Politics / Policy / Thoughts

3 Sides to Every Story – Electoral College

Every week the Partners read articles that spark conversations and reflect their diverse points of view. This week they are discussing, “Why The Electoral College Is An Archaic System That Must Go”, EliteDaily. 

Khalid Jones:

Top 5 Reasons to get rid of the electoral college (IMHO)

1. We have graduated (no pun intended) from a time in which we believed that the people needed surrogates to decide for them.  Our current sense of democracy is so deeply entrenched that the schema of the Electoral College seems decidedly undemocratic.  Although a completely separate issue from the Electoral College, this year’s presidential primary process has shone a white hot light on election processes that have the potential to not reflect the will of the people and I expect some populous spillover onto the Electoral College process as well.

2. It is the ONLY election that any American will participate in that is not decided by popular vote.  Why the schism? We don’t vote for Congress this way, or Governor or Mayor or State Reps or School Board or…you get the picture.

3. We have seen the popular vote winner lose a presidential election 4 times in the nation’s history.  The first three times were in the 1800’s and the most recent time was in 2000 when, if you remember, Bush defeated Gore in the electoral vote despite losing the popular vote.  Although it has been a (relatively) rare occurrence, I have yet to field a good argument as to why it should ever happen at all other than an appeal to history.

4. We’re the only Democratic country who does not expressly follow the will of the people in selecting its Chief Executive.  Usually, the “everybody else is doing it” argument is not very persuasive in my book, however, imagine the outcry from this country if we knew that a secret cabal of electors in Country X met to expressly overturn the will of the people in the election for a president.  Are you imagining it?  Imagine it.  Turns out that we are country X.

5. Electoral College plainly runs afoul of the “one person one vote” principal that has been upheld time and time again by the US Supreme Court.  This is the principal that each person’s vote should count roughly the same as any other person’s vote to avoid disenfranchisement under the guise of suffrage.  Because the Electoral College is apportioned by each state’s congressional delegations, voters in smaller states have a greater per-person electoral impact than voters in larger states.

Wade Murphy:

I concur that the Electoral College (EC) is a passé and I find it intriguing that there are multiple justifications for the abolition of the system.  While the article focuses on the “unfairness” of a disproportionate weight of the system to low-population states, I take a wholly different route.  In actuality, I find that the protection of low-population states with a weight adjustment for meaningful representation is a welcome course of action inside a representative election system like the EC.  It gave due weight to people who chose to live outside of densely populated states so that their collective interests (industrial vs agrarian/ranching) were not drowned out as easily.  So much for the history lesson, however, since modern American culture does not need to give additional weight to frontier populations.  Americans live in each of the 50 states with variable centers and a significant mix of economic and socio-economic interests.  We may tend to still clump certain states or areas by primary industry, but the microcosms of a fully mature economy and instantaneous communication make such groupings irrelevant to political inclinations of the citizens.

My primary concern with the Electoral College is not that it over-weights low-population states, but that it makes most of the population as a whole thoroughly unnecessary through winner-take-all in states.  Take the 55 votes in California – considered a defacto Democratic state in electoral math.  Minus the 2 votes for the Senators, there are 53 individual congressional districts.  14 districts are Republican, some quite heavily so.  These voters, and voters in “toss-up” districts across California regularly have their vote nullified by the fact that the large Democratic population in the state that statistically will always vote well over 50% for Democratic presidential candidates.  The same for Texas, in reverse (38 EC votes, but 11 districts are traditionally deeply Democratic voting).

While a majority vote is certainly quite appealing and seems to make the most sense from a voter-perspective, I would posit that abolishing the totality of the EC for a straight-line national vote would create more problems than it would solve.  Currently because of Electoral College math, national campaigns focus on “key swing states” to make their calculations on where to spend campaign dollars.  In an era where political campaigns spend over $1 billion each cycle just in presidential campaigns (not to mention PAC money, party apparatus dollars, etc), and the overwhelming majority of those dollars are spent in no more than 10 states, spreading the campaign cycle to every single voter across the entire country could easily encourage political campaigns to spend more than 5x current campaign spending (since the most expensive media markets in the country are in non-swing states).  The nature of campaigning to all 330 million citizens makes the reality of campaigning to a straight mainline majority vote unwieldy.

HOWEVER, a result that honors the representative form of government that we as Americans use regularly to greater benefit is to apportion EC votes by congressional district rather than states.  I would be quite interested to see an EC math that does not take California’s entire 55 votes or Texas’ entire 38 votes for granted, but apportioning to where voters actually do vote in discrete representative blocs.  This would also change the campaigning structure so that campaigns would target swing districts rather than entire swing states.    This would allow for voters’ voices to be heard much more meaningfully than in a “blue or red state” vote.

John Eddy:

I have heard this argument from both a conservative and a liberal angle, most recently due to the 2000 election outcome. I have also heard it as an issue of fairness and a sensible general rule that the person with the most votes should win a national election. All these points are both right and basically true on their face.

What it doesn’t take into account is the localized effort that national candidates must make, where they have to take the time to visit and understand the whole United States during the electoral process and when they govern. If we were adopt a popular vote system, the small rural regions of the United States and the small states of the U.S. would be relegated to measly mentions in speeches. I would call this the Kardashian Effect. Why? Because large media buys in large markets would drive people and votes. The mass marketing of an image rather than a person and whoever has the money and high name ID would dominate election cycles. I have seen the cultural monetization of this effect, and I had rather it not determine the fate of the nation no matter how many shoes Kim might be selling this week.

A country needs a diverse and inclusive system, where candidates must not only find approval in vast megalopolis populations but appreciate the underserved and small pockets of America that make this country so unique. I trust our Founders understood what it meant being the step-child to mother England and put in place a system that would balance regional and populist dominance. Our country is great because we all take part and politicians are forced to seek out our support and vote no matter where they go. If New York, California and Texas were the only ones to ever decide an election the Kardashians might find themselves on Rushmore someday. Might doesn’t always make right and the system that balances various beliefs in a vast diverse country should be protected.

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