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Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Posted by Tanstaafl
Electoral College (cont.)

Jake, I have a couple basic disagreements with your proposal for changing our system for Presidential elections.

In terms about determining the President’s legitimacy, I think you’re saying that its source is dependent on two conditions. First, that the rules of the election are followed, and second that those rules are fair and sufficiently democratic. You’re right, an arbitrary set of rules would likely fail the on the second condition, even if the first were satisfied.

However, our current Presidential electoral rules are not arbitrary. In fact they were set up to try to achieve a system that was representative of the people’s will while protecting minority interests from the majority and majority interests from the minority. Recognizing that neither was achievable 100% of the time, the framers built their system to try balance competing interests as best they could. This is the part that I think your argument tends to ignore. However, as a recent Economist article pointed out, changing the system on these grounds is not about making our system function more effectively; it is, instead, a value judgment on one voting preferences system versus another. For that reason, I would rather discuss one of the other points that you address.

You criticize “winner-take-all” States as unfair. Your complaint seems to be that in States with a clear majority of likely voters expressing a preference for a particular candidate, the votes of people who support the other candidate don’t count. Imagine a State in which one candidate is polling ahead of the other with a 65% to 35% split. Your claim, as I understand it, is that because on candidate is up by 30 points, the votes of the 35% of the electorate who would choose his opponent don’t count.

But imagine for a second that we weren’t talking about the Presidential election and instead a Gubernatorial election with similar polls. Do those votes for the opponent still not count? Is anyone who goes to polls and votes for the candidate who is running behind wasting their time? Right now the choice of Governor is “winner-takes-all”. But, maybe in order to make those 35% of people feel good about their votes, the losing candidate can run the state 2 days a week. Or, the candidate with 35% of the vote could be in charge of 35% of the state budget, or state agencies. Is this what would be necessary to make those losing votes “count”?

If you’re definition of a vote counting is that the person voted for the winning candidate, then can we ever confidently tell someone who prefers a candidate that is down in polls that “their vote will count”? Won’t that person always have to settle for the fact that his “vote might count.” How close would the polls need to be to ensure that it would count? How far before the election? If the candidate is down by 10 points with 2 weeks to go, do his supporters stop counting then? Or maybe 20 points with 4 weeks to go? In my opinion any vote that’s cast counts, no matter what the polls leading up to the election said, or for that matter what the final election results say. Any other outlook is pessimistic and unfortunate. In order for any election to work, whether it’s choosing Electors, Governors, Senators, or propositions, we must take the view that the only way to make your vote invalid is not to cast it. Otherwise, why bother holding an election. Let’s just ask Zogby or Gallup how we should run the country.


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