Thursday, 16 September 2004

Electoral Reform

Campaign Finance Reform has gotten a lot of well-deserved attention in the last several years, and though cynics will tell you that corruption can't be stopped, I contend that McCain-Feingold is at least a step in the right direction. Sure people and money will find ways around any strictures, but that doesn't mean we should encourage corruption.

There are other types of reform though that have gotten much less attention, in spite of the fact that they could have widespread support.
Two Democratic Congressmen, Brian Baird of Washington and Gene Green of Texas, have teamed up this week to introduce a Constitutional Amendment that would do away with the Electoral College and install our Presidents by direct popular vote. Now it's a shame that we need to amend the Constitution to implement a common sense procedure, but that is the most certain way to effect such a change, and really it should be popular. Thomas Jefferson was an outspoken opponent of the Electoral College from its inception. Many of the early arguments in its favor have been obviated by today's technology, so getting rid of it should be a slam dunk, but both parties have vested interests in the system, so it's an uphill battle in spite of clear popular appeal. No less than 700 previous attempts have been made to eliminate or modify it so far, to no avail. If this year's election brings us a mismatch between the popular vote winner and the Electoral College winner for the second time in as many elections, however, maybe the will to do away with it will finally be overwhelming.

Other forms of Electoral reform well worth adopting are Instant Runoff Voting, which would empower the electorate to support third party and independent candidates without "wasting" their vote, and a depoliticization of the drawing of Congressional District boundaries. That one is much tougher, but the intensely partisan and divisive House of Representatives of the current day owes its fangs to the abominable creation of safe districts. There's a reason that the Senate is consistently the more moderate body, but that's a discussion for another day.

1 comment:

Jack said...

Amending the Constitution would require the consent of many of the small states that would be giving up most of the influence they now have. I am not sure we can rely on such altruism.

We only rarely have anomalies such as the 2000 race and consider the alternative. In 2000, NOBODY won a majority. The difference between Gore’s plurality and Bush tally was much less than 1%. We would have needed a nation wide recount and you would have had people counting dangling chads in all fifty states instead of just
Florida.

The electoral system not only spreads the power across the states, it spreads and reduces the risk of fraud. Imagine the 2000 election without the Electoral College. Gore won the popular vote by about 500,000. There would have to be a recount and it could have reversed the outcome, but would a recount be free of fraud? Political
machines can easily manufacture that many votes. When the Daley machine swung Illinois for JFK in 1960, they could affect only one state. Without the Electoral College you could have shifted the whole country.

The Electoral College, in fact, works best when elections are close. Bill Clinton won in 1992 with only 43% of the vote. Imagine having to explain that every day for four years. The Electoral College made him the clear winner. We don’t always like the outcomes, but would Gore supporters been any happier if he had lost after a
national recount; would Bush supporters have accepted a Gore victory margin of ½ of 1% without complaint. There is no way to make the loser feel satisfied in a close election.