Mikhalia the Picky wrote:
A MAJOR reason for the electoral college is to keep highly concentrated populations such as big cities from being the only voice politicians cater to. With a simple popular vote, you would find all politicians cared about were the opinions of big cities like New York or Los Angeles. You would find massive amounts of everyone's tax dollars spent for big city interests in order to secure their vote. The electoral college helps to equalize the voice among all demographics.
Mikhalia the Picky wrote:
I also know the reasoning behind the electoral college; it was formed based on the premise that many Americans at the time were illiterate and uneducated and therefore could not be expected to make accurate, informed decisions with their votes; the EC was formed to attempt to balance this. On one hand, I think returning to a popular vote would be a better system due to the EC leading many voters to believe their vote has no voice in a state which tends heavily toward one party over the other. On the other, one could argue that the fact that voters are so misinformed nowadays could also indicate needing to keep it.
The result of the current EC system is that the states that get the attention are the swing states, the ones likely to go either way. Any state that is historically strong red (e.g. Texas) or historically strong blue (e.g. California) are highly unlikely to see much campaign attention from -either- candidate because these states are often chalked up as a guaranteed win for one candidate.
This isn't really an issue with the system AS A WHOLE. The system is designed such that each state independently decides how to assign it's electors. There is no federal/constitutional requirement for all of a state's electors to go to the winner of the popular vote - in fact, there is no federal/constitutional requirement that the electors pay any attention whatsoever to the popular vote, and in 26 states, there's no legal requirement for an elector to vote for the candidate they were chosen to vote for. It just so happens that the state laws of 48 of 50 states apportion all of that state's electors to the winner of that state's popular vote (Nebraska and Maine do not use a winner-take-all system - instead, they assign one electoral vote to the winner in each congressional district, and two electoral votes to the statewide winner).
And as an aside, you're a little off on the reason for the electoral college exists. It had nothing to do with countering the uninformed decisions of uneducated and illiterate voters - remember that at the time voting was restricted to landowners, who would be wealthier and thus more educated and more likely to be literate, and anyway at the time the United States had the most literate citizenry in the world.
Instead it has to do with what was then seen as the reason for the federal government in the first place - since the federal government was intended to regulate interstate affairs and provide defense and security to the states, it was felt that the state governments, not the citizens directly, that should dictate the membership of the federal government. This is why the House of Representatives is the only branch of government the Constitution explicitly states is elected via popular vote (and thus, why all revenue bills, i.e. taxation bills, must originate in the House), with the selection of senators and presidential electors left to the discretion of each state's government. (Though even in the very first presidential election in 1789, 6 of the thirteen states assigned their electoral votes on the basis of the popular vote - in which Washington to about 93% of the vote.)
To be fair, SirEdmundBurke is a bit off, too - the electoral college was not designed to dilute the voices of urban voters. It didn't need to be, because the design of the bicameral legislature had already achieved that goal, with a lower house apportioned by population giving more power to more populous states, and an upper house apportioned by state giving more power to the less populous states. The electoral vote count being set to the sum of a state's representatives and senators was a further compromise to prevent both populous urban states AND sparsely-populated rural states from having undue influence in the selection of the president.
Taking my two common Red/Blue examples:
Republican in California: Why bother voting? Democrat will win so your vote is wasted.
Democrat in California: Why bother voting? Democrat will win so you're just a +1.
Republican in Texas: Why bother voting? Republican will win so your vote is wasted.
Democrat in California: Why bother voting? Republican will win so you're just a +1.
Independent in either state: Why bother voting? Your candidate is only going to get like 0.25% of the vote anyway.
First off, you're somewhat overstating the "safeness" of those states. For example, California has only voted reliably Democratic for president since 1992 (i.e. Bill Clinton's first term). Historically, it's actually far more strongly Republican, having gone for the Democratic candidate only 16 times out of the 39 presidential elections since California statehood; the last time California went Democratic before Clinton was in 1964 for LBJ (and before that, Truman in 1948), and the state has a tendency toward Republican governors, with the only Democratic governor between Jerry Brown's second and third terms - a 28-year gap - being recalled less than a year into his second term after being reelected with the lowest voter turnout in CA gubernatorial history. There's a stronger case for Texas being a "safe Republican" state, as their electoral votes have gone to the Republican candidate in every presidential election since 1980, with the state going more often Democratic before then - though it's worth noting that for every election since 1980 with two exceptions (1996 and 2008), there's been an Texan on the Republican ticket, and it's uncommon for a state to go against a ticket with a state citizen on it (uncommon enough that it's generally considered a very bad sign when a presidential candidate fails to carry their own state).
