Keep the Electoral College

Rhode_Island_State_House_2.jpg

Our fearless editor at Smerconish.com, Colin Evans, cogently argues to abolish the Electoral College. Give me the other side of that debate. In short, Colin wants to see the President elected by direct nationwide popular vote, you know, the way they do in Russia. I’m here to defend the U.S. of A.

On one point, I agree completely with Comrade Colin (dumb joke, I know). The living-flesh structure of the electoral college- actual people casting actual ballots- doesn’t make any sense. It’s undemocratic, and the prospect of Faithless Electors makes it unwieldy.

But I support each state’s winner-take-all electoral votes magically being awarded to the candidate that wins the most citizens’ votes. (As an aside, Maine and Nebraska do not do winner-take-all, and if a state wants to go that way, I’m fine with that too.)

One pillar of Colin’s argument is that the formula for apportioning electoral college votes (EC Votes = House Seats + Senate Seats) ensures that even the smallest states get three votes—disproportionately many, because while the House is pretty well weighted by population, every state gets two Senate seats, no matter its size.

He’s correct, of course: citizens’ votes in less-populous states carry more weight per ballot cast than citizens’ votes in states with lots of people. And that’s fine by me.

The name of the country is the United States—not the United People. As the country was being built, would-be less populous states had to be convinced they weren’t just being swallowed up. These potential states were offered three main Constitutional protections to avoid being swamped by the Tyranny of the [Population] Majority:

  • The Tenth Amendment, which limits the powers of the Federal Government
  • A Senate where every state has equal representation
  • As a result of the Senate structure, somewhat of an overshare of Electoral College votes

In return, small states have to live with the by-population House of Representatives, from which all revenue bills must originate.

Seems like a decent trade. It’s very much better than the other system I’ve seen.

I grew up in Canada, which uses the UK model. Such Parliamentary Democracies have a serious structural issue—little separation of powers. Since the Prime Minister is usually unchecked, it stinks when he’s also mentally unbalanced.

But Parliamentary Democracies also have a governance issue: with seats assigned by population, areas of the country with more people regularly benefit at the expense of underpopulated areas.

With the Senate mostly ceremonial, Canada’s House is where all the action is—and of 338 seats, 199 are in either Ontario or Quebec. Small provinces spend every four-year legislative cycle fighting for table scraps and are given little thought at election time. This stirs up secessionist sentiment, be it in parts of Canada, or Scotland’s 2014 referendum re: leaving the UK (45% voted to secede).

Which brings me to Colin’s other point: he writes that in the last Presidential campaign, 94% of campaign events took place in only 12 states. Swing states, of course. States thought to be safely in one column or the other were largely ignored.

That’s no good, I agree, but I don’t see how a direct popular vote mechanism changes anything. Instead of going to swing states, which can be different states from cycle to cycle, candidates will just go to and stay in the largest media markets forever. New Hampshire, with only 750,000 voters, will see two dozen candidates in February for primaries, then never stand a chance of seeing any of them again—a campaign day in greater LA can reach ten times as many people. America’s 34 largest markets make up half her population.

Where Colin and I might have common ground –and where his idea is likely to at least partially succeed because no constitutional amendment is required—is in supporting electoral college vote distributional change state-by-state. That might be the congressional district models on Nebraska or Maine, a semi-dormant Virginia idea to do something similar, or states even choosing to align themselves by Compact.

Compact? Sure. The concept of states agreeing to cast electoral votes based on who won the nationwide popular vote may be the most efficient of all, and it’s under discussion.

I’m good with any of that, as long as it’s individual states making choices and protecting their own citizens’ best interests. In the meantime, preserving the electoral college is a small concession to less populous states worth maintaining, so that the federal system can function with everyone’s rights in mind.