Talk:U.S. Electoral College

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 Definition The indirect election mechanism used to select the president and vice president of the United States [d] [e]
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This could probably be longer, but I'm marking it as a "developed" article. Feel free to overrule me. --Larry Sanger 19:33, 15 March 2007 (CDT)

"Developed" or not, I've made some significant structural changes, accompanied by some minor rewrites and a big addition of text. I think a little more work would put it close to being ready for approval. Anthony Argyriou 11:52, 29 April 2007 (CDT)

Maine and Nebraska

I'd moved the information about Maine and Nebraska to History of selection of electors, and modified the wording somewhat. Since then, Steve Mount has restored the original Maine & Nebraska section. There is a significant disagreement about the date of Nebraska making its change, which needs to be resolved.

I'd suggest: make the Selection of electors section a higher-level section, with history as one subsection and present-day practice as another; the present-day practice subsection will be mostly about Maine & Nebraska and "faithless electors". Some discussion of 1968 would be worthwhile in the history section. A "selection of electors" section may even belong ahead of the general electoral college history, though if that's done, the history of selecting electors should be left in the general history section.

I plan to flesh out the "criticism" section with some arguments made in favor of keeping the EC, but I need to spend some more time digging. Anthony Argyriou 15:53, 1 May 2007 (CDT)

Sorry about that, I didn't see the moved info about Maine and Nebraska - obviously, the info I added back in should be taken out to avoid duplication. I'll check my source for the date of Nebraka's change (and note it on the page as well, for future reference). Steve Mount 16:02, 1 May 2007 (CDT)
I think one possible source of the conflict is that there was a lapse between the legislation being passed and going into effect - it may have missed the deadline to affect the 1992 election. What do you think of the re-arrangements I've proposed? Anthony Argyriou 16:13, 1 May 2007 (CDT)
I found what I think is a credible source for the years and added a reference. I think the rearrangements are fine, have at it. Entire books could be written about the topic (and I think have been, I just don't have one!), so my only concern is how much and at what depth should the entry go. Steve Mount 22:47, 1 May 2007 (CDT)

Steps for approval?

I think this article is close to being ready for approval, though I'm certain that some expert eyes will find plenty of things which should be improved. So, please have at! In particular:

  1. Is there anything important which should be in this article but isn't yet?
  2. Is any of the exposition unclear or confusing?
  3. Are there any factual errors?
  4. Is the overall structure of the article sound?

Please discuss here any big changes before making them. Anthony Argyriou 14:25, 7 May 2007 (CDT)

I have no opinion of approval itself. But I do think the exposition should explain the disproportionality aspect up front and the potential for electing presidents w/minority of popular vote. It should also mention the few elections where the EC really did make a difference, this is crucial. Also, I really can't figure out why you have that para on 1960. What's the point of the para? Aren't there quirks in other elections? Also, it would be good to include or "See Also" a list of the EC votes by state, right? If you designed the table with percentages of population, morevover, it would help get across the disproportionality issue. David Hoffman 14:51, 16 May 2007 (CDT)


David Hoffman has cleanup the intro to this section, but has eliminated a point I wanted to expand on. Various critics (and supporters) of the Electoral College have suggested that some elections would have come out differently in the absence of the EC. However, I've seen it argued that in the absence of the EC, candidates would adjust campaign strategies, so retrospective scoring can't be that accurate. I suppose the larger point is that the structure of the EC affects how presidential campaigns are run, as well as how legitimate the results are perceived. I haven't included that, because I (don't have/am too lazy to look up) the appropriate references. Anthony Argyriou 13:01, 16 May 2007 (CDT)

Hi again. Off the top of my head, it looks like this section address 5 points: (1) is this EC a problem of unjust distribution of representation, (2) is the election of "minority" (is this the technical term in the literature?) vote presidents a flaw or not, (3) does EC depress voter turn-out, (4) does the disproprortion add to national cohesiveness. and (5) does it protect against mass recounts. Sounds like you want to add (6) does it skew campaigning inappropriately and (6) detract from legitimacy (or is that merely a function of #1 or #2?). Plus, (7) it presupposes knowing that EC sometimes leads to a "minority" president.

