If it ain't broke don't fix it

Monday, August 28, 2006


I came across a post at Betsys concerning an attempt to make an end run around the electoral college:

Pete Du Pont argues in favor of keeping the Electoral College today. This is relevant because the California legislature passed a bill that would award California's Electoral votes to whichever candidate won the popular vote. And no one can count on Arnold Schwarzenegger in his new girlie mode to veto the bill. And Colorado's legislature is getting ready to pass the same thing. These provisions would go into effect as soon as there were enough states that have passed such bills to determine an electoral majority. Du Pont explains the reasons why this is such a bad idea and why the Electoral College is really worth preserving.

First, the direct election of presidents would lead to geographically narrower campaigns, for election efforts would be largely urban. In 2000 Al Gore won 677 counties and George Bush 2,434, but Mr. Gore received more total votes. Circumvent the Electoral College and move to a direct national vote, and those 677 largely urban counties would become the focus of presidential campaigns.

Rural states like Maine, with its 740,000 votes in 2004, wouldn't matter much compared with New York's 7.4 million or California's 12.4 million votes. Rural states' issues wouldn't matter much either; big-city populations and urban issues would become the focus of presidential campaigns. America would be holding urban elections, and that would change the character of campaigns and presidents.

Second, in any direct national election there would be significant election-fraud concerns. In the 2000 Bush-Gore race, Mr. Gore's 540,000-vote margin amounted to 3.4 votes in each of the country's 175,000 precincts. "Finding" three votes per precinct in urban areas is not a difficult thing, or as former presidential scholar and Kennedy advisor Theodore White testified before the Congress in 1970, "There is an almost unprecedented chaos that comes in the system where the change of one or two votes per precinct can switch the national election of the United States."

Washington state's 2004 governor's race was decided by just 129 votes. A judge found 1,678 illegal votes were cast, and it turned out that 1,200 more votes were counted in Seattle's King County than the number of people recorded as voting. This affected just Washington state, but in a direct national election where everything hangs on a small number of urban districts, such manipulations could easily decide presidencies.


Third, direct election would lead to a multicandidate, multiparty system instead of the two-party system we have. Many candidates would run on narrow issues: anti-immigration, pro-gun, environment, national security, antiwar, socialist or labor candidates, for they would have a microphone for their issues. Then there would be political power seekers--Al Sharpton or Michael Moore--and Hollywood pols like Barbra Streisand or Warren Beatty. Even Paris Hilton could advance her career through a presidential campaign.

I am not a constitutional scholar but it would seem to me that Congress might have a little something to say about this. We have a representative government. That is why all states have two Senators, it is intended to give equal representation without regard to population. In fact when first established the Electoral College was the only means for voting for presidents, not popular vote. It was established in Article 2 Section 1 of the Constitution. It was modified in 1804 in the 12th Amendment.

The thing that sits representative government apart from mob rule, is minority rights. It is the acknowledgment of the individual and the understanding that everyone has value, even the hicks. I realize that California and New York and Florida already swing elections, but if we do away with this system we will change forever the idea that every state matters...even Wyoming or Alaska. Maybe they think those of us who live in rural areas are dead weight and the big cities are all that matters, but the real strength of America lies in her commitment to each and every citizen and his place in deciding the fate of a nation.

Call me sentimental, but I think we should leave the Electoral College alone.

11 comments:

loner said...

Article II, Section 1, Paragraph ii of The Constitution of the United States of America begins:

Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of senators and representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress...

The California legislature is doing nothing which the California legislature is not entitled to do.

As a resident of California I'm all for what they're doing. As a resident of Washington, which I'm to become in about a month, I may not be. Such is the difficulty involved in trying to abolish the selection of electors through amending the Constitution.

The real strength of America lies in her commitment to each and every citizen and his place in deciding the fate of a nation. That is the central argument for abolishing the winner-take-all system currently in place in most of the states.

Rick Ballard said...

Don't worry, Terrye. The rent seeking party is a day late and a dollar short. The switch to mob rule isn't going to happen.

CA and NY are not factors in Presidential elections. I don't think Florida is any longer, either. The battle this year is in your neck of the woods - as it definitely will be in '08. PA, OH, MI, MN, WI maybe even IL in '08. Maybe OR and WA in '08 but probably not until '12 or '16.

Actuarial science isn't as much fun as a horse race but the life insurance companies seem to make a living at it.

Doug said...

Rick,
Is your advice here the same thing that determines what goes in the preview of the RSS feed also?

Doug said...

Also, any pointers to instructions would be appreciated.
Thanks.

Rick Ballard said...

Doug,

I'd love to help if I could but that instruction was the first one that I've written that actually seemed to be intelligible.

It was a confidence builder and if I knew what the hell an RSS feed was, I'd try and answer intelligently.

terrye said...

loner:

I disagree. This is just away for the urban coasts to put one over on the midwest and claim an advantage the founding fathers never intended. Might as well tell the rest of the country to stay home and let LA, NYC and Dallas elect the next president.

terrye said...

LonerL

Nne more thing, it takes more than the California state legislature to change the Constitution of the United States and force the rest of us to go along with whatever they come up with.

loner said...

Terrye—

Try reading the Constitution or, alternately, my comment. The states set their own rules for picking electors. If California adopts this piece of legislation, one of the provisions is that it won't go into effect unless a majority of electors are chosen by the same method. Right now that means that should eleven states (California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, New Jersey and North Carolina) adopt this method, the popular vote winner would be elected provided, of course, the electors followed their instuctions when it came time to vote. Won't happen, of course, but there is no need to amend the Constitution.

Best.

Syl said...

America would be holding urban elections, and that would change the character of campaigns and presidents.

That's not a bug, it's a feature!

er.

terrye said...

loner:

I did read your comment and what this amounts to is an end run around the Constitution. I have read it and no where does it say that a handful of states should come up with a scheme to control the presidential election by manipulating the system. Nope, not in there.

loner said...

terrye—

What do you think in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct means?