A Conversation for The US Electoral College

The US Electoral College

Post 1


As the tone of the article is generally hostile to the Electoral College, it's perhaps worth noting some of the points in its favour.

1. The US is a federation of states - not a single country divided by the central authority into divisions for administrative convenience. The individual states on forming, or joining, the union never agreed that they could be overruled by a mere popular majority of voters in other states. This is analagous to the position in the European Union. This is not a unitary state governed by popular majority either - there are carefully weighted majorities for doing things, and even vetoes on some things.

The theme underlying the article is that popular majority vote is the purest democracy as so a good thing per se. But there are, and always have been, perfectly respectable objections to pure majority rule - the risk of the tyranny of the majority, the protection of natural rights and liberties, and of minorities against the majority, and the extent to which a voting population perceives itself to be part of a single polity or not. Nobody, at present, favours world government by majority voting for all of these reasons.

So if the electoral college is an offence against pure democracy, this is what is intended and is seen by many as part of that good thing called checks and balances by Americans, and limited government by other people.

2. The US Electoral College is by no means a wacky American aberration. The British government is chosen in a surprisingly similar way - the winner in each constituency becomes an MP, and the party with the majority of MPs gets to be the government. That can (and has) produced governments which have lost the popular vote. And because of the current eccentricty of the UK electoral boundaries, Labour can get a majority of MPs even if it loses the popular vote by as much as 5%. Similar possibilities arise in all sorts of other democratic countries.

3. The 2000 election in the US was a close one, and there was a very rancorous recount, hanging chads and all, plus litigation, to decide Florida. It took a month or so to resolve, and it delayed the process of the old President briefing and handing over the reins to the new one, as well as the process for background checking government appointees. In 2008 there has been an equally rancorous recount to decide the Minnesota senate election, where the litigation has barely started, more than two months after the election.

Imagine the chaos if close Presidential elections required a national recount ! It could take a couple of years. From a purely logistical point of view, doing the count state by state, or as in the UK constituency by constituency, makes the process manageable.

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The US Electoral College

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