Why Keep the Electoral College   6 comments

So many people I know are freaked-out-foaming-at-the-mouth upset that Donald Trump won the presidency even though Hillary Clinton supposedly won the popular vote.  There are a lot of people, especially over on the George Soros-financed MoveOn.org, screaming that we need to abolish the Electoral College immediately and have the presidency decided by popular vote. Even people here in Alaska, who SHOULD know better, are calling for it.

In contrast, I support the Electoral College, for the most part. I might change how it is calculated if I were in charge, but I generally approve of it because it is one of the Constitution’s providentially great procedures preventing the concentration of political power and the resulting abuses stemming from such concentrations.

Let’s start with the what makes the Constitution’s voting rules accidentally great.

At the time of the Constitution’s ratification in the late 1700s, its proponents expected federal power to be restrained by having a wide swath of different Americans in a large republic form many factions. These diverse factions would restrain federal action by hindering consensus.

“The smaller the society, the fewer probably will be the distinct parties and interests composing it; the fewer the distinct parties and interests, the more frequently will a majority be found of the same party; and the smaller the number of individuals composing a majority, and the smaller the compass within which they are placed, the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression. Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other.” Federalist #10, written by James Madison

According to Madison, having a lot of people with diverse interests restrains federal power and protects liberty by deterring the formation of oppressive majorities. Madison didn’t foresee the two-party voting system that would eventually be the norm in this country. He thought republican democracy would be more like herding cats than sheep.

When designing the Constitution, its Framers spent considerable time considering who voted when. The Constitution makes the House popularly elected by the people, the Senate appointed by the states, the President indirectly elected through the Electoral College, and the judiciary nominated by the President and approved by the Senate. Due to a skepticism of majorities, the Constitution empowers different people to choose different components of the federal government to protect against majoritarian dangers.

While the Framers concentrated on who should be allowed to decide, they largely overlooked how those people should be measured. Kenneth Arrow earned a Noble Prize in economics with his book Social Change and Individual Values. I warn that it’s a snore-fest, but his basic premise is that HOW collective decisions are measured matters more than who should be included in the decision-making process. In other words, the “will of the people” does not exist independently of the voting rules. Voting rules matter because the measure of “the will of the people” determines collective decisions.

For a Madisonian system with many factions that deter majorities, states would need to use a system of proportional representation in voting. Under such a rule, a party with about 10% support would receive around 10% of the seats in Congress, and Congress would need to form coalitions with many factions to pass legislation—just as Madison wanted.

Proportional representation often doesn’t work well. Currently, due to proportional representation, Spain has lacked a government for almost a year because of the inability to form a coalition. Belgium once had no elected government for 589 days. European countries with proportional representation voting systems show how Madisonian inhabitions on government might work. As Madison suggested, a larger, more diverse country with a proportional representation voting system would likely have such restrains more frequently.

Having underappreciated the significance of voting rules, Madison expected many factions and did not intentionally design the Constitution to restrain the unanticipated two-party system. A two-party system poses the danger of one party taking exclusive control and exerting its unrestrained will on the population. This is somewhat mitigated by the Constitutional requirement for staggered elections, but it doesn’t prevent it. We all saw the results of that in 2008-10 and may experience a repeat performance in reverse starting in January.

The Electoral College safeguards against the concentration of political power by one party because of its accidental operation within our two-party system. Many people assume the Electoral College is an arbitrary way of electing somebody to be President based on a close correlation to the national popular vote. For the fifth time in American history, the candidate winning the Electoral College lost the popular vote. So, let’s dump the Electoral College, people shout. But hang on a second.

As originally envisioned, the Constitution includes an Electoral College to insulate voting from the majority and enable wiser electors to choose the President. The Electoral College, Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 68, would avoid “tumult and disorder” by ensuring that the small number of people who “possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations” would decide the President.

