Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Electoral College and the Sense of the People

Via Majikthise I found this article on recent efforts by certain New York legislators to put forward legislation that would give New York's Electoral College votes to the winner of the nation's plurality vote. Unlike Lindsey, I think this is a horrible idea, one based on a clearly false idea, namely, that the Electoral College system is somehow 'broken'. (In fact, whenever people talk about its being broken, what they actually point to for evidence is state election laws. For instance, the reason for the 2000 fiasco has a lot to do with the inability of Florida, for the second time in its history, to figure out what its own election laws require. But state election laws will not disappear or magically become sensible without the Electoral College.) What is more, it violates the whole principle of putting the voting power in an elected college rather than in the state legislature. The Founding Fathers considered giving the legislatures the power to vote; they rejected it in favor of the Electoral College, according to Hamilton, because (1) in an election you need to have the sense of the people of the state, at the point in time of the election, involved in choosing those who decide how the votes will be applied; (2) in case anything strange happens -- for instance, close election or suspicious numbers, or proof of foreign tampering -- you need to have people chosen for their discernment in charge of handling it, rather than a pre-established formula, because you need to have an election system that can handle the unexpected. What the proposed bill would do is demolish both: the legislators of New York are proposing to take the sense of the people of New York out of the distribution of New York's votes altogether, and determine it by a pre-existing rule having little to do with how people in New York vote.

There are many things that could be said about whether our President should be directly elected or (as the President currently is) indirectly elected by a representative college of electors. But it should not be noted that the bill proposed in New York (and each of the similar bills proposed elsewhere) is not a bill for direct election, as it is sometimes treated in the press. To do that they would have to start the process for constitutional amendment. What they are proposing to do instead is to reduce the say of New Yorkers in determining New York's Electoral College vote. Mr. Thiele, who argues that New York is taken for granted, has decided, apparently, to remedy the situation by taking the voters of New York for granted and letting their voice be outweighed in the use of their own Electoral College votes by those of people from other states. Dr. Koza's claim that the Electoral College is the cause of issue distortion suggests he's never looked at how issues get distorted in nations that don't have an Electoral College (like Canada, which has a parliamentary rather than an electoral college system, and whose 2004 election saw the West and the East largely ignored in favor of courting votes in Ontario in order to force a shift in government). It's votes being up for grabs, not the system itself, that creates 'issue distortion'; and there is no voting system in which there aren't votes up for grabs. What Koza calls 'issue distortion' is really just campaigning. One of the nice things about the Electoral College system is that it guarantees that the battleground states (as far as the Electoral College goes) change over time as the populations do, and requires that the state be the focus, and not just its more concentrated population centers.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please understand that this weblog runs on a third-party comment system, not on Blogger's comment system. If you have come by way of a mobile device and can see this message, you may have landed on the Blogger comment page, or the third party commenting system has not yet completely loaded; your comments will only be shown on this page and not on the page most people will see, and it is much more likely that your comment will be missed.