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As is always the case anymore, and not that it makes a darn, Democrats got millions more votes nationally than Republicans last Tuesday.

We're a mere 18 years into a millennium that's already given us two second-place Republican presidents--George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016.

A few months ago, we had a second-place president nominate a right-wing ideologue to affix the U.S. Supreme Court in an anti-woman majority probably for a generation. That right-wing ideologue got confirmed by a U.S. Senate that contained a Republican majority although the Democratic membership got more cumulative popular votes than the Republican membership.

This is the point at which Trumpians scoff and say the rules are the rules and that we've always been a republic, not a democracy. And it's where I say I know that.

I'm merely pointing out, for purposes of our helpful self-awareness, that the nation has become so divided by place, with Democratic voters bunching up in urban clusters and Republican ones living apart amid the corn fields and the bear woods, that the contemporary effect of minority rule has become more pronounced. And it's unfortunate, provided you think that people, even those not looking like you, matter more than cornstalks or grizzlies.

I'm not saying we should change the Constitution to give California more senators than Arkansas. I'd like to say it, but I won't. What I am saying, in regard to the lone office we elect nationwide, the presidency, is that we should abolish the antiquated electoral college and install the popular-vote winner.

We could remain a nation of co-equal states in regard to the U.S. Senate while ending the exploding practice of second-place presidents. The president could become the people's choice, not the sparsely populated states' choice.

Yet I know it's out of the question. Republicans and small states stay in control because of the minority-rules premise they dare not give up.

Beyond that, parties in control at the state level gerrymander their House of Representative districts, which were intended to be the more purely democratic element of our governance, after each decennial census.

So, last Tuesday, Democratic House candidates nationwide got more than 7 million more votes than Republicans. Twenty-four years before, two years into the Bill Clinton presidency, Republicans also got 7 million more votes nationwide than Democrats in the House midterm elections.

For that advantage, Republicans in 1994 gained 54 House seats--a bona fide wave. But, on Tuesday, the Democrats' 7-million vote nationwide advantage in House races produced a lesser wave, a gain somewhere between 35 and 40 seats, depending on a few still-undecided races.

Why would a 7-million advantage produce a 54-seat gain for Republicans in 1994 and a 38-seat gain for Democrats in 2018? We can't be precise without studying every seat and every constituency. But we can make a solid first assumption: We've had two censuses and reapportionment exercises since 1994 and controlling incumbents got their districts redrawn in their own images and thus made incumbency harder to dislodge.

As I mentioned Sunday, Arkansas voters probably will get an opportunity in 2020 to end that practice by passing a citizens' initiated constitutional amendment.

Meanwhile, last Tuesday, Democratic candidates got 45 million votes in the contested Senate races while Republican candidates got 33 million. Yet Republicans gained a Senate seat or two or three, depending on how Florida and Arizona turn out.

How could that be? Part of it was bad luck for Democrats--35 of the 100 seats were up and 26 of them happened this time to be seats Democrats were defending, 10 of which were states won by Trump in the last election.

In the large states where Democrats were triumphant Tuesday in Senate races, they tended to win by big margins--in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Virginia and Minnesota--while Republican winners or leaders were held close in their biggest states, Texas and Florida.

And there was one other factor: The biggest state of all and the nation's most Democratic one--California, of course--had its own odd system--again, of course.

In California, the top two candidates in the open primary advanced to the general election.

It turns out Republicans are so pitiable in California that the Democratic incumbent, Dianne Feinstein, was opposed in the general election by another Democrat. So California had 7 million Democratic votes and no Republican ones in its Senate race.

What might all of that possibly portend for the presidential race in 2020?

Not much, probably. There'll be 20 million more voters in the presidential race. A mere 70,000 of them might again flip Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and thus the electoral college for Trump, assuming the situation remains static and the Democrats don't produce a strong presidential candidate not currently evident.

But the best bet is that, per usual, for the nothing that it's worth, Democrats will get more votes.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 11/13/2018

Print Headline: JOHN BRUMMETT: Votes that don't matter


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  • RBear
    November 13, 2018 at 6:45 a.m.

    John interesting column, but you seem to ramble through some points with several apples and oranges subpoints. Let's take one regarding CA's top two. You said, "So California had 7 million Democratic votes and no Republican ones in its Senate race." Actually, that's a false statement. The top two system was designed to allow candidates square off in the primary and voters the opportunity to pick the two best qualified candidates. Are you really saying that Republicans sat that race out? Maybe a million did when you look at the gubernatorial race, another statewide race.
    Still, one compromise solution might be proportional allocation of EC votes, something that happens in NE and ME. If you look at 270 To Win's website, you can see the impact of switching to this system and other systems. Trump would still win the EC, but by a narrower margin. It does put more an emphasis on redistricting as the CDs boundaries would determine the outcome of the presidency. What's interesting is that if the nation had switched to that system before the 2012 election, Romney would be the president, not Obama. That shows the impact of gerrymandering in the nation at that time.
    The one thing to consider in this is the changing voter demographics of TX. O'Rourke's close margin to Cruz shows that the state can flip given the nature of the urban centers. Right now, if you look at the top 27 counties in the state, the urban centers, they make up 76% of the vote. If you consider more of those urban centers are shifting to progressive and that Cruz won by only 200,000 votes, you can start to see how Republicans in TX are starting to get nervous. If voter participation in a few counties had increased to levels seen across the rest of the state, O'Rourke would have won.
    What does that mean? TX is moving towards a potential flip and when it does the EC system is just something we have to do. The presidency will flip entirely. But putting TX aside, flip FL and one other state and the game is over again for Republicans. Republicans should really be thinking about their margins in these states with strong urban centers because the balance of power will shift under the current system.

