Saturday, June 24, 2006


Among the common folly about the Electoral College is that it "favors small states over big one". Bollocks. What it does is allow candidates to ignore small states that aren't expected to give them its electoral votes. Why waste resources listening to a state that won't vote for you on the chance that it will give you four electoral votes? But it's even worse than that. The winner-takes-the-whole-state system also allows candidates who know they have a state sewn up to ignore it. Why waste resources to secure a sure thing?

And there is still another disadvantage for small states. If two states are close, one with a handful of electoral votes and one with twenty-six, which would you concentrate on? Glowing in the attention they get every four years, E.C. experts never say just how this favors small states before the TV anchor nods affirmatively and goes on to why Democrats should give up.

Without the Electoral College everywhere matters, every vote counts in every election. That forces candidates to pay attention to all possible supporters in every state. An uncommitted Voter in Oklahoma would have as much value to a Democratic candidate as one in Massachusetts. If their vote always counts then they have equal value to the candidate and voters everywhere would be listened to. There wouldn't be an incentive to ignore Voters as there is with the Electoral College.

Direct election of the President would go a long way towards curing toxic regionalism. A liberal Democrat in New England has more in common with a liberal Democrat in the South than they do with the right wing Republican next door. If the large numbers of Democrats in the South and elsewhere had their votes count, then entire regions couldn't be written off and stigmatized because more Republicans happen to vote there. Giving the vote to the states instead of the People, what the Electoral College does, forces a choice on individual voters as much as if someone gagged them and forced their hand to cast a vote contrary to their intentions. It presents the force of their vote to the candidate not of their choice. It isn't just non-democratic, it is actively anti-democratic.

The problem isn't "the South" it's the Electoral College that disenfranchises progressive southerners. If they knew that their votes count, that their region wasn't lost to progressive politics, I'll bet my life progressive action would increase there. I know Southern leftists. They don't turn Republican, they don't tend to let empty theory overcome the practical, and they fight. Leftists need them. The Presidential election is the only national election. It should overcome regional divisions and bring the country together but not with the present system in place.

Do you worry that this unity carries a danger of demagogues using an alleged mandate to seize power? You mean like what the Electoral College and the Bush Five have given us already? None of the elections settled under it have produced good presidents. The Electoral College should have been junked the first time it threw an election into the elected House. Now that five very unelected Republican justices have taken it upon themselves to appoint a president it's essential. Kill it now or they'll develop the habit.

Well, there's really two separate problems, one of which I think you're a little too quick to dismiss.

Certainly there is the "process" problem, where any state that is not "in play" can safely be ignored. But the "balance" problem is very real as well, and essentially means that the Republicans have a disproportionately large base of safe electoral votes that don't really reflect that large a share of the voters, and vice versa.

So yes, the Electoral College is absolutely undemocratic, but not solely for the reasons you stated.

Unfortunately, there is simply no way to get rid of the Electoral College unless the small states *and* the swing states voluntarily agree to give up their unearned power, and that will never, ever happen. It's the same reason that we will probably never get rid of gerrymandering or lobbying or big-donor campaign finance - there are very very few elected politicians willing to act in the best interests of the country instead of themselves.
There are a number of things broken with your electoral system, not least of which is voting irregularities. I can imagine the right-wingers and militia-nut nitwits howling if the UN came in to supervise the transparency of your elections.

For a country whose whole rhetoric is wrapped up with "democracy," there's an astonishing amount of small-r republicanism in the machinery of the state. The Electoral College is a good example. That, I think, was deliberate on the part of the people who created it, who most definitely wanted to ensure that rich, literate white men were the "voting class," and everyone else was uninvolved. A lot of people jump on me for even pointing that out, as though by mentioning it, that means I somehow approve, or maybe I'm just making them uncomfortable, who knows?

However, that said, I think most political systems involve a couple of layers of abstraction between the voters and the head of government/head of state. Still, even if you were to somehow abolish the Electoral College, I don't think all the problems would go away.

A couple of suggestions for ways in which to reform the US voting system, probably post-Electoral College abolition, would be to get a lot of the partisanship out of the essential civil-service governmental functions, even down to the local levels. I was absolutely horrified to learn that your municipal candidates run on party tickets! Shocking! It rather smacks of patronage. Put in an arm's length commission (no stacky-stacky the commission with partisan appointees!) for overseeing public funding of campaigns, and prevent corporations from donating to political campaigns. Cap private donations very heavily.

Another, more radical way of doing it is to make your head of government and head of state two different people (kind of like how in England, the head of government is Tony Blair, but the head of state is the Queen, and in Canada, the head of government is the Prime Minister and the head of state is the Governor-General, the Queen's representative). That way, not everything is completely invested in the President, and the head of state would take over a lot more of the ceremonial functions. It would take some of the rockstar glitz off of the Presidency, which might be a net positive, really.

Wow, this is a very long comment, sorry...
Eli, this piece is a pared down version of a much larger piece. I start feeling uneasy when the word count goes above 900. I've got to admit that I'm going to be posting a post script to this piece soon.

Your point about process problems is true. I guess I deserve it after the piece about process liberals. I'm not dismissive of process reform just of the belief that it supercedes everything else. It's really the professional reformers I'm skeptical of. Of them and the unstated rule that Democrats have to be absolutely pure or driven out of office.

Interrobang, I suggested to moonbootica on Eschaton that we needed a ceremonial head of state in a discussion of abolishing the monarchy. I think that even with the distateful aspects of royalty that is one of the advantages of it. Though Thatcher and Blair prove that to not be a fail safe system.

I love the comments posted here. Especially the ones challenging me. Please, keep them coming.
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