Thursday, November 10, 2016

On Electoral College

All right. So, I want to tackle something that it appears many individuals in my generation don't quite get (and, frankly, I didn't fully understand until the night of the election, thanks to a couple friends of mine): Why the heck do we have an electoral college and what is its purpose?

Something that was a big help to me was the following video:

The way I understand it, when we vote in Nov, we're not actually voting for our president. We're voting for our states' representatives to the electoral college. 

To make a comparison to another branch of government: we don't vote as an entire populace on legislative matters. Instead, we elect individuals to vote on our behalf, trusting them to make their decisions on the behalf of their constituents.

Here's the deal, from what I understand, when a party puts itself on a state's ballot (or as a write-in), they must provide a list of individuals who will serve, basically as the electors, or, if you want to think of it this way, the potential ambassadors from that state to the electoral college, should that party win.

So, if I understand properly and if electoral college is done well, we are, in essence, electing our electoral committee who will then elect the president. The reason we tend to think of the Nov election as basically the presidential election is because it's very rare, and in certain states, illegal, for electoral college members to vote for a party candidate not from their own party.

Why do some sparsely-populated states, like Wyoming, have a stronger proportional representation per capita than more populous states, like California?

From what I understand, this was done to prevent the interests of the populous states, and especially the interests of densely-populated urban areas from overshadowing the interests of other, less densely-populated parts of the country. This helps to ensure that the presidential candidates make some kind of effort to reach out to these states.

To put it in a kind of perspective, the system has a measure of short-term unfairness of voter representation in it to prevent a more severe long-term unfairness of votee representation.

Why do a majority of states have a winner-takes-all approach to assigning their electoral college members?

I have no bloody idea. Frankly, that frustrates me, too. If part of the purpose of electoral college is to induce coalition-forming across political lines, then surely a proportional representation would be better for the country overall, right?

As a proponent of third parties, first-past-the-post, winner-takes-all approaches merely secure a duality of dominant parties, because the states then become the filtering ground to snuff out any third party opposition. Would it not be in the interest of the greater populace if, because of third parties, neither major party would alone be able to reach the 270 of 538 electoral college votes necessary to appoint the president? 

My question/proposal is this: 
  • Currently, the wining party being awarded the entire gamut of elector slots for a particular state, gaining disproportionate representation of the state's populace.
  • If the elector slots are distributed proportionally as represented by the state's vote, would third parties be able to gain traction as swing parties, comparable to how certain states are swing states, being able to be the determining factor in which party's nominee?
  • This would necessitate that electors not be under compulsion to vote their party, but be given the freedom to be swayed by argument and debate.
I know that, initially, the electoral college would become a reflection of the popular vote, becoming subject to its "tyranny", but my hopeful vision is of a 40%-40% split in electoral college, with the remaining 20% being a scattering of third-party representatives.

How are a party's potential electors for each state chosen?

Frankly, I don't know. I wouldn't be surprised if they're appointed by the state chapter prior to or as a requirement for obtaining ballot or write-in access. Personally, I think it would be beneficial to have greater transparency, for registered members of a party to be able to vote for the electors in their state's conventions. Of course, this is just a speculative example.

In closing, clearly, I am a fan of the electoral college system. I think there are tweaks that could be made to improve it. I also think that we need to stop portraying the Nov election as the presidential election. The Nov election, while currently the de facto presidential election, is actually the election of our electoral college representatives. This false portrayal of the Nov elections needs to stop. We, as a populace, need to educate ourselves into the workings of our representative democracy, to be better informed about the effects and implications of what we are truly voting for. Only then will we be able to petition for reform, if we still deem it necessary.