Where to put all this? (7) is relevant/interesting/undisputed enough to put in the first paragraph of the article. Explain that EC can override popular, as it has in a few [name them] elections. Even before History, you might explain in laymen's terms that EC has a different proportionality than flat popular. (This knowledge is also presupposed in current text.) I would relabel the section maybe "Criticism of" or "Merits of" EC. Why? Some effects/impacts are undisputed (e.g., disproportion, minority prez, avoid recounts), so this kind of section is largely about the merits or weight of various effects.

The next section -- I would suggest subheadings: Abolish the EC, Reallocate EC Votes, Misc Reforms (or Reforms of Electoral Process?). Then, within Abolish, you can put your point above, about how w/o EC it would alter campaign strategies, which is pretty speculative. Logically, this might mean moving the Bonus plan with Maine, while adding that the former requires an amendment. Anyway, this is my guess of how to structure it. David Hoffman 14:40, 16 May 2007 (CDT) P.S. Don't let google spider these ruminations, please!


This article looks good, is it close from being approved yet? (YI?)

Somebody needs to hunt down a politics editor;-) --Matt Innis (Talk) 09:40, 13 June 2007 (CDT)

Seemingly they are all inactive. Probably we should wake them up? :-) Yi Zhe Wu 10:09, 13 June 2007 (CDT)
Sounds like a good idea ;-) Maybe an email.. or a phone call? Did know about this mailing list? According to this, all you have to do is send an email to - try it... lets see if it works. --Matt Innis (Talk) 10:37, 13 June 2007 (CDT)
Email sent to that address. Yi Zhe Wu 11:18, 13 June 2007 (CDT)
Yi and others: if there are no responses from any of the Politics editors, might I suggest that you consider whether, given the history that it offers and involves, this might be a logical entry to tag for the History workgroup. If so, there are some much more active Editors there at the moment, and you could ask one of them to look at the entry and consider nominating it for Approval. Russell Potter 18:23, 14 June 2007 (CDT)
I'm an editor for history and politics, and am taking a hand in this matter. (too much of a hand and therefore cannot nominate it for approval) Richard Jensen 13:11, 16 June 2007 (CDT)


The only thing I want to know after reading this is how the actual electors are chosen. What is the link between the winner of the state-wide vote and the people actually chosen as electors? Also, who are the electors? Usually politicians? Party higher-ups? Business people? Random people? James A. Flippin 22:14, 13 June 2007 (CDT)

Good idea. I added some text on this topic and gave a real-world example. Steve Mount 23:24, 13 June 2007 (CDT)
I like that quite a bit, especially the real-world example. James A. Flippin 10:31, 14 June 2007 (CDT)


I was surprised not to see at least a mention of the 2000 Presidential election here -- seems like, as the latest example of a popular-vote winner losing the Electoral College vote, it would be significant to the topic. Russell Potter 18:28, 14 June 2007 (CDT)

There's a sentence, in the "Impact" section, which mentions 2000:
The result of this can lead to minority presidents. In 1824, 1876, 1888, 1960 and 2000, presidential candidates with fewer popular votes than their opponent won the electoral vote. In several election years, including 1912, 1916, 1948, 1960, 1968, 1992, 1996, and 2000, the winner of the electoral vote did not win 50% of the popular vote, though except in 1960 and 2000, the electoral college winner had a plurality of the popular vote.
The "Impact" section is one large block as a stylistic decision - Larry has said that we don't need so many subheadings as Wikipedia, and that "Criticism of" sections are generally bad. The "Impact" section sums up the more cogent arguments in each direction without having to figure out subheadings for the issues of disproportionality and minority presidents, and sub-sub-headings for criticism and support for each. Anthony Argyriou 00:25, 15 June 2007 (CDT)
Looks like a good solution, thanks. Russell Potter 10:09, 18 June 2007 (CDT)

Reform proposals

The section on reform, when discussing the California plan, states, "Critics say it is unconstitutional (under Article 1 section 10)" Are there any references to such criticism and what part of section 10 do they argue it violates? A brief survey of the text of the section does not yield any obvious violations. James A. Flippin 12:58, 15 June 2007 (CDT)

I added that on the basis of reading news stories here in Colorado, where the proposal is being discussed in the legislature; i haven't googled them yet -- section 1:10 says that states cannot make agreements without federal approval. (it only works if the states in fact cooperate w each other to act according to the plan, which can be construed as a "compact with another state") Richard Jensen 13:12, 15 June 2007 (CDT)

name change

I suggest we rename this U.S. Electoral College, for consistency with related articles. Richard Jensen 07:57, 16 June 2007 (CDT)

Sounds good to me. Russell Potter 08:02, 16 June 2007 (CDT)

Process or People?

