Thursday, December 23, 2004

Electoral College--It's a good thing

Dianne Feinstein is proposing an amendment to the Constitution to abolish the electoral college. Fortunately, the Electoral College will not be abolished. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't understand what a great thing it is. Dean's World explains nicely why the Electoral College system won't be abolished. It would take the consent 2/3 of the Senate and 3/4 of state legislatures to amend the consitution. So, a lot of smaller states would have to vote to disempower themselves to amend the constitution. Sorry Dianne, not going to happen.

Dean also explains some of the good points of the electoral college. Josh Marshall gives the standard critique of the electoral college and sets up a small state empowerement straw man to shoot down. I would like to point out a couple of advantages that Dean (much less Josh) doesn't elaborate that I think are important. One, the electoral college limits the effect of voting fraud. Two, the electoral college limits the impact of local passions and regional candidates.

Fraud can impact the most votes where one party is totally dominant and voting fraud in favor of that party is essentially condoned by the population of the locality. Imagine an election as close as the 2000 election. As Dean points out, the recounts and issues would cascade nationally as votes in every state could have affected the balance. As Dean does not point, Texas with a Republican Governer, legislature, court, and local election officials could easily have manufactured enough votes for Bush to offset the Gore total. But then of course Massachussetts with Democratic Governor, legislature, court, and local election officials could have manufactured offsetting votes. It would be competitive election fraud to the maximum and for any party or large polically uncompetitive state to unilaterally disarm would be suicidal in any remotely close election. The only solution would be central federal control over elections, which has its own opportunities for pernicious behavior. Under the electoral college system, the states where fraud matters in presidential elections are states that are evenly devided where checks on voter fraud are more likely to be found through party diversity (a Republican governer and secretary state and a democratic election commission and supreme court for example).

We can see the virtues of an electoral college in their absence in Ukrain or within American states. In Ukrain the Russian leaning eastern section of the country was able to manufacture votes for Russain supported candidate. If Ukrain had an electoral college like system, the manufactured high turnout and high ratio of votes for one candidate would have less effect on a national election.

Limiting the impact of local passions, is as important as balancing large and small states. Without the electoral college, a single state or regional candidate could take votes from one of the national parties in one state or region and change the national election result. Or perhaps a state party organization could be so weak, corrupt and discredited they make a very poor showing in a large state and disproportionally affect the national result. Over the years we have seen the regional impact States Rights parties, Green parties, temperance parties, etc. have had. The electoral college limits the impact of those parties to the states where they are strong and relevent, and does not amplify their impact through a single national popular vote decision.

Even though Feinstein is only grandstanding here, she is way off base. Calling for the abolition of the electoral college system is irresponsible.

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