Winner Take All

In Indianapolis, early voting for the upcoming municipal elections just commenced, and my husband and I dutifully cast our ballots in advance of election day.

After all, we could be hit by a bus or otherwise “snuffed out” between now and the actual date of the election. This way, we’re sure our votes for Mayor and City-County Council will count.

Unlike our votes for President.

Each time we participate in the democratic process, I am reminded of all the ways in which that process has become less democratic. Voter suppression, voter I.D. laws, polls closing at 6:00 pm–there are numerous ways that the Republican super-majority in our state has made casting a vote onerous for everyone, but especially for the minority and working-class folks who tend to vote Democratic.

Indiana isn’t alone. There are so many ways that the party that controls a statehouse can erase the votes of citizens in the opposing party–at least, in Presidential contests. The most pernicious–and probably least understood–is “winner take all.”

A recent op-ed from the New York Times explains.

The column began with a discussion of the Electoral College, and the changes in the way it works–especially the manner in which we choose Electors– since it was first conceived by Alexander Hamilton. But as the author noted, today’s Electors aren’t the problem.

What really disregards the will of the people is the winner-take-all rule currently used by every state but Maine and Nebraska. Giving all electors to the winner of the statewide popular vote erases the votes of citizens in the political minority — say, the 4.5 million people who voted for Donald Trump in California, or the 3.9 million who voted for Hillary Clinton in Texas. Nationwide, this was the fate of 55 million people in 2016, or 42 percent of the country’s electorate.

The winner-take-all rule encourages campaigns to focus on closely divided battleground states, where a swing of even a few hundred votes can move a huge bloc of electors — creating presidents out of popular-vote losers, like George W. Bush and Donald Trump. This violates the central democratic (or, if you prefer, republican) premises of political equality and majority rule.

What most people don’t realize is that the winner-take-all rule exists nowhere in the Constitution. It’s a pure creation of the states. They can award their electors by congressional district, as Maine and Nebraska do, or in proportion to the state’s popular vote, as several states have considered.

Or, of course, states could award their electoral votes to whoever wins the national popular vote, which would be the result of enough states signing on to the National Vote Compact.

If the Compact cannot reach its target of signatory states having a total of 270 Electoral Votes, my own preference would be a proportionate allocation. If 60% of the votes are cast for candidate A, candidate A gets 60% of the state’s electoral votes–not 100%. People in the political minority in a state would suddenly have an incentive to vote–an incentive that doesn’t exist now. A presidential vote by a Democrat in Indiana or a Republican in California simply doesn’t count.

Allocating votes by Congressional District risks replicating the major flaw of today’s Electoral College–awarding disproportionate weight to less-populated rural areas. (Thanks to population shifts since the Constitution was ratified, today’s Electoral College effectively makes every rural vote worth one and a third of every urban vote.)

The problem is, to work properly, all states would have to make the change to proportional allocation–and that won’t happen. So we’re stuck.

Until we figure a way to get rid of the Electoral College, we will continue to have Presidents elected by–and answerable to–a minority of the voters. I don’t know what you call that, but it isn’t democracy.


  1. An undergraduate student of mine is doing a research topic on this currently- going back to every election, every state. He is trying to determine if the election results would be different using the ME/NE model. I am so looking forward to seeing his results!

  2. Will my Absentee Ballot be counted? Will all other Absentee Ballots be counted? Or will they be locked in a closet and forgotten like those in the 2000 presidential election “recount” in Florida, where George W’s brother Jeb was governor. When found during the “recount” they were discounted as not arriving in time for the election and discarded.

    “Each time we participate in the democratic process, I am reminded of all the ways in which that process has become less democratic.”

    While taking advantage of part of the democratic process yesterday by watching the reports coming from the seat of our government via the media; I was astounded at the lack of democracy presented to this nation and beyond. But; we all got our orders from Mulvaney when he loudly told all of us, “Get used to it!” No one was a winner yesterday and we, as a nation, will be paying for one man’s insane actions for decades to come. This 1,000 days of nightmares was brought about by our 2nd appointed Republican president in this new century.

    “Until we figure a way to get rid of the Electoral College, we will continue to have Presidents elected by–and answerable to–a minority of the voters. I don’t know what you call that, but it isn’t democracy.”

  3. The problems associated with the electoral college have no good solution. The current system gives a disproportionate edge to small-population states, because there are more of them than large-population states. Changing the system to avoid that would give the edge to the large-population states, which in effect, would disenfranchise the small-population states. If the population were more or less evenly divided among the 50 states, we would not have that problem, but that will not happen. But as bad as the system is, think about the way it was originally structured. In The Federalist #68, Hamilton explained that the Founders intended to have the voters vote for “electors,” who would gather and decide who should be the president. They would be, he said, “responsible men,” who would be aware of the talents needed to be President (he called the position, Chief Magistrate), and would make the best decision. In other words, he and Madison and the other “Founders” had no faith that the populace would make an informed decision. I doubt that anyone today would like that system. Talk about the “one-percent” having too much influence.

  4. Pascal is right on with our Founders being Oligarchs who wanted other Oligarchs to choose the “right” president. They already ruled out women and minority votes — limiting voting to landowners.