The "electoral college" is an informal term (not in the Constitution in those words) for the process for choosing presidents. This article is all about process and barely mentions individual electors unless they are unfaithful to the process. Richard Jensen 12:42, 16 June 2007 (CDT)

The term is much older than our own electoral college and always refers to the deliberative body of electors, not the process by which they elect. See [1] and [2]. James A. Flippin 12:48, 16 June 2007 (CDT)
Also, the dictionary definition is "a body of electors" in both Merriam-Webster's and the OED. James A. Flippin 12:52, 16 June 2007 (CDT)
The European electoral colleges are very different beasts, with permanent membership of powerful long-term cardinals or princes. In the US "electoral college" is an informal term, not official, and as the article and bibliography show, refers to the entire process by which the president is chosen. The "college" in the US exists only one one day of every fourth year, a sort of brigadoon, and there is no continuity as in Europe. The events of that day are routine and don't deserve much of an article, but this is abouit process and proposals to change the process. Richard Jensen 13:09, 16 June 2007 (CDT)
That doesn't change the meaning of the word college - it's a group of people, not a process. The process of electing a president is at United States presidential elections or something like that. While the page focuses on process, it is logically and linguistically jarring to say "The Electoral College is the process..." James A. Flippin 13:10, 16 June 2007 (CDT)
The term "electoral college" is used in American politics to mean process. In other uses of college there is a sense that members stay together for years. ("College of Physicians and Surgeons"; "Dartmouth College"). Americans say "let's reform the Electoral College" and they do NOT mean the people in that college---they mean the process. If we had a restricted meaning the article would be 50 words long. Richard Jensen 13:24, 16 June 2007 (CDT)
The article can and obviously should discuss the process of selecting electors, but the opening paragraph should give a definition of the word (see CZ:Article Mechanics#The first sentence), which is certainly "a group of electors" as evidenced by mutiple dictionaries as well as every other resource I can find online. Please show me a source, other than this article, that calls the college a process. James A. Flippin 13:29, 16 June 2007 (CDT)
The article is NOT about the folks that meet on December 15th. It is about the process of using presidential electors. We therefore do not want to start out by mis-characterizing the article. Maybe it should be titled "Electoral College Process" or somesuch? Richard Jensen 13:37, 16 June 2007 (CDT)

We're clearly never going to convince each other, so we need other people to provide their input here. I propose that this article be about the electoral college itself and necessarily discuss the process for chosing electors and that there be another article discussing the process of electing a president and vice president in its entirety. James A. Flippin 13:42, 16 June 2007 (CDT)

Do scholars talk about the EC as a process--yes indeed, starting with Madison.
  • Here's Madison: The difficulty of finding an unexceptionable process for appointing the Executive Organ of a Government such as that of the U.S., was deeply felt by the Convention."
  • Edwards book: "Edwards's description of the operation of the electoral college is informative, even to those who are familiar with the system. He provides a clear and detailed look at the process from election day through the inauguration, which is illuminating and informative."
  • Here's Pierce: "The process by which the American people select their chief executive has two distinct aspects: the highly visible, popular campaign...and the almost invisible workings of the constitutional mechanisms for elections." (The People's President: The Electoral College in American History and the Direct-vote Alternative. by Neal R. Peirce);
The process is obviously important, if not the only reason the article needs to exist, but the electoral college itself is NOT a process. None of your quotes call it a process. Saying so defies all logic. It does not make sense, either in terms of the article or in terms of the plain meanings of the words, to say, "The Electoral College is the process..." If most people want to move the article to United States Electoral College process, then you could have at it, but as it stands, the opening sentence should define United States Electoral College. James A. Flippin 14:06, 16 June 2007 (CDT)
my point is there is no such "thing" as the electoral college. It's the informal name used by political writers for the process. The article recognizes that by talking almost exclusively about the process, as do all the books we mention. There is no such thing as "the plain meanings of the words" -- there is only the usage of the term over the last 200 years or so. Actual Usage is what CZ deals with. As I showed, going back to Masdsion it's all about "process".Richard Jensen 14:32, 16 June 2007 (CDT)
Since you're asking for other opinions, here's mine: I think both of you gentlemen are making valid points in defending your positions; but why wouldn't it be possible to make the opening sentence something like "The Electoral College is both the process for choosing the President and Vice President of the United States as well as being the actual once-every-four-years gathering of blah blah...."? This probably won't please either of you, but it would cover all of the ground. Hayford Peirce 14:41, 16 June 2007 (CDT)
If there's no such thing as the electoral college, why does the House of Representatives' site say, "Established in Article 2, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution, the Electoral College is the formal body which elects the President of the United States."? There is an electoral process and the electoral college is part of it, but it is not itself a process. Usage very much goes to show that the college is a body of people - see Merriam-Webster's, the OED, Wikipedia, the U.S. House, Alexander Hamilton ("to form an intermediate body of electors"), and basically every website I've seen. If you're going to argue usage, you're on the wrong side. James A. Flippin 16:03, 16 June 2007 (CDT)

