Reforming the Electoral College

Electoral Vote for October 29th

There’s been a lot of talk lately, between Steven Taylor, Doug Mataconis, Jazz Shaw, and other bloggers, about the Electoral College. It seems to come up every now and then, usually in pieces calling for it’s abolition. That’s Steven’s and Jazz’s take, and they do make good points. Steven mostly thinks that the EC is irrelevant, and indeed, somewhat undemocratic:

Here’s the deal:  the only southern states that are true toss-ups are Virginia and Florida, and under any plausible EC scenario President Obama can lose them both and still win the electoral vote.  Governor Romney, however, can not.

Imagine a world in which all of those extra Southern voters mattered and imagine how differently the candidates would be behaving if that were the case.  As it stands, all of that Romney support is contained almost exclusively in places where extra support has no marginal value.  Each extra voter in Alabama who decides to vote for Romney simply doesn’t matter.  An Ohio voter, however, matters an awful lot.

A grand irony here is that a standard pro-EC argument is that it protects the states against national sentiment.  However, if the Gallup poll is correct and Romney wins the popular vote by a large margin due to overwhelming support in southern states, but still loses the electoral college, the fact of the matter will be that the EC actually diminished the significance of those states.

This is also, more or less, what Jazz Shaw thinks:

As things stand now, your vote doesn’t really count unless you live in one of roughly ten states. If you live in New York or California, your vote doesn’t count. It’s going to Obama whether you like it or not. And if you live in Georgia or Alabama, your vote doesn’t count either. It’s going to Romney. And your voices are not heard by presidential candidates, They don’t visit you and they don’t pay attention to your concerns unless you live in one of those ten aforementioned states.

Other common arguments include the cry of, “National Recount!!!” (eleventy!) Why? Each state can still report their own numbers and determine how close the vote would be before a recount would be required. But instead of sending in electors with scraps of paper, they could record the total vote.

These are actually good points, but ultimately I feel they still fall short. Changing the presidential election to a national popular vote is not going to enfranchise millions of Americans. Instead, it will just exacerbate the problem, bringing to a fully national level.

The reason I say this is because of demographics. Looking broadly conservative/liberal divide, conservatives are out in the rural areas, and liberals are in the cities. But when you look at demographics, you find that it’s wildly unbalanced:

In 2010, a total of 80.7 percent of Americans lived in urban areas, up from 79 percent in 2000.

Conversely, 19.3 percent of the U.S. population lived in rural areas in 2010, down from 21 percent in 2000.

Now, there is something to be said about majoritarianism. Obviously, more people—vastly more people—live in cities, so they should, consequently, have more votes. But, we live in a constitutional democracy, a republic limited by laws, not a direct democracy. We need to make sure that even minorities—in this case, folks living in rural areas—are still heard.

Yes, I know that they have their Congressional representatives in the House, but as we’ve seen over the past decade, the House has been totally okay with shirking its duties and hand its powers over to the presidency. (Libya, anyone?) But even with the House, I still don’t think that the presidential election should be decided entirely by the cities on the coasts (plus Chicago and Detroit.) What kind of president would we get, one who had to pay absolutely no attention to the rural lands of the Midwest or the South, or even the West? Not a good one, in my opinion.

I come to this view by virtue of being an escaped Upstate New Yorker. I live in the lands far north of Yonkers and the Big Apple, up in the wild frontier of Syracuse, Rome, Utica (yes, before you ask—we are all Italians), and even Albany, our state capitol. The Democrats have had a permanent supermajority in the Assembly (our lower house), since the Assembly is based on state population, which means a vast majority of districts lie within the super-liberal, Marxist city-state of New York City. The same is for most governors, as well as United States Senators—those elections are entirely within the city and no one cares about the northern part.

Is it fair that a conservative north is increasingly being shut out of Albany and ignored because of a more populous, liberal south? A liberal south that consistently passes laws that hamper the Upstaters’ ability to work and find jobs, and thus lead to them fleeing the state en masse? (Not that Big Apple folk would know, since they don’t pay attention to their northern cousins.)

That, in my mind, is not a recipe for good governance. Yet, by replacing the Electoral College with a national popular vote, that’s exactly what I fear we’ll get. And we’ll get it good.

Obviously, though, the current system is inadequate. Even today, Republicans and conservatives (and libertarians!) in Upstate New York are also ignored in the presidential race, thanks to New York City. What to do then?

I myself endorse Doug Mataconis’ idea of going to the District Method, and awarding electors based on Congressional districts, not entire states (although, by virtue of senators, each states would also have 2 at-large votes to go to the overall state winner; in my mind, those should go to whomever wins the state’s popular vote, not the most districts.) This would balance out urbanites vs. rural, and give everyone a fair share. However, before we enact this reform, we must—must must must must MUST—replace the current gerrymandering-prone process of creating districts with either independent commissions or (more preferably) computer algorithms. We cannot have entirely safe districts, chosen to carve out guaranteed votes for a party’s candidate. There has to be competition, and no politician should feel safe.

That’s just good governance.


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