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Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Times Takes on Electoral College--Updated!

Proving that no quest is too quixotic if it (arguably) helps the Democrats, the Times takes on the Electoral College.

There are decent arguments to be made for and against the Electoral College, but in typical NYT fashion, only the latter are expressed here. In the interests of balance, here are the arguments in favor of the Electoral College:

1. It forces political candidates to campaign in smaller states. Would any presidential candidate waste his time in South Dakota or Wyoming if not for the electoral college?

2. It limits recounts to individual states. Remember Florida 2000? Imagine that played out in fifty different states.

3. It limits the effects of cheating.

The Times rightly notes that the current system:

It also discriminates among voters by weighing presidential votes unequally. A Wyoming voter has about four times as much impact on selecting that state's electors as a California voter does on selecting that state's.

True enough, but what would happen if we abolished the Electoral College? Obviously the big states would have more power. Pardon me if I don't think that's a good idea.

The Times does mention an ingenious end run around the constitutional amendment process:

But National Popular Vote, which includes several former members of Congress, is offering an ingenious solution that would not require a constitutional amendment. It proposes that states commit to casting their electoral votes for the winner of the national popular vote. These promises would become binding only when states representing a majority of the Electoral College signed on. Then any candidate who won the popular vote would be sure to win the White House.

Paul asks why big states shouldn't have more power. But of course, they do have huge power as it is. California is a state that neither party can really afford to write off. New York gets tons of attention even if it's not realistically in play anymore because of its status as the media capital. Florida and Texas get a lot of attention; every election since 1980 has had a Texan on the ballot save 1996 (1988 had two). Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey; all of these states get plenty of attention.

To change the rules so California gets more attention seems silly. California already has 55 electoral votes, more than 10% (10.2% to be precise) of the total necessary to elect a president And in 2004, a little more than 10% (10.1% to be precise) of the nation's votes came from California. So it's hard to see that California's getting screwed here; in fact the small states are getting a small advantage, but it doesn't add up to much in the face of a behemoth.

And note that the advantage for small states arises simply because of the Senate. Now I know a lot of people would like to change the Senate as well, but the Senate/House system was essentially a compromise between small states and large states. The large states got the power in the House, and the small states got the power in the Senate. It is clear that this compromise was intended and agreed to at the time by both the large and the small states. And it is not hard to argue that the makeup of the Electoral College was also part of that compromise.

To a certain extent, the Times' endorsement of this measure is a perfect example of the "something for nothing" Democrats. It's the painless miracle cure for what ails the donkeys' presidential hopefuls. But there are no miracle cures. The Democrats have been avoiding taking the hard measures needed to build a majority party because they keep believing that some killer slogan will get them back in the W column.


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