Just to add to the fun, I just added a section that details more about the process. If I were an elector, and I aspire to be someday :), I would have a whole "elector club" thing going on, with patches, pins, membership cards, etc. Steve Mount 16:00, 19 June 2007 (CDT)

bibliography and citation style

Since this is an online encyclopedia, and not a journal article, I've taken the liberty of reverting the Harvard-referencing to Cite.php style references, and of removing works referenced inline from the bibliography.

Harvard referencing is an ugly kludge even in print journals, and there's no excuse for using it in an online hypertext environment. In a specialist journal, there's half an excuse for Harvard referencing, when saying "accoring to Makdisi and Seed (1978)" will mean something to the readers of the journal, but when building an encyclopedia for general use, it's much easier to see that there is indeed a reference, and if the reader is interested in following up the reference, using the browser functionality to track down the reference later.

Since inline references are used, the bibliography shouldn't duplicate the reference list, but rather be a list of more general works discussing the topic of the article, or specific subtopics, so that an interested reader who wants more than 32k of information on the topic can find more. Anthony Argyriou 20:45, 16 June 2007 (CDT)

We need to keep: links to outside souyrces for articles and books, that makes CZ highly valuable. We need to keep all major items in the bibliography, because people use bibliographies. As for Harvard, it's quite standard in the social sciences like Political Science and that is our audience.Richard Jensen 01:05, 17 June 2007 (CDT)

CZ mission and style

CZ is an upscale encyclopedia with a strong dose of expertise. Articles in history and political science, I suggest, should be in a form standard to those disciplines. One e-innovation is hot links to primary and secondary sources. We want undergraduate students to use CZ not as a final repository of fun stuff (we have a rival that handles that role well), but as a jumping off point to doing, say, a serious term paper in an undergraduate or AP government course. That means we should provide a taste of the scholarly debates that are current on a specific topic. That means annotated bibliographies that a student can take to the library for significant further research and writing. If we do it right, with suitable autrhority, the professors, teachers and librarians will be recommending CZ (at the present they recommend against Wikipedia). Richard Jensen 03:16, 17 June 2007 (CDT)

