September 24, 2006

Why I Like the Electoral College

Unsurprisingly, there is apparently a move to negate the electoral college in American elections. I’m not surprised, but (so far) I’m quite against the idea.

First, I’m rather against this particular proposal because it is using loopholes in our laws. That’s just silly. If we need to change the Constitution, there are specified avenues for doing that—and they should be used for such. We’ll only find ourselves in a horrible mess if we keep trying to live in loopholes. (On a sidenote—I love loopholes, but as a tool to do unexpected good, rather than just get around laws that don’t like.)

Second, and more importantly, I would argue that it is undermining a key principle of our Constitution: compromise. Admittedly, the original compromise is perhaps a bit archaic: the Founders did not trust average Joe’s to choose the President, but they didn’t trust the elite, either. So they formed a system where average Joe’s would elect representatives from the Elite, who would then choose a president. That’s been slightly modified since, with political parties and removing the actual people in the Electoral College. But there is still a principle of compromise that is important, and it is evidenced in the design of Congress.

Congress is formed of a House of Representatives and a Senate. The Senate has two representatives from each state, and the House has representatives proportional to the population of the state it represents. Why? Once upon a time, small states were concerned that they would lose a voice if all decisions where made purely by popular vote: their opinions would be drowned out by the populous states. So, the two-house scheme was invented. In the House, the small states might not ever get a chance to speak their piece—but they would have a chance in the Senate. No, they’d never have the same “power” as a large state—but they wouldn’t be forgotten, either.

Nowadays, the relationships between the states are markedly less important. But, the Electoral College still provides a compromising balancing effect: rural areas are still allowed to have their say. If the nation went simply to a popular vote, the cities would often drown out the voice of the country. It isn’t that the country-folk are more important or wiser (though that can certainly be the case), but they deserve a say, just as the small states did once upon a time. The electoral college gives them a chance to sway the electoral votes in their state, which would then influence the national election. It isn’t always a huge say, sure, but it is enough to make sure that candidates listen to all sections of the populace and not just the majority—which is incredibly important in a democracy.

Finally, a little treat for the geeks out there. I read an article in Discover magazine when I was in high school, explaining how the electoral college often gave individual voters more power than a raw popular vote. It’s worth a read for further evidence of why I think the electoral college is important.

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