Monday, November 22, 2004

Electoral College: why?

A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine. -Thomas Jefferson

Here I am, not really understanding why I am writing on this of all topics. Is there anything with less application to my daily life as it stands right now than this topic? Maybe, but I certainly can't think of it right now. To make matters worse, I started this draft right as I was working on another paper that was due. I did a complete flip when I happened to see the above quote somewhere on the web--and that was it. I knew I wouldn't remember the quote so I would have to save it, and the best place to save it is in a blog post right? Perhaps—but a blog post for the sake of something that is completely non pertinent? We'll just have to make something more out of it. So here I go again, getting philosophical on you.

Why not let the popular vote be our determinant for who is elected president? I know it seems like I already answered the question with the above quote, but there is more. Granted Jefferson makes a compelling point and we sometimes see this played out when we have high density pinpoints on the map dominating the election process. The Electoral College (EC) tends to take the sting out of those imbalances and provides each state with a certain amount of clout no matter what the population.

Some would argue that it is completely ridiculous to give the states a somewhat inaccurate proportion of votes compared to the actual population. They have a point and no one wants to ignore the fact that there are actual people voting in these places who deserve a voice. The problem with their argument is that there is no way in the EC system to give them a perfectly proportional vote without overwhelming congress with hundreds of representatives per state. The minimum a state can have in congressional representation (and therefore electoral representation) is 3. All have two senators no matter what the size or population. The other person from this hypothetical smallest state is for the House of Representatives. For those that don't know, the electoral votes for each state is based on their total representation in congress, house and senate. Washington has 11 electoral votes with 2 senators and 9 house members.

Going back to that minimum of 3...

The state cannot go below this number, and the large states can only have so many representatives in congress. Just because they have as many people on one city block as in the whole state of Wyoming does not let them overwhelm the house with more members than they efficiently handle.

So if they can't get what they want out of the EC then the EC ought to be done away with anyway--they call it an antiquity, only used because no one knew what elections were supposed to look like. The point that they miss, however, is that the national government is not the only player in the election process. Our government is both "federal" and national in nature. Federal means that the states have equal recognition in the senate and have a certain level of sovereignty in and of themselves. In the split-up of powers, the states are bared from a few powers--among them, the ability to declare war. In most cases, though, the constitution designates the state as the primary player in the lives of citizens.

Over the years this has been watered down. The Civil War did much in this regard. I do not think that it has been an entirely negative process either. However the importance of the privilege provided in statehood is really lost on many people--especially by the detractors of the EC.

I think one of the biggest beefs I have with conservatives around election time is that they love to pull out the old "county by county" map which shows a blanket of of red with a few coastal splotches of blue. This is completely unnecessary and tends to perpetuate the trend away from federalism.

There are so many more aspects to this topic which I must let be for fear of extending what has become an extremely boring read for many. There's other posts to work on...
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