Electoral College

At some point long ago, I thought I had posted my thoughts on the electoral college, but I can’t find it.

Every Presidential election cycle, there is no shortage of criticism for it.

I think the criticism is rooted in a misunderstanding of the Constitution and our form of government and a lack of appreciation for the weaknesses in democracies that were demonstrated in falls of previous civilizations.

The common criticism for the EC is that it may elect a President that did not win the popular vote, therefore, it could override the will of the people.

But I think this misses two key things.

First, is the name of our country. We call it the United States of America, not the United People of America. We call it this because we recognize the states are represented in the federal government, not just the population.

We see this federal representation of individual states in two key areas — the Senate and the senatorial electoral college vote. Each state is equally represented in both respects, no matter what the population of the state is.

To simplify: In the fall of other civilizations, political power became too concentrated into the centers of population, which led to those centers making decisions in their own best interest. Eventually, the folks in the outer reaches of those empires stopped participating because their voice wasn’t heard and the civilization began to crumble because those population centers didn’t recognize their importance. They produced food for those folks and provided natural land barriers for invading forces. When the folks producing your food stop caring, your civilization is in trouble.

Second, the Federal government has an important place where population does matter, in the House of Representatives. And, it is Congress, after all, where all Federal legislation is supposed to originate. There is also a population component in the electoral college vote as well.

Also, while not originally designed this way, Senators are selected by popular vote. So, while each state gets the same representation in the Senate, who is selected to be a Senator is chosen by the ‘will of the people,’ or the will of the majority of the people anyway.

So, whenever my friends lament that their vote for President counts a little less than some of their friend’s votes in other states, I encourage them to think about these two points above and to more carefully consider how they exercise their Federal political power when it comes to choosing Senators and Congressman.

I bring this up now, because I so rarely see arguments against the Electoral College that addresses these specific points and I rarely see arguments in favor of the Electoral College. However, I was pleased to see that Garret Jones, at Econlog, shares my appreciation for it. Here’s his key line:

As it stands, presidential candidates are trying to appeal to the median voter in each state across a large number of states.  That’s how you get to be president.  This reduces regional tensions because candidates are never trying to get 90% of the votes in a state.   When you’re pitting 90% of one region of the country against 90% of another region of the country, you’re substantially raising the probability of social conflict.

That’s a deeper way of looking at my first point. If Presidential candidates focused on getting 90% of the vote in just the most populous states, the other states would stop caring about the United States rather quickly.

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One thought on “Electoral College

  1. The original mechanism for the election of US senators is even less understood or appreciated. The 17th amendment dealt a blow to federalism and effectively put in place a master-slave relationship between the federal government and the states. Most people fail to realize that the direct election of senators gives the federal government MORE power (they are less beholden to state governments) and ultimately gives individuals at the local level LESS power over their own lives. It’s ironic that in seeking more direct control – the direct election of senators – individuals have sacrificed control.

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