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09/11/2001 WE REMEMBER
US Voter Turnout
Posted: Posted January 18th by eldin raigmore
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In US general elections the average turnout (according to Wikipedia, which see) is less than 60%; to be a bit more precise, about 59.7%.

In the 22 Presidential elections from 1932 to 2016 inclusive, in 13 of them the turnout has been 55% or better; in 19 of them it’s been 51% or better.

There’ve only been four elections in which the popular vote winner won 60% or more of the popular vote.
And including those, there’ve only been 13 in which the pop vote winner won 55% or more.
And only 25 in which the pop vote winner took 51% or more of the popular vote.
This out of 49 presidential elections between 1824 and 2016 inclusive (the popular vote statistic is not available on Wikipedia for the first nine elections).

U.S. Presidential elections are usually pretty close in terms of who wins the most popular votes.
Personally I’d be happier if turnout averaged more like 75% or even 67%. There oughtta be some way IMO to nudge it over 60%, at least!

Normally the winner of the popular-vote majority also wins the electoral-vote majority.
Otherwise, normally the winner of the electoral-vote majority is an extremely close first runner-up in the popular vote.

The election goes to the HR only when no candidate gets an Electoral College majority.
That has never happened unless there was also no popular-vote majority.
At least once the winner in the HR was the runner-up to a candidate with a very high EC plurality.

———

If we’re going to elect the President by popular vote provided their majority is big enough, and use the Electoral College mechanism only if the result is close, what’s “close”?
I suggest: if at least 55% of those qualified to vote do vote, and at least 51% of those voting vote for one candidate, then that candidate is the winner.
Otherwise, let the Electoral College machinery do its stuff.

———



There are 21 Replies
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Election day should be a federal holiday.

Posted January 18th by S.o.h.
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S.o.h.
 

@S.o.h.:

You wrote:

Election day should be a federal holiday.


Yes, it should, as Bernie Sanders (among others) has pointed out!

That might boost average turnout above 60%, maybe even to two-thirds!



Posted January 18th by eldin raigmore
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This reminds me of a case when we had an African American fan of mine; great fan, great guy, matter of fact, I want to find out what’s going on with him. Anyways we had an African American guy and a this guy who was a protester, wearing a Klu Klux Klan outfit. The African American slugged him and the mainstream media said the African American wasn’t against me.

Posted January 18th by Good and Plenty
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Alas people not voting will probably always be a problem but there is more that can be done. My state allows absentee voting for everyone which makes it easier for people with busy lives or people who don't want to bother going to a huge line to vote. But this isn't even allowed in every state. It's all more complicated than this of course, there a lot of reasons why people also feel like their votes would be pointless even aside from the belief that one vote doesn't matter much. The things politicians do and the ways they sometimes stifle our republic/democratic process also contributes to this.

Edited January 19th by Grey Echelon
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Much of this is covered in the Wikipedia article on voter turnout.
In America many people are temporarily disenfranchised because they’ve moved residence recently.
No-reason absentee voting, as in Michigan, would help;
Making Election Day a national holiday would help too.
Probably America will not get to a 75% average turnout, the way Australia once was.
But maybe we could get to a 67% average turnout?


Edited February 9th by eldin raigmore
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The election goes to the HR only when no candidate gets an Electoral College majority.
That has never happened unless there was also no popular-vote majority.


The chances of someone winning more than 50% of the vote were substantially low prior to, say, the 1850s. John Quincy Adams won 1824 when it went to the House because no one got the required majority of electoral votes, but there had also been five major candidates in the race. This was sort of the norm for the first almost dozen elections. Candidates didn't run themselves; they were nominated by their party. Martin Van Buren sort of popularized campaigning and electioneering, but by and large, it was considered uncouth for a candidate to actively campaign themselves. I often think that we should return to a time when folks were nominated rather than folks chose to run themselves.

