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Clash of the Titans XIX: Electoral College : Bweinh!

Clash of the Titans XIX: Electoral College

May 4, 2007, 2:30 pm; posted by
Filed under Debate, MC-B, Steve  | 1 Comment

In this corner, defending the Electoral College, is Steve!

And in this corner, attacking the Electoral College, is MC-B!

Like almost everything in the Constitution, the electoral college is brilliant. It is not an outdated relic that keeps power from the people, it is a better way. Its abolition would be tragic.

National Perspective
Anyone who wins the presidency now must have a wide-ranging base of support. A George Wallace-type candidate, with tremendous regional popularity but no national appeal, can never gain the necessary electoral votes — but in a pure democracy, he could win with a vast majority in only his home area.

And if only total votes mattered, no candidate would EVER visit Idaho, Delaware, Vermont, New Hampshire, Kansas, or any state outside the top eight in population. Don’t California and Texas think highly enough of themselves as it is? The current system forces candidates to concentrate on our most closely divided states — which happen to be the ones most like the country as a whole.

Moderate Candidates
Our president has always come from the middle of the road, because success in our system requires substantial support from moderates. Compare that to a place like France — in 2002, a real live fascist made it to the finals of their two-step process. Eliminating the College could splinter the presidential race, making the winner more likely to come from the fringes. Pure democracies encourage balkanization, not compromise. But third-party candidates aren’t automatically excluded under our current system either! If H. Ross Perot hadn’t bizarrely abandoned the 1992 race, he might have won — remember, he actually LED some national polls in June.

We are, after all, the United STATES. Congress has already stolen a lot from the governments closest to the people; let’s not make it worse by eliminating their most important national function. And issues that matter in South Carolina aren’t always vital in New Mexico; Alaska and Alabama face different challenges. Lumping all these perspectives together marginalizes the states — each deserves their own voice in electing the leader of the union they joined as equal partners.

Plus, if you thought the Florida recount was bad, imagine that horrific sideshow 50 times over. Fraud would be likely to increase too, if only because of the larger stakes involved.

Criticisms? Electors might vote for the wrong candidate, but most electors are party politicians or large contributors now anyway, so it’s not much of a danger. No majority in the College sends the election to the House, but they’re all elected at the same time as the president, so they’re as fair a way as any to break the tie.

Does the College reflect the strict will of the people? No — and that’s its best quality! Rather than permitting the danger of simple “majority rule,” our republic is set up specifically to protect our liberty from the power of pure democracy. As Founding Father James Madison wrote in Federalist 10, “democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

Amen. Let’s leave well enough alone.

It’s not terrorism, social security, or even ethanol; it’s the Electoral College, an issue whose importance pales in comparison to many serious issues we face. Reforming the Electoral College isn’t so urgent, but it will make America more democratic and preserve the will of the people.

The best reason to replace the Electoral College with direct election? It’s more democratic. In 1800, 1824, 1876 and 2000, we didn’t elect the candidate for whom most voters cast their ballot — the candidate who received the most electors won. But maybe this is a good thing. After all, we want candidates who win the national election to have broad support from across the country, not support focused in a few populous areas.

Of course, the 2000 electoral map (the most recent election where the popular vote winner was not elected) doesn’t show a broad, national consensus for either leader. It shows a contest pitting the Pacific Coast, New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and the Rust Belt against the South and the Midwest. I’m not an expert on 19th-century electoral politics, but the 2000 example reveals the Electoral College does not necessarily lead to national consensus, but is capable of encouraging state-based regionalism.

Similarly, the Electoral College alone does not make politicians consider state-based interests, or even pay them lip service. This conclusion is borne out by statistical analysis — according to a study by George C. Edwards III, only 2 Gore speeches from June to October 2000 focused on particularly state-based interests (a senior drug plan in Florida and the estate tax in Iowa). Bush’s only state-focused speech during that time was in Washington on environmental protection. Since Washington has a greater number of electoral votes (11) than all but 14 others, it hardly fulfills the classic case of a small state that needs protecting against a tyrannical majority. The lack of recent focus on state interests reveals that our current system does not fulfill the ends to which it aspires, regardless of whether these ends are good.

As a side note, the idea that states need to be protected through the Electoral College at all is dubious. Small, low-population states still have many other ways to ensure their voices are heard and that their constituents are considered in passing legislation.

Even if the Electoral College made state interests more prominent, we might not benefit. Our government is consecrated to serve the people’s interests, rather than its own. Historically, one key vehicle to fulfill and preserve this relationship has been the use of states to aggregate the people’s interests. However, electing the President directly is more logistically feasible today than ever before. To claim states should maintain control in federal elections is to misrepresent the reasons the state was created in the first place: to protect the people from the federal government and ensure their will is represented there.

Since states have significantly limited value outside of this role, because the Electoral College has failed to elect the people’s choice in the past, and because the logistical possibility now exists to devolve more power to the people themselves, it would be beneficial to replace the Electoral College system with direct elections.

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1 Comment to “Clash of the Titans XIX: Electoral College”

  1. dsweetgoober on May 5th, 2007 9:55 am

    Seems the world, or at least the inhabitants of Bwein, are not quite done with the EC yet. I admit I approached this one with a completely open mind and what shaded it towards keeping the EC intact for me was the quote at the end of Steve’s post, and his contention that the EC has played a role in keeping us from being that spectacle of turbulence and contention Madison mentioned. Either that or a lot of other people liked Steves post and it had a cumalative effect on me.

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