In practice, electors almost always vote based on state popular votes. Trump will win the Electoral College regardless of demands for electors to defect. Despite occasional defections, such as Roger MacBride casting his electoral vote for Libertarian candidates in 1972 (thus giving a woman her first electoral vote), the rare Electoral College defections do not affect presidential elections. Much like the belief that factions would restrain federal power, the belief that the Electoral College would enable wiser elector to decide the President is mostly illusory, but there are other benefits.

The Electoral College within a two-party system acts as a means of restraining voter fraud and the potential resulting concentration of political power.Regardless of the original intention, within a two-party system in a large nation, the Electoral College has the wonderful function of transforming a single national election into 51 local elections. With the elections managed locally, the federal government has little control over the voting process and cannot systemically tilt the election in favor of the party in power, preventing any party from systematically expanding its power through the voting system. The Electoral College protects the voting system from potentially systemic federal corruption by dispersing it across the states.

In addition to federal tampering with the voting system, politicians in red and blue states could have both the political power and the incentive to engage in outright fraud to empower the party in control. Considering how creative and manipulative these politicians have been in gerrymandering, politicians governing a one-party state within a two-party nation would likely manufacture many legal and illegal ways to enhance their party’s national popular vote. By creating 51 contests instead a national popular vote, the Electoral College deters red and blue states from tampering with the voting system and concentrating federal political power within their party.

Interestingly, the Electoral College defense reverses the historical case for it. Rather than having Hamilton’s politically astute elites choose the President, the Electoral College disperses power by protecting Presidential elections from partisan political elites.

Here is a map of the 2016 presidential election by county.

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Wow. That’s a LOT of red. As seen in the above map, Republicans overwhelming won America’s counties and carried rural America. In contrast, Democrats won substantially fewer counties and compensated by winning populous, urban cities. Do we think it’s a good idea for the cities to control presidential politics and electoral outcomes? As anyone read or seen The Hunger Games? Do away with the Electoral College and the cities decide presidential elections from here on out.

 

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6 responses to “Why Keep the Electoral College

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  1. Great summation of the Electoral College!

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  2. Restraints and balances are always needed on a government. The only thing is with the electoral colleges is that they are not compelled to do as the voters wanted. This is currently giving false hope to those who do not wish to accept the result of a democratic election.

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    • You’re right about the rhetoric being thrown about, but the rioters in the street seem to be operating on half information. The Constitution doesn’t speak on it, but federal law imposes a statutory requirement for EC electors to vote with the popular vote in their state — except in Nebraska and Maine, which use a different system based on election districts. Anyone who is insisting otherwise has not done their homework.

      Sure, electors could theoretically cast a ballot anyway they want, but if that swayed the vote from whatever the popular election outcome in that state was and resulted in a dramatic change from the EC count on election night, the election would be thrown into the House of Representatives.

      As example — Gary Johnson did pretty well here in Alaska, but electors are required to vote for Trump, even if they disagree, because the EC outcome can be set aside if it becomes tainted. That’s happened twice, I think, and both back in the day before the popular vote could be so easily obtained and before federal statute mandated that the EC conform to the popular vote within their states. Sometimes electors go rogue anyway, but they haven’t changed an election result since the 1850s.

      This current hullaballoo is from people who really need to study some history and calm the heck down. I didn’t want Trump either, but I also don’t want bloody revolution in our streets and setting aside an election at this point would cause that. You can’t keep subjugating half of the country under the permanent whim of the other half of the country and expect things to continue peacefully.

      But it would be nice if this were clear in the Constitution and not just through statute. Theoretically, Obama could set aside this election by executive order … but it would still end up in the House of Representatives, where the outcome would likely be the same as it was on Election Night.

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  3. Reblogged this on I Refuse To Follow Your Blog and commented:
    Here’s a very well written article on why the Electoral College is still relevant and shouldn’t be done away with. (PLEASE LEAVE ALL COMMENTS ON ORIGINAL BLOG SITE.).

    Like

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