’d work.
NEW NOVEL YOU SHOULD BUY
Just published: David Gerrold’s Ganny Knits a Spaceship. This story is reminiscent of the great Rober Heinlein young adult novels. Starling and her grandmother operate a way station in the asteroid belt. For decades, Ganny has had a very successful business, using her way station to sling cargo and passenger ships all over the asteroid belt and to most of the planets as well. But now, technological advance and corporate greed are threatening her livelihood and the continued well-being of her grand-daughter.
Digging back into her past, Ganny applies an ancient technique to modern materials. She begins to create a spaceship that will enable her and Starling to survive—and even to prosper. How? By knitting it.
All is going well. But once the corporate interests that were plotting to seize her way station realize what she’s up to, they set out to stop her by any means fair or foul. Mostly foul.
Written by the Hugo and Nebula award winning author of “The Trouble With Tribbles,” The War Against the Chtorr series, “The Man Who Folded Himself,” and “The Martian Child.”
April 30, 2019: Virginia DeMarce, The Legions of Pestilence. This is a braided novel by one of the major authors of the Ring of Fire series.
The Legions of Pestilence is partly based on previously published content—in this case, Virginia’s novel “An Uneasy Kind of Peace,” which was serialized a few years ago in the Grantville Gazette volumes 52-57 (March, 2014 to January, 2015.) That novel has been reworked to mesh with the new material, which constitutes about half of the volume.
Here’s the cover copy for the book:
In the world the West Virginians of Grantville came from, the borderlands between France and Germany had been a source of turmoil for centuries. In the new universe created by the Ring of Fire, the situation isn’t any better. The chaotic condition of the German lands has been ended—for a time, at least. And the near-century long war between Spain and the Netherlands has finally been resolved.
But now France is unstable. The defeat of Richelieu’s forces in the Ostend War has weakened the Red Cardinal’s grip on political power and emboldened his enemies, Foremost among them is King Louis XIII’s ambitious younger brother, Monsieur Gaston. An inveterate schemer and would-be usurper, Gaston’s response to the new conditions in France is to launch a military adventure. He invades the Duchy of Lorraine.
Soon, others are drawn into the conflict. The Low Countries ruled by King Ferdinand and Duke Bernhard’s newly formed Burgundy, a kingdom-in-all-but-name, send their own troops into Lorraine. Chaos expands and spreads up and down the Rhine.
It isn’t long before the mightiest and most deadly army enters the fray—the legions of pestilence. Bubonic plague and typhus lead the way, but others soon follow: dysentery, deadly and disfiguring smallpox, along with new diseases introduced by the time-displaced town of Grantville.
The war is on. All the wars—and on all fronts. Can the medical knowledge of the up-time Americans be adapted and spread fast enough to forestall disaster? Or will their advanced military technology simply win one war in order to lose the other and much more terrible one?
You can order the e-book now from the Ring of Fire Press website: https://ericflintsringoffire.com/book/the-legions-of-pestilence/ (Click on the “Purchase Direct From” RoFP logo right under the cover image)
Or, you can pre-order it from Amazon, with the release date of April 30. You can only pre-order electronic editions from Amazon. If you want the POD paper edition, Amazon won’t accept pre-orders and you’ll have to wait until April 30. (Why? We don’t know. Dealing with Amazon has some similarities to dealing with the Oracle at Delphi.)
Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press has just published a new title: Gorg Huff and Paula Goodlett’s Pandora’s Crew. Many of you are familiar with Gorg and Paula, because they’ve co-authored three novels with me in the Ring of Fire series (1636: The Kremlin Games, 1635: The Viennese Waltz and 1637: The Volga Rules), an alternate history novel in a different Assiti Shards setting—that’s The Alexander Inheritance—and, last but not least, the recently published title by Ring of Fire Press, The Demons of Paris. That novel is the beginning of a new series the three of us will be doing that combines alternate history (in this case, medieval Eurasia) and fantasy.
1636: The Kremlin Games is one of the four 1632 series novels that made the New York Times best-seller list, by the way. So when the blurbs on the cover of Pandora’s Crew refer to Gorg and Paula as “New York Times bestselling authors,” that’s just the simple truth.
Pandora’s Crew is Gorg and Paula’s first foray into producing their own novel, without me as a co-author. I gave them some aid and advice, here and there, but this is entirely their book—and it’s a very good one. Pandora’s Crew is straight-up space opera, following the adventures of a starship crew as they get caught up willy-nilly (and certainly without their intent) in the collapse of a powerful, venal and oppressive mercantile oligopoly and the emergence of a new political order.
It’s a really good novel, folks. That’s not hype on my part, it’s what I really think. I enjoyed reading it and I think you would also. And if you do, there will be more to follow, since Pandora’s Crew is the first novel in a series. I might add that, unlike many series that get started by new authors you won’t have to worry about this one ever getting finished because I’m the publisher and I damn well say it will.
Many of you—lots and lots of you—have enjoyed Gorg and Paula’s writing when they worked with me. Please give them a try on their own. BUY PANDORA’S CREW.
Pandora’s Crew is available right now either on the Ring of Fire Press web site or on Amazon. It will soon be available through Baen Books’ Webscriptions as well. We only sell an ebook edition of the novel. If you want a trade paperback edition, you’ll need to get it through Amazon.
We make more money if you buy it through our own web site, because we don’t have to pay Amazon’s 30% distributor’s commission, but don’t lose any sleep over that. Just buy the book in whatever manner suits you. Here are the relevant URLs:
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