Meaningless votes

June 16, 2008

This editorial says the Electoral College is bad because it disenfranchises some voters. If John McCain wins Indiana (as the paper assumes), it means “a Hoosier vote for Obama essentially won’t count.” That’s a pretty lame argument — anyone who votes for the losing candidate, no matter what system is used, has that vote rendered meaningless. Under the end-run around the Electoral College being considered by about a dozen states and remarked on favorably by the editorial, electors would be apportioned based on who won the congressional districts. If I voted for McCain but Obama won the 3rd District, he would get all those electors, and my vote would rendered no less meaningless than those of the losing voters under the current system.

Those who want to do away with the EC display a fundamental lack of appreciation for the system this country has, why it was set up that way and what the benefits are:

The Electoral College has outlived its usefulness. It was set up to protect states with smaller populations. Since the Founding Fathers created the Electoral College, the election process has changed dramatically because of the evolution of the two major political parties and the impact of money and the news media on the campaigns.

The  Electoral College, quite simply, isn’t good for democracy. It can discourage voter turnout, as could be the case with Hoosier Democrats in the fall.

But we’re not a democracy, are we? We’re a federalist republic, with lots of delicate separations of power and diffusions of authority. The election process may have changed because of the parties, the money, and the press, but the need to weigh and balance regional interests remains.

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8 Responses to “Meaningless votes”

  1. Larry Morris Says:

    “The Electoral College has outlived its usefulness. It was set up to protect states with smaller populations.” – Yes, that is one reason, but I also thought the Founding Fathers were afraid of letting the public elect the president – wasn’t that brought out in some of the Federalist Papers ? Seems to me that’s the most troubling aspect of the “reason for the Electoral College”, …

  2. Leo Morris Says:

    The whole point of a republic is to distance important decisions from popular passions, as in the familiar “we don’t decide; we just choose the people who decide” description of the legislative process.

  3. Larry Morris Says:

    Until, of course, the people you choose turn out to be, more and more, not representing your interests, … but we’re not there yet, are we ?

  4. Harl Delos Says:

    If an election is won by 1000 votes for candidate A over candidate B, a single vote for either candidate is meaningless, as it doesn’t affect the outcome.

    Except it’s not entirely meaningless. For instance, if two GOP candidate at the county level are running unopposed, and one gets 8,000 votes and the other gets 12,000 votes, it signals both parties that the candidate getting only 8,000 votes that the position is quite vulnerable, and they had best cast about, looking for a new candidate to run, next time. And it warns the candidate that he needs to shape up and fly right.

    The importance of the electoral college was shown in 2000. Instead of recounting every vote in every state, only the votes in Florida was questioned. Can you imagine a recount in which every vote in every polling place, all across the country, was recounted? You could have 12 recounts, and get 12 different results, 6 electing candidate A and 6 electing candidate B.

    Did we get the right results in 2000? Al Gore thinks not, but the fact was, it was an extremely close race. Neither of the candidates had a majority of the votes. But if this country were to go without a president for months, it’d give carte blanc to other countries to attack, whether it was something like the USS Pueble or USS Cole, or violating trade agreements, or slipping melamine into our food supplies. It’s better to flip a coin and put the “wrong” candidate in office than to have none at all. If the wrong candidate appears to be THAT bad, he wouldn’t have gotten half the votes.

    The electoral college also minimizes the effect of weather on election day. If there is a blizzard in Michigan, and only 10% of the population can vote, the smaller number of voters will still have the same weight as if there were 90% turnout, ensuring that Michigan’s interests in the presidential race are felt.

    I used to argue that, in the case of a close race, the electoral college would tend to magnify the differences between the candidates, so that you had a clear-cut winner. This year’s primaries tended to support that position – the GOP, which awards all delegates from a state to the front-runner, selected a winner early, while the Democrats, who awarded delegates proportionately, did not. Turn out, however, that when I took a look at who won each state, and did an Electoral College comparison, the tight race was still a very tight race. (Hillary’s claim that she’d have won on the basis of Electoral College votes was a lie. To show her winning, you had to eliminate all states which used caucuses, and you had to count the communist election in Michigan.)

    I’d like to see how well corporate-style governance would work. That is, you could collect proxies from other citizens, and go to Congress to vote them. John Smith wouldn’t be the congressman from some district in some state, he might be carrying proxies from citizens in 50 different states. If you get POed at your congressman, you could revoke your proxy and issue one to someone else at any time. There would be only one house in Congress, and the congressmen would select a chief executive, much as the UK or Canada does.

    I’m not saying that it would be a better system; I’m saying I’d like to see how well it would work. It obviously has some advantages, but it obviously has disadvantages as well.

  5. Kevin Knuth Says:

    As a Democrat I guess I am supposed to be against the Electoral College. Leo said that right when he typed this:
    “The whole point of a republic is to distance important decisions from popular passions”

    As John Stewart said (paraphrasing): “You have to remember one thing about the will of the people: it wasn’t that long ago that we were swept away by the macarena”.

    So, I think the Electoral College is a good thing.

  6. Doug Says:

    I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s *our* thing. I think it has a stabilizing influence on the electoral process. In 2000 we may have paid a price for that influence, but ultimately, I think the costs outweigh the benefits — or at the least, it’s the enemy you know versus the enemy you don’t know.

    On the other hand, we essentially killed off federalism during the Civil War when the southerners decided to commit treason in defense of slavery. So, it might be worth rethinking the electoral distribution so that voters in rural states don’t have a vote that is disproportionately more valuable than the votes of their fellow citizens in more populous states.

  7. Larry Morris Says:

    Well, from the cheap seats, the problem doesn’t seem to be so much the fact that our process may not be what we thought it was or might not work the way we thought it did, it’s that, it seems, no matter who is elected we still can’t seem to solve some of the problems that plague us, …with the pendulum swinging so wildly from ultra-liberal to ultra-conservative, the bulk of the people in the middle aren’t served, …

  8. Harl Delos Says:

    the southerners decided to commit treason in defense of slavery.

    Treason isn’t the word you want.

    From the standpoint of the north, there was never a war declared, because the southern states were still part of the USA, rather than a sovereign nation. Without a war, you don’t have formal enemies, and it is impossible to commit treason.

    From the standpoint of the confederacy, they had formed a new sovereign nation, and their constitution was very closely copied from the US Constitution. Article 3 Section III of their constitution, just as Article 3, Section III of the US constitution, defined treason in exactly the same terms. OTOH, anyone fighting “in defense of slavery” wouldn’t be considered a traitor to the south, but a patriot.


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