Abolish the Electoral College!

Question: What would you recommend doing about the Electoral College?

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Steven Brams: Abolishing it, in a word. I think it’s an anachronism. It was designed so that the masses, we’re going back to the 1800’s, actually 1700’s, would not be able to directly influence the outcome of the election. There would be kind of an intermediate body, the Electoral College, that would be elected and perhaps they would in deliberation would make a considered choice and thereby perhaps endorse what regular citizens chose, but perhaps not.

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The real problem, however, is not the Electoral College itself, it’s winner take all. So, under the present rules, in all but two states, the winner of a state, even a plurality winner not necessarily the majority winner if there are two candidates, wins all of the electoral votes of that state. So, in a state like California with, I believe now 53 representatives, it’s electoral votes and the number it is representative of is 53 plus the two senatorial electoral votes, so that brings it up to 55, and that’s about 10% of the entire electoral vote. Which means California is very decisive. Well, in a sense, not really because California has recently been a democratic state, like New York. Texas is primarily a Republican state, so these states in effect don’t swing votes. They are almost sure things for one party or the other. But a state like Florida in 2000 or a state like Ohio in 2008, were critical to the election of Bush in both years. These were close elections in each case. So how they go very much determines the outcome and isn’t necessarily the case that these large states that can change the outcome in a close election are representative of the country as a whole. I think not. Moreover, winner take all means that you spend many more resources, even proportionately in these large, well there are various names, but essentially they are a the toss up states. And even small toss up states like New Hampshire now is pretty much a state that has gone either way. And basically ignore the states that are kind of sure things; California, New York, Texas. And I think elections, Presidential elections, would be much more exciting and bring in everybody in all the states if candidates had to seek out support everywhere. Maybe roughly in proportion to the size of the states, but there would be no toss up states that would be decisive, or everybody would be in that sense would be decisive. And what that does is distort campaigns themselves. Candidates spend the bulk of their time in these toss up states ignoring the rest of the country.

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The last President to visit all 50 states was Richard Nixon in 1960 in his campaign against John Kennedy. He pledged that he would visit all 50 states and despite injuring himself and sidelining his campaign for 10 days in September of 1960, he kept his pledge. So, he spent basically the last 36 hours of his campaign on planes to Hawaii and Alaska to fulfill his pledge. And then he lost the election by a squeaker. And most people think if he had spent a little more time in Ohio or another key state, he would have won. Well, in 1968, Nixon abandoned that strategy and followed what is called “the Rose Garden strategy,” basically stayed in the White House, and won the election. So, since then, no candidate has visited all 50 states. Whereas, I think if we abolish the Electoral College and votes counted the same everywhere, then we’d see much more national campaigns in all the states.

Recorded on February 2, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

It’s an anachronism, says the NYU Politics Professor—and the state-by-state "winner take all" rules for presidential elections are even worse.

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  • Domino's partnered with the Silicon Valley startup Nuro to have robot cars deliver pizza.
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Would you have to tip robots? You might be answering that question sooner than you think as Domino's is about to start using robots for delivering pizza. Later this year a fleet of self-driving robotic vehicles will be spreading the joy of pizza throughout the Houston area for the famous pizza manufacturer, using delivery cars made by the Silicon Valley startup Nuro.

The startup, founded by Google veterans, raised $940 million in February and has already been delivering groceries for Kroger around Houston. Partnering with the pizza juggernaut Domino's, which delivers close to 3 million pizzas a day, is another logical step for the expanding drone car business.

Kevin Vasconi of Domino's explained in a press release that they see these specially-designed robots as "a valuable partner in our autonomous vehicle journey," adding "The opportunity to bring our customers the choice of an unmanned delivery experience, and our operators an additional delivery solution during a busy store rush, is an important part of our autonomous vehicle testing."

How will they work exactly? Nuro explained in its own press release that this "opportunity to use Nuro's autonomous delivery" will be available for some of the customers who order online. Once they opt in, they'll be able to track the car via an app. When the vehicle gets to them, the customers will use a special PIN code to unlock the pizza compartment.

Nuro and its competitors Udelv and Robomart have been focusing specifically on developing such "last-mile product delivery" machines, reports Arstechnica. Their specially-made R1 vehicle is about half the size of a regular passenger car and doesn't offer any room for a driver. This makes it safer and lighter too, with less potential to cause harm in case of an accident. It also sticks to a fairly low speed of under 25 miles an hour and slams on the breaks at the first sign of trouble.

What also helps such robot cars is "geofencing" technology which confines them to a limited area surrounding the store.

For now, the cars are still tracked around the neighborhoods by human-driven vehicles, with monitors to make sure nothing goes haywire. But these "chase cars" should be phased out eventually, an important milestone in the evolution of your robot pizza drivers.

Check out how Nuro's vehicles work: