This blog is still alive, just in semi-hibernation. When I want to write something longer than a tweet about something other than math or sci-fi, here is where I'll write it.
Thursday, January 1, 2009
Mr. Madison's Mistakes, Part 2
Flaw #2: The Electoral College.
It would be more precise to make this plural flaws, because there are a lot of problems with the Electoral College. Dissatisfaction with the system is not a new thing. Andrew Jackson, who I have already dissed as an unconstitutional scumbag, was at least right about the electoral college, which he hated. The problems with the system are many, and some need to be solved at the federal level and others at the state level, though technically because there would be several classes of people who would lose power if the changes were enacted, only one of the three changes I propose has a chance of being enacted.
Unsolvable sub-flaw #1: The extra two electors per state. The founders actually thought this was a good idea and did this dumb thing on purpose. The idea was that "small states" were worried about being bossed around by big states. At the time of the founding, the bossy "big state" was Virginia, but by 1850 it had failed to grow as much as other states, and was overtaken by New York, Pennsylvania and even Ohio, which did not exist as a state when the union was formed. Another way of solving this would have been for small states to band together, but many still had religious majorities different from their closest neighbors, and those majorities were unwilling to become minorities in the new political entities.
Today, "small state" has next to nothing to do with geographical size and almost everything to do with location and opportunity. Tiny Rhode Island has nearly twice the population of massive Alaska, where the job of congressperson is still a state wide office. Many of the states with only one representative have very large areas in the Midwest, but because of bad weather and minimal opportunities for improving job situations, they cannot get their populations to grow enough to get a second seat in the House. It would be fairer to call these small population states "failed states" than "small states", and in general, they tend towards reactionary and backward looking policies.
The problem with taking away the unequal power from the states with small to tiny populations is that any change to the Constitution must be ratified by three fourths of the states. If we were to get rid of the the extra two electors, that would hurt the percentage power of about two thirds of the states and improve the percentage power of one third. Even a compromise to lose a single elector in each state would still have the problem of two thirds of the states losing percentage power.
So the failed states of our union hold an inordinate amount of power under our governmental system, both in choosing the president and in the Senate. Thanks a heap, Li'l Jimmy!
Unsolvable sub-flaw #2: The winner take all system. There are two states, Maine and Nebraska, that do not have a winner take all system of electors, but the other 48 states and the District of Columbia do have the winner take all method of deciding electoral votes. If all states had a proportional method of splitting electors, this could make things more equitable for voters in all states.
The reason this flaw isn't going away is that the method of running an election is a state level decision according to constitutional law, and any state deciding to take this route on its own volition is cutting off its own nose. While the extra electors should give more percentage power to the voters in small states, we know how things work in practice in the modern electoral process. Some states are solidly in favor of one party, and the other party abandons them to focus their resources on the so-called battleground states, which change from election to election.
If Ohio, for example, decided to make their electoral college vote proportional or based on the votes in the congressional districts, they could effectively kiss being a battleground state goodbye. Instead of being a big, juicy 20 vote prize, the split would likely be 10-10, 12-8 or maybe 14-6 if it was a serious landslide. Ohio would go from clearly one the most important states to win to having a good chance of being less important than Idaho. In 2008, the Democrats took three seats from the Republicans to have a 10-8 advantage in the House delegation, and if Obama was given the two extra electors for winning the popular vote, Ohio would have given him a net gain of four electors, and it would not have been worth spending major campaign dollars to win just four electors.
In states that are not battleground, like solidly Republican Texas or solidly Democratic California, splitting the vote only favors the minority party, and should be rejected by the majority, whether brought forward as a bill or put before the voters as a referendum.
Solvable sub-flaw #3: The electors themselves. The voters do not actually vote for the candidates for president and vice-president, but for slates of electors, actual folks who are committed to vote for the presidential tickets when the Electoral College convenes.
Except some of the electors are more "committed" than others. There have been many examples of electors casting their vote for someone other than the candidate they were sent to the Electoral College convocation to support. We haven't had these independent minded people actually changing the outcome of the election yet, but it seems an obvious loophole based on outdated 18th Century thinking that should be closed before we get an election whose corruption makes even 1876 and 2000 seem quaint.
So, to review, here is the Electoral College system. Its flaws are obvious, its advantages for the nation next to none, and the Constitution has done a good job of getting this miserable object dug in harder than a tick between your shoulder blades.