But we also had a lot more factions, too. There were constantly subdivisions within the two major factions. "Third party" candidates would soak up a fair amount of the electoral and popular votes (there is very much an argument to be made that James K. Polk never would have been elected if the Whigs nominated someone who wasn't a slave-owner, as the new Free Soil Party nominated Martin Van Buren who pretty much cost Clay all the New York electoral votes).

Today, it's hard to imagine third party candidates getting any electoral votes. They can still play the role of "spoiler," but they can't eat into electoral votes thanks to all these rules now that mean almost all states award every single electoral vote to whoever wins that state's popular vote.

(Also, they didn't really do popular voting for the first bunch of elections. It took a few election cycles before states started allowing the general population to cast votes. Many states had their legislatures vote.)



I'm of the mindset that the electoral college is neither democratic, nor truly republican in nature either. I think it's a broken mechanic in desperate need of repair. I don't really understand the mindset that our election system can't or shouldn't ever be touched, as if we have never altered the electoral mechanics before. Quite literally, the electoral college back when it was created did not work the way it does today, which means that we have changed it. There's also an argument to be made that the very existence of the Senate provides more than adequate representation for less populated states (again, quite literally the senators from states with a minority of the population have been holding up bill after bill in the Senate for years now).

But I also don't think a straight up popular vote is the way to go, because as noted, it isn't super common that a candidate wins even 50.1% of all total votes. To me, it stands to reason that the person elected President should have greater approval of the American voters than disapproval? At this point in time, when we don't really see the same kind of "regional" divisions, so why do we need the President to be elected in a way that gives more voice to fewer people and disenfranchises the majority? If an administration comes into their term with more Americans opposing them than supporting them, is that a government "by the people"? If the government derives its power from the "consent of the people," can it really be argued that 45% qualifies "consent"?

To my mind, a run-off election seems the simplest solution, though altering electoral vote distribution to be more accurately representative could also work. It's buck wild that a state with 40 electoral votes can be won by 0.1% of that state's popular vote, but all 40 electoral votes goes to that winner. That hardly sounds "republican" or "democratic" to me.

Posted January 19th by Jet Presto
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I have several ideas.
Do you want to hear them all?
I don’t know which one is “best”; I don’t even know what “best” means!

———

How about the run-off idea first?

———

———

Easy variant:
Maybe nine+ months of campaigning is too long.
Shorten it to six+ months by having the rounds be two months apart instead of three; in May and July and September and November.
(Instead of Feb May Aug Nov).

(Of course, the final round could be moved from Nov to some other month; and Election Day could be some other day instead of a Tuesday.)



Edited January 31st by eldin raigmore
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@Jet_Presto:
Actually I’ve heard/read that the Founders intended the EC to be a nominating device. They thought the HR would usually choose from among those five candidates who got the most Electoral votes. So it never worked as originally intended!
(If I understood correctly, and if my source (whoever it was) was right in the first place!)

.....

Lots of proposals for putting the popular vote ahead of the Electoral College, don’t propose getting entirely rid of it; but, rather, propose retaining it as a backstop in case the popular vote is too close, or too few people vote, or the plurality is too far short of a majority.

The differences can be summed up in this choice: Do we want the popular vote to almost always be decisive, and almost never appeal to the Electoral College? Or do we want the popular vote to be decisive a bit more than half the time, and have to appeal to the Electoral College a bit less than half the time?

My proposal above goes with the second choice. Turnout in Presidential elections has been 55% or better comfortably more than half the time; and the popular-vote plurality has been 51% or better comfortably more than half the time. If fewer than 55% of voters vote, how can we say we’re confident we know what most of them want? And if fewer than 51% of them vote for any one candidate, maybe the electorate is too divided or too fragmented, and some unifying mechanism, such as the EC, should be appealed to, to ensure that whatever choice is made (probably the popular-vote plurality, but maybe not) is less likely to tear the country apart.

It has the advantage, in my opinion, of encouraging people to vote.

I have another idea that goes with the first choice; it would almost never invoke the Electoral College. I’ll get to it immediately after the following digression.

