THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE: Time To Abolish?

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Should The Electoral College Be Abolished?

Yes
29
43%
No
22
32%
I'm Not American but...Yes
12
18%
I'm Not American but...No
5
7%
 
Total votes : 68

Re: THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE: Time To Abolish?

Postby Guns of Brixton » 19 Apr 2017, 13:31

I just thought I'd add something to this thread that wasn't overly contentious...
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Re: THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE: Time To Abolish?

Postby gingerbreadmen » 20 Apr 2017, 13:37

I don't even know where to start on this. That was a lot of pages of arguing with one troll, so i won't continue that.

Realistically, it shocks me that anyone thinks anyone's vote matters. No individual person's vote matters regardless of whether you live in California, Ohio or New Hampshire. So you really shouldn't be deciding whether to vote or not based if you live in a swing state. Your vote doesn't matter no matter where you live, get over it and go vote for who you want anyway, or don't, your choice.

There are few countries that have a good democratic system. I live in Canada, which is one of the least democratic democracies, we basically just get to elect a new dictator every few years, and even then the election is indirect and a party's leader can still become prime minister while losing the popular vote. The United States in many ways has a much better system, in many ways a much worse system. It's pretty hard to justify the electoral college. Sure it gives smaller states a little bit more influence, and that is a genuinely debatable point, but they already have a power massively disproportionate to their size due to the fact that you guys elect your senators and give every state the same number of senators. So giving them even more disproportionate power via the EC seems grossly undeserved.
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Re: THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE: Time To Abolish?

Postby Guns of Brixton » 20 Apr 2017, 14:43

This has probably been covered earlier in the debate so I apologise in advance, but for me it's pretty simple. The country was founded as a union of States (it's in the name - look it up!) with each seeing the benefit of uniting into a single country but also wary of giving up too much sovereignty over local affairs. As a result many, or even most, laws that affect day-to-day life (regulations on commerce, industry, individual rights, etc.) are made at the state level with those that are deemed important for universal rights or practical for uniformity decided at the Federal level and imposed on all states. People in Europe where I live always have a hard time understanding how different rules can be from state to state. (Eg they might ask 'what age do you need to drive in the States?' or what is the birthdate cut off for school years etc and are astounded when I tell them that it all depends on where you live).

Small wonder that the original political parties were based around States' Rights or Federalism.

So the worry, especially to a smaller State that would have less influence on Federal decisions, was that Federalism would grow and impose rules upon them that were unwanted by their citizenry. To entice them to surrender some of their individual sovereignty to the (more perfect) Union, the States were offered a system which would make sure their voice was heard even if their State was far smaller than the average State in the country. This system included the right to decide most local laws and regulations, to have an equal amount of Senators even if they had far fewer members of the House of Reps and to have a number of electors that was a hybrid of the two (i.e. # of electors = # of total congressmen). Without a deal like this the smaller states would not have had enough incentive to join the Union and the experiment may well have failed.

So that explains why the system was set up the way it was. It seems that the argument against the Electoral College is that it may have made sense in the past but the US has long become much more a single country than a Union of States and so there's no need to protect the individual sovereignty of the small or underpopulated areas. Doing so just gives more power to the few at the expense of the many. But the reality is that these 'rules' were written into the Constitution and changes to the Constitution require 3/4 of all States to ratify. So if you want to change the Constitution you have to get the smallest States to vote to lower their own political influence. Why would they do that?

You can argue that they should do that until you're blue in the face but that doesn't mean it would be in the interests of Wyoming's citizens to have Wyoming's legislature approve such an amendment so Wyoming's legislature would vote to keep the status quo.
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Re: THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE: Time To Abolish?

Postby Zander » 21 Apr 2017, 06:29

Ehhhhh, that's only sort of true.

The issue of federalism is super important to understanding early US history, but the E.C. was not primarily placed in the constitution to help small states gain power. Or, perhaps, that is a comically sanitized interpretation of the framer's intent.The southern states rejected the popular vote because the alternatives (E.C. or direct election by congress) would allow their slaves to count when electing the president. (BTW I suggest that article to anyone interested in this topic. The founders are always interesting to read about: they were such a hot mess, yet somehow the hammered out a fairly good system of governance.)

If the origins of the institution matter or not is another argument all together.
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Re: THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE: Time To Abolish?

Postby Guns of Brixton » 21 Apr 2017, 14:22

I find it amazing that learned historians say things like this (from the intro to the Finkelman article that Zander cites):

The system seems to be unique in the United States—
applying only to the presidential election—and unique to the
United States. I know of no western or industrialized democracy
that uses such a system.


I live in a Parliamentary Democracy (UK) which is not dissimilar to most Parliamentary Democracies in the world. I have an election coming up on the 8th of June in which either Theresa May will remain as Prime Minister (i.e. head of the Executive branch of government) or she will be replaced by Jeremy Corbin (Labour) or Tim Farron (LibDems), Paul Nuttall (UKIP), Nicola Sturgeon (SNP), etc. Does my vote elect May or one of the others?

No, of course not. Should I desire for Theresa May to continue as PM my best course of action would be to vote to re-elect Jane Ellison, Conservative MP for the constituency of Wandsworth Central (in Southwest London). If elected, the Right Honourable Jane Ellison would likely (but not be required to) vote for Ms May to continue as PM, provided, of course, that Ms May wins re-election in her constituency of Maidenhead. Maidenhead's electorate of 74,000 are the only people in Britain that would be directly voting for their Prime Minister.

