I was reading around and found this, from Discover magazine, copied just the first part, I really like how it compares the electoral vote to the world series!:
Complete Article At: www.discover.com/web-exclusives/math-against-tyranny/
From the Archive: Math Against Tyranny
By Will Hively
September 30, 2004
This article about the electoral college originally appeared in the November 1996 issue of Discover. Some of our readers thought it would be a good idea to feature it again this election year. We agree.
When you cast your vote this month, you're not directly electing the president—you're electing members of the electoral college. They elect the president. An archaic, unnecessary system? Mathematics shows, says one concerned American, that by giving your vote to another, you're ensuring the future of our democracy.
"One morning at two o’clock," Alan Natapoff recalls, "I realized that I was the only person willing to see this problem through to the end." The morning in question was back in the late 1970s. Then as now, Natapoff, a physicist, was spending his days doing research at MIT’s Man-Vehicle Laboratory, investigating how the human brain responds to acceleration, weightless floating, and other vexations of contemporary transport. But the problem he was working on so late involved larger and grander issues. He was contemplating the survival of our nation as we know it.
Not long before Natapoff’s epiphany, Congress had teetered on the verge of wrecking the electoral college, an institution that has no equal anywhere in the world. This group of ordinary citizens, elected by all who vote, elects, in turn, the nation’s president and vice president. Though the college still stood, Natapoff worried that sometime soon, well-meaning reformers might try again to destroy it. The only way to prevent such a tragedy, he thought, would be to get people to understand the real but hidden value of our peculiar, roundabout voting procedure. He’d have to dig down to basic principles. He’d have to give them a mathematical explanation of why we need the electoral college.
Natapoff’s self-chosen labor has taken him more than two decades. But now that the journal Public Choice is about to publish his groundbreaking article, he can finally relax a bit; he might even take a vacation. In addition to this nontechnical article, which skimps on the math, he’s worked out a formal theorem that demonstrates, he claims, why our complex electoral system is "provably" better than a simple, direct election. Furthermore, he adds, without this quirky glitch in the system, our democracy might well have fallen apart long ago into warring factions.
This month many of us are playing our allotted role in the drama that’s haunted Natapoff for so long. Ostensibly, by voting on November 5, we are choosing the next president of the United States. Nine weeks after the apparent winner celebrates victory, however, Congress will count not our votes but those of 538 "electors," distributed proportionally among the states. Each state gets as many electoral votes as it has seats in Congress--California has 54, New York has 33, the seven least populated states have 3 each; the District of Columbia also has 3. These 538 votes actually elect the president. And the electors who cast them don’t always choose the popular-vote winner. In 1888, the classic example, Grover Cleveland got 48.6 percent of the popular vote versus Benjamin Harrison’s 47.9 percent. Cleveland won by 100,456 votes. But the electors chose Harrison, overwhelmingly (233 to 168). They were not acting perversely. According to the rules laid out in the Constitution, Harrison was the winner.
Some reversals have been more complicated. In 1824, Andrew Jackson beat his rival, John Quincy Adams, by more popular and then more electoral votes--99 versus 84--but still lost the election because he didn’t win a majority of electoral votes (78 went to other candidates). When that happens, the House of Representatives picks the winner. In 1876, Samuel J. Tilden lost to Rutherford B. Hayes by one electoral vote, though he received 50.9 percent of the popular vote to Hayes’s 47.9 percent; an extraordinary commission awarded 20 disputed electoral votes to Hayes. We’ve also had some famous close calls. In 1960, John F. Kennedy narrowly beat Richard Nixon in the popular voting, 49.7 percent to 49.5 percent, a smaller margin than Cleveland had over Harrison. But wait: Nixon won more states (Nixon 26, Kennedy and others 24). But no: Kennedy, who won bigger states, went on to win the electoral balloting, 303 to 219. This time we, the people, did not strike out. The popular-vote winner became president.
Clearly, in U.S. presidential elections, it ain’t over till it’s over. A popular-vote loser in the big national contest can still win by scoring more points in the smaller electoral college. But isn’t this undemocratic? Isn’t it somehow wrong that a few hundred obscure electors, foisted on a new republic by men of property in powdered wigs, should be allowed to reverse the people’s choice?