———

———

My other proposal to let the popular-vote plurality trump (pardon the expression) or obviate or pre-empt the Electoral College is as follows.
If the plurality is a big enough percentage of the popular vote; and the winner’s margin over the first runner-up is a big enough percentage of the popular vote; then the candidate with the popular-vote plurality should be elected.
Otherwise (if the plurality is too small or the margin of victory is too thin), the Electoral College should “kick in” to operate as it does now, or as it will after whatever amendments or changes in laws shall be current at the time of the election.
Details:

otherwise,
Go to the Electoral College.

———

As you can see this would usually not invoke the Electoral College.
(OTOH it doesn’t have any provision to treat the outcome differently if the turnout is too small!)

———

At first, states tended to distribute their Electoral Votes more-or-less in proportion to how their populace voted for the candidates.
For instance, some would let each congressional district choose an elector, and then choose two more electors to represent the state at large.
Some of th older states still do that.
You might be happier with the EC if each state selected their electors via proportional representation within the state; is that kinda what you were saying earlier?

——



Edited January 31st by eldin raigmore
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In over 86% of the US Presidential elections between 1932 and 2016 inclusive, the turnout has been 55% or better.
In over 51% of the 49 US Presidential elections since 1824 inclusive, the popular-vote plurality has been 51% or better.
Suppose these trends are statistically independent of each other (which I doubt).
Suppose that after amending the election system to make the popular vote override or obviate or preempt the Electoral College, these trends continued unchanged (which I also doubt).
Then we’d expect more than 44% of the time, the popular vote would take precedence over the electoral college, if the threshold for that were at least 55% turnout and at least 51% plurality.



Posted January 19th by eldin raigmore
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Some interesting ideas. I think another factor at play that doesn't quite get the attention it deserves is the need to start reining in the President's power. I mostly think a President should have a fair amount of powers and tools to enact certain parts of their agenda, but they should not be able to work unilaterally so broadly as they have done for almost a century. Then again, when I see our Congress the way that it is with the Senate headed by who it is, it almost seems like literally the only way for policy to get enacted is to give more powers to the Executive Branch. It shouldn't be that way, but it's almost as if there isn't much of an option.

Turnout is an interesting statistic, too, because it doesn't often take into account things like disenfranchisement or voter suppression. In many states, they have actively made it more difficult for certain groups to vote. Even when they have just one station and a long line, they try to make sure that they don't accommodate as many registered voters as possible. The difficulties in turnout are somewhat driven by apathy among some, but it can be such a hassle for many. I definitely agree election days should be holidays to further encourage folks to vote. Some states have tried to outlaw giving people rides to polling stations, which is absurd. And in Florida, despite a heavy majority of citizens voting in favor of restoring voting rights for ex-felons, the state legislature has still effectively enacted a poll tax which will rob them of their votes. (Also, just the fact that you lose your Constitutional rights for even a minor felony is sort of insane. I'm not sure anyone can seriously argue with integrity that one should not have Constitutional rights because they, say, possessed marijuana.)

There are other things we could do the hopefully increase voter turnout. We could do automatic registration, so that everyone who has the right to vote is able to and can opt out, rather than having folks have to "opt in," and if they don't do it enough, they lose their right. We could open more voting polls, or expand the window to do so. Instead of a single day, we could expand it to a week (which would eliminate the need for a federal holiday, which would probably be better for most businesses).

And if we did more to encourage voting, *then* we can say it is what it is if turnout is low. I know generally less voter turnout is favorable for certain parties and candidates, so there is incentive for them to suppress the vote.

Regardless, it just seems obvious that *something* needs to be changed with the electoral system. I'm not sure what Republicans who have no issues whatsoever with the electoral college (and sure, why would they? They benefit the most from it), assume will happen if this continues to happen with greater frequency. What do you suppose happens to the country as a majority of people start to feel disenfranchised and like their government lacks any meaningful legitimacy? At some point, something might need to be altered to restore some faith in the process. And the nice thing about proposing changes is that we can continue to tweak until we find something that feels fair to more people. If we over-correct on the electoral college, we can keep tweaking.

Posted January 20th by Jet Presto
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