Monday, September 15, 2008

What Is There to Like About the Electoral College?

It’s a trick question, suckers! The only correct answer is, “What ISN’T there to like about it?!” And to receive full credit, it must be said with a sufficient level of indignation.

Firstly, the Founders had their reasons for its creation, while only two reasons are ever given for its destruction: 1. “My side didn’t win the electoral college,” or 2. “It’s too hard to figure out.” The electoral college preserves the trappings of state sovereignty, like license plates and age of consent laws. Remove these three bastions of anti-federalism and you’re left with one state: America. And Barry Goldwater will turn in his grave. Our republican form of government is a little tricky to defend, seeing how we continually create parliamentary forms of government when we overrun our enemies (Germany, Japan, Iraq). However, this difference seems like the product of American history. We were (are? Oh, I slay me!) a union of sovereign states, which was not the case for any of these other countries.

The Founders, however, had some pretty detailed arguments against direct democracy, which I feel we ignore at our peril. I predict that, without an electoral college-like system, we are within four elections of having the presidency be a really big American Idol. All hail Commander-in-Chief David Archuleta! There is a reason that, if I vote this fall, I’d be selecting a group of people to select Kansas’s vote for president. If this system seems useless, it’s because it’s done its job so well for so long that we’ve never seen the alternative: the most popular American every four years elected president.

Secondly, geography becomes important every four years. States matter. Where Nebraska is, and how its unicameral legislature has decided to apportion its electoral votes, is worth noticing. And math proves useful for something besides tallying Oscar votes. It turns out if enough small states disagree with California, California can’t use its overwhelming population to determine national policy (like how it uses its “consumer protection” laws).

As an aside, why are state boundaries held sacrosanct? The line around California was not drawn by God; it was drawn by bureaucrats. (Boo, bureaucrats!) The federal government has a constitutional responsibility to guarantee a republican form of government to all citizens, and when one or a few states so thoroughly demographically dominate the others, I wonder if that guarantee needs to be cited as a reason to resist. Just like how county boundaries have, in the past 100 years, somehow become solidified, state boundaries are no longer serving their purpose. There are more Californians than Canadians. There are more people in Los Angeles County (run by five county commissioners) than in 43 states (with fully-formed state governments).

Is that a republican form of government in any sense? I guess as long as someone is making decisions for anyone else it can be argued it’s republican, but I think it’s telling that our government has grown larger, more distant, and less responsive as we’ve moved further in time away from the men who created it. A representative in 1790 had a constituency around 30,000 people; today that number is around 670,000. For people who complain that anything larger than 435 would be unwieldy, I remind you that the Roman senate at times had upwards of 600 members, and Athenian governing bodies could swell into the thousands. Large districts and year-round sessions are largely responsible for the unresponsiveness of Congress (a factor in its unbelievably low approval rating of nine (so low the rules of type-editing dictate the number be spelled out) percent).

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