Just because the profession is using a certain citation system for paper articles does not mean that it is the best system for online encyclopedia articles. Online versions of paper journals will naturally maintain the same style as the parent paper journal, as conversion is not automatic, and can introduce errors. However, for new works published online, a system which creates direct hotlinks to references (where available online) is preferrable. The arrangement in this article after you undid my work requires a reader to click on the superscript, then, rather than clicking the link in the references section, to scroll up to the bibliography to find the appropriate reference, before clicking through.
It's not even completely true that the Harvard reference is standard to the discipline, only that it's standard for journal articles. Skimming randomly through my library, across law, political theory, sociology, linguistics, and history, I find that most scholarly books use Vancouver-style references, with occasional Harvard references in the footnotes. (Endnotes tend to be complete citations.)
The Harvard system as you are using it is significantly less maintainable than the Cite.php/Vancouver reference style - if an entire section is spun off into another article, and mostly removed from the article, the bibliography will need cleaning up to remove those references no longer relevant to the parent article, and the person making the spinoff article will need to comb through the bibliography to find those articles which are referenced in the spun-off section. All this is much more automatic when the references use the Cite.php style. Anthony Argyriou 09:37, 17 June 2007 (CDT)
The first criteria has to be the integrity of the bibliography. It must stand alone as a complete guide to the literature so people can copy it and actualy use it. The hot links to online versions should be in the bibliography, where people can see them right off. (I think users will prefer articles they can click on, as in JSTOR, EBSCO, MUSE Questia, etc) Second the footnotes should be consecutive (esp in long articles): 1,2,3,4, not 1, 17,41,2.... CZ uses the Chicago manual of Style. There are a few items published only online, but for politics and history these are generally news or advocacy items; articles published in scholarly journals are much more important. CZ articles indeed take tender loving care, and if some part is spun off the editors will clean up afterwards. Automation is not our goal, rather clarity and usefulness. Richard Jensen 02:59, 18 June 2007 (CDT)
Although I don't care to address the actual bibliographic style, on principle I think that what Richard is saying here is exceptionally important and well-said. If it is possible to link to the actual articles, why not do so? How can that not stand to substantially increase the article's value? ---Stephen Ewen 05:11, 18 June 2007 (CDT)
Stephen, your comment completely missed the issue. Nobody is objecting to the idea that articles used as references should be linked to. The issue is entirely the style of the bibliography and references. Using Harvard referencing, particularly using Harvard references inside <ref> tags, has led to an ugly and confusing arrangement in this article. Anthony Argyriou 09:57, 18 June 2007 (CDT)
Would someone please explain what is meant by "Harvard references" or "Vancouver references"?? In all my 25 years in academia, I have never heard of either of these terms. In my field, in print publications, we use MLA (Modern Language Association of America) references, a.k.a. parenthetical citations, with a Works Cited list which gives Author (lastfirst), Title of Book (City: Publisher, pubdate), pagerange (if whole book not cited). For articles, it's "Title of article," Journal Name, Vol. # Issue # (date of issue), pp. # - #.
In Citizendium articles to date, I have used the <ref> ... </ref> tags and a <references/> section at the bottom of the page follwing the above format. Which citation style would that be? Whatever this system is called, I very strongly prefer it because, when a section of an article is moved the reference marks move with it, and the numbering is automatic. It seems to me to produce what is wanted: a hypertext-friendly linked system of numbered references; beyond that, the way the references themselves cite sources need only be internally consistent within the article. At the same time, I don't see any objection to listing everything in the bibliography; better to be too copious than not copious enough, and the bibliography section can also be used to comment on titles (e.g. "standard work in the field," "somewhat dated," etc. Russell Potter 10:05, 18 June 2007 (CDT)
Harvard referencing is, loosely, the practice of writing inline citations as Smith (2000) or (Smith, 2000). (There's a context for each usage), and listing all the references in an alphabetical bibliography at the bottom. Vancouver referencing is the practice of writing inline citations as a number (1), sometimes superscripted[1], sometimes not, and listing the references in order of appearance in the footnotes or endnotes. Both sorts of referencing require a more complete citation at the end, and the style of that is somewhat variable, but requires pretty much the same information no matter the particular style. (Incidentally, why does anyone bother with the city of publication anymore? It no longer provides useful information, especially as printing houses are often nowhere near the publisher's offices.) There is more at Wikipedia, and online in general. Anthony Argyriou 11:01, 18 June 2007 (CDT)
Ah, thanks, that clarifies things. MLA style is similar to "Harvard" then, but uses the page number only, e.g. (Jones 237) would be on p. 237 of a book or article by Jones, details to be given at the end in a Works Cited section. In the sciences, when there might be many more articles on a given subject, as well as multiple articles by the same author, the year makes more sense.
At any rate: I like the superscript numbers, which I guess puts me in the "Vancouver" camp -- but I would like any system which uses hyperlinks and enables the reader to jump down to and back up from the reference. It just seems the more hypertextual thing to do -- there is no need to scroll about and search a bibliography, which in a long entry could be quite a pain. Russell Potter 11:17, 18 June 2007 (CDT)
Technically, the Cite.php system used here and in Wikipedia is not quite Vancouver referencing, and is, in theory, compatible with Harvard referencing, though I think it would be even worse than straight Harvard referencing. The main difference between the Cite.php system and Vancouver referencing is that if you use the same reference twice, in Cite.php, the old number recurs - so that you could have in a text (1) then (2) then (3) then (1) again. Standard Vancouver referencing would make the second (1) be (4), and note 4 could either reference note 1, or repeat the reference. Anthony Argyriou 11:58, 18 June 2007 (CDT)