  • PopMom
    November 13, 2018 at 7:02 a.m.

    There is an interesting legal development that could change the course of history. The State of Maryland has sued to set aside Trump's appointment of the acting attorney general arguing that the position either needs to go to the assistant AG, Rod Rosenstein, or Trump needs to get his pick approved by the Senate. Oh, the fun continues.


    Good analysis. Texas and Florida are ripe for a flip. If the Democrats did a better job of pushing the environmental issue, Florida would flip. Many Floridians are upset by the red slime caused in part by the cattle farmers putting cow poop in Lake Ocachobee. Beto and Gillum are a little too far left. Virginia has flipped to blue because of wise candidate selection of moderate progressives who appeal to independents.

    November 13, 2018 at 7:33 a.m.

    Once more we see Mr. Brummett lament the existence of the Electoral College and lobby for "The tyranny of the majority," a concept first expressed by founder Alexander Hamilton. Such a concern was one reason the various divisions of power in the constitution were constructed. Far-leftists like Brummett would be tempered by living the reality of Cuba or Venezuela today: There is little or no opportunity for advancement, little or no individual liberty, and a police state to enforce the status quo. This is where men like Brummett would lead us if given the chance, all in the name of "equality." The equality of Cuba and Venezuela is a live in fear, like paupers, with little hope for any change in the oppressive atmosphere of tyranny.

  • RBear
    November 13, 2018 at 8:16 a.m.

    Wow, what a leap from a discussion on the EC to the dictatorships of Cuba and Venezuela. But, when you live in the world of right wing rhetoric what else would you expect? No BWM, a review of the EC system does NOT destroy our republic. If anything, it let’s us look at the changing electoral landscape of our nation. I know, critical thinking is the Bain of right wingers.

  • bpenney
    November 13, 2018 at 8:23 a.m.

    Brummett - I actually read this entire article. It was a tough job but I did it. Why don’t you just say you think you’re much smarter than the Framers of our Constitution and you want to toss that wrinkled paper in the trash? You know the reasons for using the electoral college but care more about Liberals destroying this country than in fairness.

  • Skeptic1
    November 13, 2018 at 8:36 a.m.

    Democrats motto, "vote early - vote often."

  • PopMom
    November 13, 2018 at 8:54 a.m.


    You need to stop listening to right wing propaganda. Many of the Democrats are moderates; indeed, many former Republicans such as myself have joined the Democrats. I also am concerned by the Sanders/Warren wing of the Party. Montgomery County, Maryland just got a leftwing in as county executive (no primary runoffs). His election cost us a piece of the Amazon deal, and I am sure that he will want to increase our already high taxes. I actually am somewhat relieved by Amazon going to northern Virginia/New York. The traffic would have been horrible, but our housing prices would have increased enough to get us a nice extra bit of money for retirement.

  • RobertBolt
    November 13, 2018 at 8:56 a.m.

    Election results that do not reflect the majority will are actually something else substituted for elections.

  • WhododueDiligence
    November 13, 2018 at 8:56 a.m.

    "This is where men like Brummett would lead us if given the chance, ..."
    Bluewaterman, do you really believe people like Brummett want to lead us down the slippery slope that ends in Cuba-like commie-land? That worn-out scare tactic is a century old, beginning with the Red Scare following WW 1 and then the McCarthyism-led Red Scare following WW 2. The poor frightened Red Scare boy should be given a rest since by now he's cried "Commie Wolf" more than 20 billion times.
    The emerging threat to liberty is now coming much more from the extreme right than the extreme left. That's evidenced by the election of the nationalist Trump in the US and the advancement of far-right nationalists in Brazil and Europe. Recently Brummett has written favorably of moderate Republican John Kasich. That's what is needed in the US and elsewhere now--more problem-solving moderates like Kasich and fewer power-grabbing, recklessly polarizing right-wing nationalists like Trump.
    Unfortunately, the Republican Party has drifted so far right in recent decades that Ronald Reagan's compromises would make him a loser in Republican primaries just like Kasich's willingness to compromise made him a loser in the 2016 Republican primaries.

  • RBear
    November 13, 2018 at 8:58 a.m.

    So apparently right wingers are so scared of voters actually voting they forego any critical discussion of our election process.
    We get the “socialist” jump from BWM, the “Liberals gonna wreck the country” freak out by BPenney, and the completely irrelevant rant by skeptic. Simple questions asked by Brummett, but right wingers are so afraid of voters they can’t even think straight. Hilarious. Any wonder you hear Trump make false claims of voter fraud in. FL?