Monday, November 12, 2012

A Proposal About The Electoral College

I've seen the arguments for and against retaining the electoral college. I have even engaged in a few discussion myself, leaning on opposite sides of the argument at different times. After my most recent discussion, an associate asked me to write about the discussion and the conclusions.

Please feel free to discuss, poke holes, or rant your views on the subject. In reality, no amount of discussion is likely to change the current system anytime soon. However, it is painfully obvious that the system does need some tweaking.

Arguments for or against the electoral college vary in reasons and views tend to switch based upon electoral outcomes. The losing side always seems to have some heartburn over the electoral college system, regardless of which side lost.

To change from the electoral college to a national popular vote would require a constitutional amendment that would likely never pass. It is already a difficult task to get congress to amend the US Constitution to include a balanced budget amendment, something that the framers of the US Constitution believed to be understood and not require an amendment, believing that checks and balances as well as responsibility and accountability would lead to a mostly balanced budget in the first place. Then again, they never counted on tax revenue to be used where private enterprise and charity should suffice. 

The US Constitution states that the States determine the manner in which their electors are chosen. They can be appointed. They can be determined by popular vote. However, nothing mandates that they must be a "winner-take-all" system. In fact, the electoral system was never intended to be a "winner take all" system for the states. The "winner take all" system is one that attempts to negate the electoral college system by reducing it to a popular vote.

The problem is that larger urban areas are dictating the votes for the less populated areas. That is the very thing that the electoral college was meant to mitigate. The winner take all system does not provide for a just and fair representation of the population. Chicago should not automatically determine the will of the people living in Cairo, IL.

Winner Take All just presents another case of the "tyranny of the majority" described in Federalist 10.

The states need a better system.

Winner Take All came about in 1824 as a means to deter and mitigate gerrymandering. The problem is that it actually increases and rewards it by giving the denser urban areas the means to decide for the more rural districts.

The better solution is for each congressional district in a state to determine who that electoral vote goes to. The electoral votes from the state should be split accordingly. Then, the two electoral votes allocated for the number of senators could be split. One could go for the overall popular vote from the state as a whole. The second could be an appointed vote from the state legislature as approved by the state's governor. 

This would provide for a better reflection of the "will of the people" while still allowing for adequate and fair representation.

It would also eliminate the "swing state" rut that has evolved where less than 20% of the states decide the whole of the election. Instead you will have "battle ground districts" across the whole country.

That will cause candidates to travel around the country instead of campaigning only in a couple of states that their advisers and the media declare as "key". The places they go to campaign will be more accessible to voters since they will be within traveling distance. You won't have voters in southern Texas having to travel to New Hampshire to hear the candidates speak.

It can also allow for the so-called "third party" candidates to have a greater propensity to garner an electoral vote here and there, again making the representation more fair and balanced.

The system also combats potential gerrymandering by making a person's vote valid only in their district of residence. If they attempt to vote elsewhere, the vote won't register. This will actually help against gerrymandering and voter fraud.

This system also allows for some of the popular vote as 50 possible electoral votes then go to popular vote, one each state. The representation also better enables the states to retain an important portion of their 10th Amendment rights, keeping 50 of the electoral votes determined by those state governments. Before the US Constitution was amended to change US Senator elections to popular vote, they were appointed by state legislatures with approval by the governors. That necessary influence by the independent states was stolen by that amendment. This process restores part of it without infringing upon individual rights to self-governance. 

The last positive note of this system that requires consideration is that it puts political decisions back where they should be -- at the grass roots level, in the homes of those governed.

The beauty of this system is that it would not require a constitutional amendment to implement. It could be passed as national electoral law forbidding "winner take all". The other option is for states to individually adopt this method. Regardless, it leaves the US Constitution intact without decades of bitter arguing over an amendment that most people would actually want, like the Balanced Budget Amendment has faced.

Those in favor of scrapping the electoral college always swing to prefer a national popular vote. The national popular vote is inherently flawed for a few reasons. The first is that it rewards voter fraud and voter intimidation. There is too little recourse and consequences are too light to deter these things. Voter fraud is not a new concept as ballot stuffing and dead people voting years after dying has been going on since colonial days. While there are modern means to mitigate its effects, the same technology has also enabled savvy criminals to better disguise their crimes. In order to present a better deterrent, higher penalties for Identity Theft, usually directly connected to voter fraud in modern times, need to be implemented.

The largest problem with a national popular vote is the very reason the framers of the US Constitution decided to utilize the electoral college in the first place. The national popular vote does not provide for fair and adequate representation to the states. The national popular vote would, for all intents and purposes, take away any say that states, such as Montana, have in the governance of the nation, ceding that say to more populous states such as Florida. The electoral college is meant to mitigate that effect. However, those in favor of a national popular vote will claim that the electoral college system is already doing that, allowing Montana only three (3) electoral votes. 

The last key point against a national popular vote is that the US Supreme court rightly decided that there is no constitutional right to vote in a presidential election. There isn't. Look in the document. There are no provisions for it.