I think sequential, unique-numbered refs are important. It should be easy enough to use a short form for a second citation, as one does in print footnotes; the second time that "Smith, Joe, "The elucidation of obscurity in ephemeral exegesis," Journal of Cerebral Occlusion Vol. 9, No. 3 (March 1991), 23-30" occurs, one could just cite "Smith," "Smith, op. cit.", or "Smith 1991" as needed. Here again, having things in the Bibliography as well would be helpful. I think we get into trouble when we try to "automate," as Richard notes above. Russell Potter 13:47, 18 June 2007 (CDT)

It's not possible to use Harvard in an online encyclopedia. nor is it even desirable. The problem with endnotes in a printed journal is actually reading them, and this is not true for shorter wiki articles. What should be sorted out is the exact referencing style for bibliography on CZ, which will require decisions about format, as do all publishing houses or academic journals. But the citation form is clear: superscript and endnotes.--Martin Baldwin-Edwards 03:15, 20 August 2007 (CDT)

The system is highly controversial

Highly controversial, or just controversial? --Larry Sanger 02:34, 8 August 2007 (CDT)

"highly" seems appropriate. hundreds of citations over many decades and the debaters are pretty excited or angry. Apart from abortion it's hard to think of a constitutional issue as heated as this one. Richard Jensen 10:54, 8 August 2007 (CDT)

Original electoral college

If I'm not mistaken, the name "electoral college" came from the Holy Roman Empire (i.e. the German Empire). I think the name may have had official status in the Holy Roman Empire, whereas in the USA it is unofficial. Could those who know more than I do add some discussion of these facts to the article? (Maybe I'll boldly put them there myself if I get impatient....) Michael Hardy 15:36, 31 August 2007 (CDT)

Alternate Voting Systems such as IRV

The last section, "Proposals requiring constitutional amendment", mentions Instant Runoff Voting. There are in fact a wide variety of voting methods, with IRV, Condorcet and Approval being perhaps the most popular, so I don't think mentioning just IRV gives a balanced view. The relative merits of these methods are frequently debated. I personally do not like IRV because:

  • Sometimes raising the position of a candidate in a ranking can cause them to lose! In technical terms, IRV is not monotonic.
  • When third parties get big enough that they might actually win, the spoiler effect is likely to return.

My personal favorite is approval voting because:

  • It is very simple - just allow voters to vote for as many candidates as they'd like.
  • When voters strategize it often converges to the Condorcet winner. (See my essay: and references therein)

How about something like:

Eliminating the electoral college would enable the introduction of alternate voting systems such as Instant Runoff Voting or Approval Voting that could reduce quirks of the current systems such as the spoiler effect where similar parties hurt each other's chances.

--Warren Schudy 19:15, 1 January 2008 (CST)

Warren, while you're right that the mention of IRV isn't really good; however, the problem really is that the "facts" aren't supported by the citation. The organization "FairVote", which appears to be one of the leading anti-Electoral College organizations, favors IRV, but the statement that "many" organizations is not supported in the source. If you have sources which indicate that organizations advocating abolition of the Electoral College are also advocating IRV or Approval or any other specific voting method, then it may be worth putting something in about that. Anthony Argyriou 12:01, 2 January 2008 (CST)

Interesting series of articles

An Online Symposium on Recent Proposals for Electoral College Reform. First Impressions, an online supplement to the Michigan Law Review (February 2008). Complete pdf

Moved footnote contents

Moving this here for now: The term "electoral college" is not in the Constitution, which mentions only electors. It was first written into Federal law in 1845, and today the term appears in 3 U.S.C. section 4, in the section heading and in the text as "college of electors."

Shamira Gelbman 21:44, 25 July 2009 (UTC)
  1. test