Second, there's the issue of individual choice versus aggregate behavior. To wit: abstaining from voting because the outcome is a foregone conclusion only makes sense until you realize that it's only a foregone conclusion assuming everyone votes. If, for example, a majority of voters support A but don't bother to vote because they assume their side is going to win anyway, while the minority of voters who support B decide to vote DESPITE the fact that the majority disagrees with them, B may wind up winning despite not being the choice of the majority of the electorate. (See also CA Proposition 8.)
As an aside to this tangent: This is much of the reason why the US political system is terrible. A two party system (And I don't care what you have to say about Libertarian, Green, or any other party, if you aren't Democrat or Republican, your chance of getting elected to any office of importance beyond county councilman is 1% or less, and the higher up the chain you go, the less of a chance you have) is a severely limiting factor on letting the representatives actually reflect the "will of the people". You end up with two parties, both of whom are going to try to put the most middle of the road candidate they can in the race, whatever person they feel will get the most votes, regardless of their viewpoints. I'm sure anyone who follows politics can think of several candidates who shot themselves in the foot by actually having a thought of their own, for better or for worse, on a controversial issue. It's easier to elect a guy everyone can agree with and then use him or her to push your party's agenda than it is to elect a guy (or woman) who speaks their mind.
On the other hand, it's easy to theorize about the merits of a multi-party system without also taking into account their flaws.
In a multi-party system, it's fairly rare for any given party to have a majority. Since it is difficult for a party to enact policy without a majority, they tend to form coalitions. Now, one would expect these to be ad-hoc coalitions formed specifically for given policies, but in practice such coalitions tend to be longer-lived.
Then consider the fact that, even under a multi-party system, political opinions tend to cluster together, the net result generally being two large parties among many smaller ones. Thus you wind up with legislative bodies where two parties represent the majority (often, a vast majority) of members, with each of those parties needing to court smaller parties in order to enact their agendas. As a result, smaller parties wind up having significantly more influence than they otherwise would. Frequently, you wind up with a situation like Canada, where two parties (currently the Conservatives and Liberals in Canada) represent the overwhelming majority of voters and comprise almost the entirety of the legislature, with one or two significant smaller parties (in Canada, the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois) who use the fact that usually neither big party has a legislative majority to, effectively, play kingmaker.
In other words, a multi-party state will tend to function as a de facto
two-party state, with a few minority parties wielding power far in excess of their numbers.
In a system with only two electorally-viable parties, on the other hand, each party is free to subsume a larger section of the ideological spectrum - in fact, they generally have to to remain viable.
Thus, each party is a de facto
coalition, with significant overlap in each coalition's ideological space - in the US, the Republican party is composed primarily of free-marketists, fiscal conservatives, anti-federalists, and social conservatives, while the Democratic party is composed mainly of progressives, civil libertarians, unionists, and collectivists. Because each party covers a large ideological space, individual members have more leeway to vote their consciences - thus party-line votes are less common than in a multi-party state.
It's because of this that, for example, the Republican party was able to pass the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, and 1964, despite being the minority party each time (at times, outnumbered nearly 2 to 1) and twice overcoming Democratic filibustering. In fact, in the US party-line votes are quite rare in most situations, primarily showing up when one party controls both houses of Congress AND holds the presidency - and even then, it's primarily the party in power voting their party line.
In fact, because of each party's wide ideological spread, one can argue that the minor parties are not even necessary at the federal level - a member of the Libertarian or Green parties would not get very far running for congress, for example, but if they were to run as a Republican or a Democrat they could very definitely be elected (e.g. Rand and Ron Paul or the 83 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus) - especially given that the candidates themselves are selected by the voters, unlike most countries where candidates are chosen by party officials. Not that the primary system is perfect, of course - it's possible for an incumbent (who generally run unopposed in the primary) to campaign against a strong candidate from the opposition party during the primary to gain a favorable match-up in the general election (see also Gray Davis's 2002 campaign against Richard Riordan in the primaries). But then, no system is perfect, and no system can be perfect.
After all, "Aus so krummem Holze, als woraus der Mensch gemacht ist, kann nichts ganz Gerades gezimmert werden". "From the crooked timber of humanity, no truly straight thing can be made."