    Fast forward to today and we have Putin mocking the USA’s military exercises around the globe in the name of “spreading democracy.” As Putin points out, “Too bad the USA isn’t a beacon of democracy itself.”

    So, what is our military spreading to other countries?


    The primary motive is to install capitalists to extract the vital resources of the specific country. It’s like installing a giant vacuum in Ukraine or Venezuela to extract $’s from state resources. We are economic terrorists. We replace the thieves stealing state resources with a different form of thievery.

    Yet, in our own country, our systems generate less democracy by each passing year. Income and wealth inequality is worse than in the last Gilded Age. Workers are getting screwed and striking on massive scales. Yet, we only have 12% of the workforce covered by unions. What would happen if the remaining 85% had a functioning union? I know social workers would join teachers and strike for higher pay. Retail and food industries?

    Our voting system is another corrupt way for the Oligarchy to control the working classes. If it wasn’t, the Koch’s wouldn’t have invested the billions they have to influence 23-24 states. 😉

    All of their states are “Right to Work” states as Mitch Daniels passed on to us as he was leaving for Purdue. Businesses love Indiana, but workers, not so much. Voters have little or no say since the districts are carved up to keep the GOP in power to serve ALEC.

    As we’ve learned from our Founders, it’s a great system for Oligarchs. For commoners, not so much. It’s called oppression because we have little or no power to change it.

    Maybe our academicians could add to the Princeton studies of our Oligarchy if they didn’t fear losing their status/jobs over protesting with us plebs. 😉

  5. Oligarchs have never been comfortable with freedom for all because it depends on democracy and they know that average people will vote to the advantage of average people which could well be at the expense of wealthy people. For the majority of human history that was settled by royalty based on inherited rather than accumulated wealth.

    Oligarchs have renewed their traditional battlegrounds of late and made great strides in taking back the center of wealth creation in the world in order to protect their gains which amount to most of the wealth in world but at a time when the limits of earth threaten to limit the means of wealth creation. They hope that the successful completion of this phase will be the return of inherited wealth and power, the return of royalty and aristocracy, cementing their victory for the foreseeable future and longer.

    Trumpence McConnell and the US are merely pawns in a much bigger game than they are even capable of understanding.

  6. I hope that many here follow Sheila’s link to The National Vote Compact because it may well be the only realistic path back to democracy and freedom that is available.

    It’s may well be in reach as the Republican dynasty under Trumpence McConnell crumbles under the weight of incompetence and corruption.

  7. The oligarchs or the 1% have controlled America since it’s founding. The oligarchs of the South had their 3/5th’s people (slaves) to give them a bigger voice in national politics. Woman did not receive the right to vote until the early 20th century. Blacks were disenfranchised by Jim Crow.

    President Agent Orange and Pastor Pence epitomize “winner take all”. Agent Orange has opened the government to crony capitalism to a level not seen in recent memory.

    President Agent Orange through his stooge Mick Mulvaney has now announced brazenly the next G-7 meeting will be held at President Agent Orange’s golf club in Florida.

    “This is unbelievable,” declared Noah Bookbinder, executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). “Given the potential consequences the president is facing for abusing the presidency for his own gain, we would have thought he would steer clear of blatant corruption at least temporarily; instead he has doubled down on it.”

    “Trump doesn’t even try to hide his corruption. This is another use of foreign policy for his personal gain, and it’s another violation of our Constitution”, wrote Rep. Ilhan Omar.

    Just when you think President Agent Orange has exceeded all expectations in terms of out right greed, crony capitalism and corruption he ups the ante.

  8. Right on, Pete. “Royalist” is the word of the day.

    Since the beginning of the American Revolutionary war, the Royalists have been the American Resistance movement. And the Royalist Resistance never disappeared, although it hides behind several different names.

    But the Royalist power to wreck Democracy was curtailed until its ranks were multiplied by some 40 million Deplorables (who suddenly realized “Yes, that’s what we want–a royal dictator, heh-heh-heh”) and half-a-billion guns.

  9. It seems to me that the real issue is those people who don’t vote. If we are to believe issue oriented polls , those who apparently don’t vote lean to the progressive side, even in those rural states. We need to get them up off of their duffs and into the voting booths.

  10. Peggy,

    Yes. The simplest solution is participation. When less than 2/3 of our eligible population votes, everything is skewed. I agree the electoral college is grossly outdated and it perverts who we select at president. Bush II and Trump are the two perfect examples.

  11. We have to staff and man every federal dollar post there is in Indiana, not Virginia-West Virginia-Maryland, including all the watering hole assets of another triple basin than the Potomac Basin and landing ledge for falling rocks from the mountains from Bay of Fundy South…. If a California winner moved the whole State’s executives for ONE PARTY only to D.C., us electors would say WELL DONE. Winner take all applies to the Humans’ jobs, not buildings and grounds without collateral advanced per person. So we had four with MANHATTAN attachments in the last ballot and guess who won, winner take all, but a New Yorker! It is not like Solomon’s child joint custody decision. The societal parents are expected to COOPERATE. Let’s hear it for the INLAND COAST Guard officials who regulate those winner take all weekly boat races!

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