The electoral college – pros and cons

After many elections, there are often calls to abolish the electoral college method of choosing our president and vice president. (We note that this year, Arizona governor Jan Brewer voiced such an opinion.) We, the people, do not elect the president and vice president directly by popular vote. Instead, we elect a slate of “electors” who are pledged to particular candidates for president and vice president (24 states have laws that punish “faithless” electors, those who don’t honor their pledge). The manner in which each state selects electors is up to the state’s legislature. These electors meet on the Monday after the second Wednesday in December in each state capitol, at which time they cast their electoral votes on separate ballots for President and Vice President.

An original proposal at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was that Congress select the president and vice president, but this was finally considered to make the president too beholden to Congress. The electoral college was a compromise between the big and small states and reflects the fact that our country is a union of states.

Each state has a number of electors equal to its Congressional representation (senators plus representatives). Also, the District of Columbia has three electors. In nearly all states, the winner of the popular vote in the state gets all the state’s electors.

Why not have a direct popular vote? Arguments have been that a direct popular vote would cause candidates to ignore rural areas and small states of the heartland and concentrate on the large population centers of the coasts. That same argument is put forth against the electoral method because it forces candidates to focus on “swing” states. For instance, it is possible to win the election by winning just eleven states and disregarding the rest of the country: California (55 votes), Texas (38), New York (29), Florida (29), Illinois (20), Pennsylvania (20), Ohio (18), Michigan (16), Georgia (16), North Carolina (15), and New Jersey (14) equal the currently required 270 electoral votes.

But, even with a “majority rule” popular vote, the majority may not rule.

For instance, in six postwar elections–1948, 1960, 1968, 1992, 1996, and 2000–no candidate had a popular majority. In the 2000 Bush-Gore contest, Bush got 47.9% of the nationwide popular vote versus Gore’s 48.4%. Neither got the majority of voters. In 1992, Bill Clinton won with only 43% of the popular vote (George H.W. Bush got 37.5%; Ross Perot got 19%). This was similar to the 1968 race in which Nixon won against Humphrey. Nixon got 43.4% of popular vote, Humphrey got 42.7% and George Wallace got 13.5%. The electoral college transforms a popular plurality into a majority and a small majority into a bigger majority, thereby providing a more satisfying outcome.

What about apportioning a state’s electoral votes based on the popular vote? This has been suggested, but others claim such a system promotes fraud and could lead to lawsuits and challenges in every county in which the vote count was close.

The current system has a popular component within each state and gives each state a say in the federal union. I’m sure the debate will continue.

Al Gore’s Favorite Graph

In his presentations on global warming, profiteering, prophet Al Gore likes to use a graph similar to the one below from Vostok, Antarctica, ice core to show apparent correlations between temperature and carbon dioxide. When pressed about cause and effect, Gore says the relationship is “complex.”


The scientists working on the Vostok ice core report that temperature changes PRECEDE changes in CO2 concentration by about 800- to 1,300 years. This should not be surprising because temperature has great influence on CO2 solubility in the ocean. Notice that the temperature cycles occur in approximately 100,000 (±20,000)-year intervals. This coincides with the variation in the precession of the Earth’s elliptical orbit around the Sun. Can you think of anything that would make CO2 cycle this way if it were the driver rather than temperature? And what would stop the rise of CO2 if it were the controlling variable?

You may have heard climate alarmists say something like this: “There is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today than at any time during the past 650,000 years, based on analyses of the chemical composition of air bubbles entrapped in Antarctic ice over that time.”

That contention relies on an unproven assumption. The assumption is that entrapped bubbles are an accurate measure of the ancient atmosphere. In fact, there is good evidence that, with increasing pressure and time, the bubbles undergo chemical and physical changes which deplete CO2, so it is unlikely that they contain true ancient atmospheric compositions. Furthermore, reconstructions based on ice core bubble composition data disagree with reconstructions from most other proxies.


Jaworowski,Z., Segalstad,T.V. andHisdal,V.,1992, Atmospheric CO2 and global warming: A critical review., Meddelelser 119, Norsk Ploarinstitutt, Oslo.

Mudelsee, M, 2001. The phase relations among atmospheric CO2 content, temperature and global ice volume over the past 420 ka, Quaternary Science Reviews 20:583-589.

Petit, J.R., et al., 1999. Climate and atmospheric history of the past 420,000 years from the Vostok ice core, Antarctica. Nature 399: 429-436.

Siegenthaler, U. Et al., 2005. Stable carbon cycle-climate relationship during the late Pleistocene. Science 310: 1313-1317.