More on the Electoral College v. a Popular Vote
Yes, again with the EC.
I am increasingly fascinated by reactions to suggestions that the electoral college should be replaced and said fascination was not diminished by the response to my brief post yesterday about a new Gallup poll that showing a majority of Americans would prefer a popular vote over the electoral college system.
First, as I have noted before, the EC does not even come close to functioning as the Framers intended. They thought that the House of Representatives would regularly choose the President under the EC’s rules. They were quite wrong about how the institution would work. As such, an appeal to the notion that the EC is an artifact of the Framers and therefore deserves special consideration is simply ill-founded (pun intended).
Second, the argument that certain states will have more sway (most commenters pick California) ignores two important issues:
a) The current system already privileges specific states because they are swing states, and it does so in way that only benefits one party. Florida will, yet again, be pivotal in the 2012 election. However, at the end of the day only the Republicans in Florida or only the Democrats in the Florida will matter as the EC is a winner-take-all system. I am amazed that so many prefer a system of choosing the president that results in marginalizing most of the states and focusing attention on a handful of competitive states.
b) A popular vote would privilege the voters in California and Texas (and New York, Florida, etc.) but because there are more voters in California and Texas, but the nice thing about a popular vote is that each voter would count the same (indeed, a voter in Wyoming or Alaska would count the exact same as a voter in California or Texas). Also, in a popular vote the issue is not Texas or California, but it is rather the voters (“Texas” and “California” are simply lines on the map under a popular vote). I say free the California Republicans and free the Texas Democrats to be counted in the process of electing the president, our only true national elected office. Also: make the candidates fight for all their votes, including those on CA and TX. As it stands, Obama can take California for granted and not worry about the the millions of non-Democrats in the state.
In other words, the reason that “California” would be important under a popular vote is because there are a lot of voters there. Surely this should matter. If one is going to argue for things like liberty, freedom, and the importance of the individual one has to explain why one opposes counting all citizens as equal (given that all are created such and endowed with certain unalienable rights, dontcha know). If we are going to privilege some set of persons in an elections, it should be based on the sum of the views of equal citizens, not because as a result of arbitrary geography that some region has a close mix of Democrats and Republicans. Heck, if the Treaty of San Lorenzo had been negotiated differently and the panhandle of Florida had ended up part of what would become the state of Alabama, Florida would be sufficiently more Democratic that it would likely no longer be the batttleground it is. Such historical exigencies should influence the election of the POTUS?
Third, if your argument is that, to be direct, a popular vote will help the Democrats, you need to be honest about your position: you prefer the current system not for principled reasons, but simply because you think it helps your preferred party. You are also saying that you are of the opinion that the Republicans are a minority party and that the only way to keep them relevant is to have institutions stacked in their favor.
a) This is an ill-conceived notion, as clearly the Republicans are quite capable of winning a majority of the popular vote. This is a pretty straight-forward fact.
b) If you really do believe that the EC should be maintained to help your preferred party then you don’t believe in democracy (or, if you prefer, you don’t believe in the notion of a representative republic).
Ultimately, a popular vote would do at least two things: 1) make all of us equal as voters in terms of selecting the president, and 2) increase competition for the office, because all voters would be relevant to the outcome. If individuals are truly important and if competition improves those who compete (two key American values), then I would submit that if one is opposed to EC reform that one ought to give the proposition another look.