Electoral College

Someone mentioned the electoral college on Facebook, and while the question actually involved why bother if the electors can vote how they want, not honoring the popular vote in the state, I’d been thinking so much about the topic again that I spewed forth this comment:

Things changed a lot since they set it up that way. The idea was that it was the collection of states forming the federal government, so there was a balance between state and individual representation. Each state had the same number of senators, regardless of size, representing the interests of the states and appointed by same, not directly beholden to the populace. Representatives were directly elected by the people, representing the people, with as close to an even population per as reasonably possible. Presidency was a mix of the two. People voting, but to come up with the preference of the people in the state, and weighed by population plus a base for each state. The idea of senators representing the states went out the window with the 17th amendment, so they are glorified representatives. Strengthening the federal government in the 1860s probably made that inevitable. The more direct representation got skewed by limiting the size of the house of representatives, entirely aside from what the early invention of gerrymandering and rise of political parties did. Not that there was no merit in the fear of its size becoming unwieldy, but that certainly would be an antidote to the problem of excess legislation. Once the rest was decoupled from the concept of a federal system with representation of states plus individuals, the electoral college method started to seem increasingly odd. It still makes a lot of sense to me, as a traditionalist with a clear understanding of how it was meant to work, but I understand the confusion and the arguments for direct election. That would have its own problem, but on a national rather than state scale. Take away Boston and the vote in MA would no longer be lopsided and predictable. Take away the coastal cities in California, ditto. A case can be made that it’d be scary and rural votes would never count at all the other way, too.

Followed by this related comment:

There are those of us who see things as having gone downhill since the 17th passed, and would gladly repeal it. The argument against repealing it is that state legislatures can be corrupt and appoint a senator you’d never consider. On the other hand, that moves the action closer to home, giving everyone reason to try to turn over the state legislators if they can’t get senatorial selections right.

All of which is part lesson that anyone ought to be able to follow, and part opinion with a dash of opposing view to consider. I’ve debated the topic before with Steven Taylor, who is vehemently opposed to the electoral college. I used to find that odder than I do now, especially coming from a political science professor, than I do now. I am still not convinced, and might rather undo the changes that have rendered it less logical, but I come closer to seeing it than I once did. Still, I predict that if it comes to pass, with all else being equal, the result in practice will be worse than you’d expect. As is often the case for seemingly laudable ideas.

Comments are closed.