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Friday, September 10, 2004

Posted by Tanstaafl
Electoral College

I had a long discussion with Jake today about the Electoral College on its efficacy and fairness. I thought I would post a couple of sites that I found interesting and helpful in parsing through some of the complexities. First, I thought this site is interesting in illustrating how many states have changed in teh last few months. I think the idea that "swing states" are the only state in which your vote matters is a fiction. From election to election and even month to month, it's very difficult to know which states will be swing states. In some elections, by the end, there are no swing states. Besides, if a candidate takes a safe state for granted and spends none of his time on that state or the issues that face its residents, then it won't stay safe. It will have low turnout/enthusiasm amongst that candidate's supporters, and possibly even defections to the opposition, putting that state back in play. This is similar to median voter theory; only the vote of the person with the middle of the road position matters, because he can choose between the extremes, so they have to appeal to him. But if one of the extremes changes, then the person who has the median position might be someone else. The same can apply to swing states.

Second, I think there are serious issues with the effect on our elections, on our political parties, and on the Presidency if you move toward popular elections. As George Will puts it,
Candidates cannot just pile up popular votes in the most populous states. They must win many states, because legitimacy, and the capacity to govern this extensive republic, involves more than crude arithmetic.

In abandoning the electoral college we would likely move toward a much more parliamentary system, which I believe would be unfortunate. First, I think this nation is much to large and rich with diversity to be effectively represented by a parliamentary system. Second, our place in the world is much to significant to weaken the Presidency in the ways that Mr. Will discusses. Our foreign policy is largely dependent on the status of POTUS as being the clear leader of the country. To diminish the office's stature would greatly confuse our allies and enemies as to what foreign policy we will likely pursue. There is a reason that foreign affairs are delegated to executive instead of the legislative branch. If you make the former more beholden to the latter, you counteract that conscious and prescient choice by the framers.

Since the current electoral process is unlikely to change in more than a few states at most, I wouldn't waste my time or energy even debating this except that I think the rhetoric opposing the electoral college is both seductive and naive. Claiming that "there is no interest higher than making every vote count" sounds nice, but is not necessarily true. It is much more imporant that the entire country as a whole (while protecting the RIGHTS of individual) is represented as well as possible. That means structuring toward moderation, protecting the majority interests from powerful minorities, and protecting and even promoting minority interests from the majority so they are neither disregarded nor trampled. For 215 years, the Electoral College has struck a fairly effective balance. While it may not always be perfect, I believe that it works better than the potential alternatives would.


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