Should the Conservative Party win a majority of the 650 seats in the House of Commons those MPs elected can make Theresa May PM. If they fall short of an outright majority (as David Cameron did in 2010), they can form a Coalition government with whichever party agrees to support their choice of PM in exchange for the Conservatives supporting whatever part of that party's platform they can stomach. A 'Grand Coalition' with the country's two biggest political parties is even possible as was the case in 2013 in Germany (so in that case if I were a left-leaning member of the SPD I would have had to accept my elected member of Parliament deciding to elect the centre-right CDU's leader Angela Merkel as my PM). It also would have been possible (and was thought almost likely at the time in the days after Britain's 2010 general election) that the 2nd and 3rd place parties (Labour and the Liberal Democrats) might form a 'Lib-Lab' Coalition and elect a Labour PM, despite the Conservatives winning the most votes and the most seats.

One of the stated reasons that Theresa May, in fact, has called for a snap election this June is to increase her mandate to negotiate Brexit. Why does she feel the need to get a public mandate? Because she came to power last July as the result of a 'party leadership contest' within the Conservative Party. In the first vote of the contest she received the support of 165 of her party's MPs (to 66 and 48 votes for her next biggest rivals Andrea Leadsom and Michael Gove respectively) and two days later increased her support to 199 MPs (i.e. 30.6% of all MPs in the Commons) to 84 and 46 for Leadsam and Gove. After that 2nd vote Gove was eliminated and Leadsam announced she was withdrawing so May became my country's leader. On the back of 199 votes.

So it may be true that 'no western or industrialized democracy ... uses such a system [as the Electoral College]' as Prof. Finkelman states, it is equally true that very few democracies elect their leaders directly.
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Re: THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE: Time To Abolish?

Postby gingerbreadmen » 21 Apr 2017, 16:10

Well you detailed the parliamentary system. Which lots of countries use (including mine), but lots of countries use the presidential system, and in all of those countries except the USA, the president is directly elected. I mean there may be the odd exception I'm not aware of, but direct election is most definitely the norm in presidential systems.
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Re: THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE: Time To Abolish?

Postby Guns of Brixton » 21 Apr 2017, 17:45

But the point is that the author said he knew of "no western or industrial democracy that uses such a system" implying that all Western democracies elect their leaders directly. He basically is saying that by enabling the possibility that the plurality of voters do not get their choice of president, the electoral college is dysfunctional for the modern age, an anachronism set up to accommodate slave states.

But if Parliamentary democracies also create the possibility that the plurality of voters don't get their choice of leader then the US system is not so out of step with other Western democracies.
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Re: THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE: Time To Abolish?

Postby Zander » 21 Apr 2017, 22:05

I'm not sure where you are getting that argument, honestly. The statements that "Parliamentary systems produce undemocratic results because their head of government is selected by the legislature," and "The American electoral college is a unique, archaic, and undemocratic system with ties to slavery" are not mutually-exclusive statements.

Finkelman put the quoted sentence at the end of two paragraphs talking about the undemocratic nature of the E.C. and its uniqueness both inside and outside the American system. In other words, he spent the first few paragraphs arguing exactly what that sentence says: that the E.C. is a uniquely American institution and that it is not particularly democratic. The reason the uniqueness is stated is not to say that the E.C. is the only undemocratic system, but to say it is undemocratic and not found elsewhere. This is so that he can raise the natural question in his next paragraph: "How did we get to such a system?" After all, if its only found in the US, that's probably because it has American origins. Finkelman then spends the rest of the essay arguing his answer: that the unique and undemocratic system is due to the politics of the constitutional convention. Specifically, the E.C. was decided on out of three ways that the president could be selected: by popular vote (which many thought was best (particularly Madison), but was opposed by slave states), election through either the state legislatures or national legislature (both were rejected to maintain the separation of powers), and the E.C. (which ended up winning out, with the 3/5ths clause included.)

Adding an aside about how parliamentary systems can have their own undemocratic quirks doesn't add anything to his argument, because those systems can be both different AND undemocratic in their own ways. In fact I think its implicit in his argument that the second option at the convention- direct election of the president by congress- wouldn't be particularly democratic either (at least from Finkelman's perspective): remember he takes a side in this debate by just straight-up quoting Madison at the end of the essay.

But you are certainly right that there are a lot of different democratic systems that produce undemocratic results, or (at least) many systems that do not direly elect the head of government. And, now that I think about it, in the case of the UK and much of the commonwealth, the head of state is still a hereditary monarch. Which is sort of silly, even though her power is entirely ceremonial at this point. There is also other undemocratic elements common to both the American and other systems. Winner-take-all for instance, punishes spoilers, and pushes minority parties out of the picture more or less everywhere it is deployed.

But just because other countries can have undemocratic systems too, doesn't mean that the US can't push for a more perfect system through reform. We shouldn't think "oh, well, I mean some other nations have somewhat quirky, less democratic systems. So lets just wait for them to catch up first!" A direct election for presidential would be nice, but a switch to proportional distribution of electoral vote would also manage to enfranchise more voters while keeping the federal nature of the country intact, while simultaneously protecting small states. A shift in how we distribute house seats may help as well. Right now smaller states are double-dipping on over representation: one guaranteed house seat and a cap on the maximum representative in the house means that large states are underrepresented in the house as well as the senate, amplifying small state's power in the E.C.
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