By 1969, Congress was beginning to think so. After Nixon defeated Hubert Humphrey with a popular margin, again, of less than 1 percent, the possibility of a modern-day winner’s being denied the presidency had become so obnoxious to the House of Representatives that it approved a constitutional amendment to abolish the electoral college. The American Bar Association supported the move, calling our current electoral system "archaic, undemocratic, complex, ambiguous, indirect, and dangerous." In the Senate, too, the amendment had broad support. What could be simpler or fairer than electing the president by direct popular vote? Over the next few years the issue lost momentum, but Jimmy Carter’s narrow victory over Gerald Ford in 1976 brought it back to life. The League of Women Voters, a host of political scientists, and a large majority of American citizens, according to various polls, all agreed that the electoral college should be abolished. In 1977, though, among those testifying against the amendment was a self-described political nobody from Massachusetts: Alan Natapoff.
Leafing now through the Congressional Record, Natapoff laughs. "The impact of my testimony," he says, "was negligible." He hadn’t yet proved his theorem, and the mathematical argument he did present was edited to a "blunted" paraphrase, leaving out some of his most important arguments. The electoral college survived, of course, but not because of anything Natapoff said. After a decade of sporadic debate and 4,395 pages of testimony, the bill died in the Senate. It had majority support, but not the two-thirds majority required to pass it.
The issue will likely catch fire again, though, the moment another popular winner fails to muster the 270 electoral votes needed to clinch victory. "Raw voting, having the president elected by a popular vote, is deep in the American psyche," Natapoff says. It’s been around since Andrew Jackson finally won the presidency--four years later than he should have, according to 153,544 raw, frustrated voters. "My theorem," Natapoff admits, "contradicts the common wisdom of our time. Everybody gets this wrong. Everybody. Because we were taught incorrectly."
Natapoff included. How could a boy who grew up in the Bronx, played ball in the streets, and attended public schools in New York City not have absorbed the common wisdom? Natapoff went on to study particle physics at Berkeley. Later, at mit, he changed his field of research but not his belief in raw, popular democracy. Then one day in the 1960s, he saw an article in Life that changed his mind. It quoted political experts who said the electoral college robs voters of their power. But the mathematics these experts were using seemed too simple to support their conclusion. Natapoff looked into the math, and pretty soon he reached the opposite conclusion. Almost always, he convinced himself, our electoral system increases voters’ power. The experts had not considered enough cases; they looked only at unbelievably close elections with two candidates running neck and neck everywhere in the country. Real elections are almost never that closely contested. Some states tilt sharply toward one candidate or another, and the voting power of individuals in each state changes in ways the reformers’ arguments ignored.
The more Natapoff looked into the nitty-gritty of real elections, the more parallels he found with another American institution that stirs up wild passions in the populace. The same logic that governs our electoral system, he saw, also applies to many sports--which Americans do, intuitively, understand. In baseball’s World Series, for example, the team that scores the most runs overall is like a candidate who gets the most votes. But to become champion, that team must win the most games. In 1960, during a World Series as nail-bitingly close as that year’s presidential battle between Kennedy and Nixon, the New York Yankees, with the awesome slugging combination of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Bill "Moose" Skowron, scored more than twice as many total runs as the Pittsburgh Pirates, 55 to 27. Yet the Yankees lost the series, four games to three. Even Natapoff, who grew up in the shadow of Yankee Stadium, conceded that Pittsburgh deserved to win. "Nobody walked away saying it was unfair," he says.
Runs must be grouped in a way that wins games, just as popular votes must be grouped in a way that wins states. The Yankees won three blowouts (16-3, 10-0, 12-0), but they couldn’t come up with the runs they needed in the other four games, which were close. "And that’s exactly how Cleveland lost the series of 1888," Natapoff continues. "Grover Cleveland. He lost the five largest states by a close margin, though he carried Texas, which was a thinly populated state then, by a large margin. So he scored more runs, but he lost the five biggies." And that was fair, too. In sports, we accept that a true champion should be more consistent than the 1960 Yankees. A champion should be able to win at least some of the tough, close contests by every means available--bunting, stealing, brilliant pitching, dazzling plays in the field--and not just smack home runs against second-best pitchers. A presidential candidate worthy of office, by the same logic, should have broad appeal across the whole nation, and not just play strongly on a single issue to isolated blocs of voters.