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Friday, December 31, 2004


Electoral College Debate

Thanks, TheCO, for extending guest posting privileges to me. I've posted my thoughts on why the Electoral College (EC) should be abolished over at Hawkenblog, if you'd like to get a more comprehensive analysis. Here I am responding to commentary made by Sidial regarding his/her recent post on the American electoral process. Please refer to that post and comments attached to it for the background on the points here expressed.

I'll tell you what's quite simple: the fact that in our country we claim to support the concept that all humans are created equal, be this a self-evidency or philosophically-derived, such as by Objectivism. If you believe that--and it's really quite difficult, or at least not socially acceptable, to disagree with--then among the population of those who are eligible to vote in this country, all people should have a vote that is of equal value to everybody's else's. That's very simple logic, and it's the heart of the argument for a direct, popular vote for president.

You wrote: "Remove the Electoral College, and all a presidential candidate would have to do to win is campaign in the big cities such as NYC, LA, Chicago, and a couple of others. The rural, outlying areas ? including some entire states! ? could be ignored completely, in a purely popular vote situation. The Electoral College was designed for exactly that reason, to prevent exactly that scenario." It is untrue that the EC was developed primarily, or even secondarily, for this purpose. Furthermore, your argument that all a candidate has to do is win key cities is logically flawed. In any given election, the majority of the people in those cities, as well as in rural areas, are likely to have made up their mind before the candidates are even determined. It's infinitely easier for the Democratic candidate to win all the electoral votes from New York and California than it would be for him/her to win even 75% of the votes in either NYC, LA, San Francisco, or San Diego. Anyway, to address this issue, I wrote the following on Hawkenblog:

"Some people who support the EC have suggested that eliminating it would put the focus of candidates only on large urban areas where there are the highest concentrations of voters, effectively taking the emphasis away from the concerns of people in less-populated areas. So far as I can tell, this argument doesn't make sense. Obviously candidates are going to go to areas where there are more votes, but candidates are also always going to try to appeal to a representative cross-section of Americans. Under the EC, Bush and Kerry spent more time in Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania than they did in New Hampshire, Nevada, and New Mexico specifically because they had more to gain in the states with more electoral votes (EVs). But, in all those states, the candidates when to and catered to rural areas, in addition to suburban and urban areas. There?s no reason candidates should care more about those people than about urban voters?after all, urban citizens make up the majority of the people in the US. But regardless of whether candidates focus on 10 states or 50, the amount that they focus on different demographics isn't likely to change significantly. Now, someone in a rural area of a perennial swing state, like Ohio or Missouri, may be opposed to going to a direct voting system, because under the EC a presidential candidate is, say, five times more likely to visit them. But, with the rapid improvements in technology, people can watch events in areas like their own (such as a downtrodden farming community) on cable or the Internetz instead."

The central problem with your reasoning--which concludes that citizens of small states may as well not even vote--is that you think a person in a small state should have a vote that counts for more than a person in a big state, especially in a big city. How can you possibly support that? That is minority rule, and that is not a principle upon which our country claims to be founded and governed. In a popular vote system, everyone's vote would be equal, so in a close election my vote (as a San Diegan) would count as much as my brother's (as a rural Ohioan) as much as some illiterate guy in Wyoming as much as former President Clinton's as much as yours as much as Carrot Top's. If popular vote becomes the method, why would a person decide not to vote just because they live in a particular state that doesn't have a large population? Their state's population is rendered meaningless in the context a direct voting system. As I pointed out on Hawkenblog, as the system is right now, I know that as a Californian my vote is many orders of magnitude less likely to affect the outcome of an election than that of someone in a swing state, particularly one with a low voter turnout and a high number of EVs. That is disenfranchisement. But, why should it matter where you live? The president doesn't (or at least shouldn't) serve the states' special interests - that's the job of the US Congress, Governors, and the state legislature. The president serves the American people. The will of the majority of the American people (who are eligible to vote) is the only thing worth considering when determining the president, and the EC is in direct violation of that.


Kudos, David, on a well-reasoned and fairly thorough argument. I've been undecided on this issue——until now. You have convinced me.
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