Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Electoral College Bashing, 2012 Edition

It is fashionable in election years to lament the undemocratic nature of the electoral college.  The latest installment is a nice column in The Dartmouth this morning.  There are two problems that are cited -- that less populous states are overrepresented and that the preferences of people who live in states in which they are in a small minority are irrelevant.  For example, the column notes that Wyoming has 0.18% of the population but 0.56% of the electoral votes.  Continuing with Wyoming, it will always vote Republican, so the preferences of anyone living there don't count at the margin.

It is true that if we elected the President through popular vote, then everyone's vote would count the same.  What is missed in these discussions is that only the first problem -- overrepresentation of less populous states -- is distinctively American.  It applies to both the electoral college and the way the majority party in the Senate is selected.  The second problem is present everywhere that there are representatives elected from districts.  For example, the majority party in the House is chosen every two years by electing our representatives by Congressional district.  I live in Vermont -- everyone who represents me in the House and Senate will be a member of the Democratic Party, regardless of my preferences.  In the attention paid to the question of who will be the next Speaker of the House, no one is considering my vote in Vermont but everyone is looking across the Connecticut River to New Hampshire, where the race in the 2nd district is very close.  These issues also arise in parliamentary systems in which the Prime Minister is chosen by the legislature (though it is important to note that this typically happens with smaller districts than our states and parliamentary systems often have more than two parties and a ruling coalition of those parties).

It is also true that if we elected the President through popular vote, then in a close election nationally, the chaos from Florida in 2000 might spread to many more places.  It is a shame that our voting technology and support are so bad that they constrain the type of election reform we can have.

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