Friday, January 26, 2018

QUORA: Can't We Make the Electoral College More Democratic?

QUORA: As we're stuck with the Electoral College, can't we make it more democratic by making each state's electoral votes proportionate to their populations?

I posted this answer, slightly edited for clarity:

While I’m not a Constitutional expert and don’t claim to be, I think the Constitution is clear on this.

Article II of the constitution states that “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature there of may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress” [My emphasis].

Within this constitutional context, the answer to the question seems to be, yes, it can be made more democratic. In fact, Maine has already done that. All states and the District of Columbia have chosen to have their Electors appointed by popular vote, with all but Maine choosing a winner-take-all apportionment. In Maine, Clinton got 3 of the state’s 4 Electoral votes, and Trump got 1, based on Clinton’s popular vote victory of 47.8% to 44.9%.


Robert Traverso replied:

Thanks for the excellent answer. The question now is whether the method of choosing the electoral votes be made more democratic by amending it to only reflect population. As the system now stands it is in violation of one person one vote where individuals in some densely populated states have less importance than those in lightly populated states. More like a one acre one vote.

I posted this reply:

Your welcome, Robert.

For the purpose of clarity, I refrained from offering my opinion on the merits of the Electoral College, which I answered in detail here. But since you raise the question, I must say I disagree. The Electoral College must be understood in this context: Contrary to the distortions of “progressives,” the defining principle of America is the primacy of liberty based on individual rights, not the primacy of majoritarian democracy. The question is not how to make the Electoral system more democratic. The question is how to structure the vote to best protect liberty. The Electoral College is a key part of the structural checks and balances the Founders put in place to protect liberty from governmental tyranny not only of Kings or demagogues but also of electorally powerful majority or plurality factions.

It is not true that the Electoral College violates the principle of one-person-one-vote. Each voter does have an equal say—that is, one vote—in the allocation of her respective state’s Electoral votes. In a sense it may be true that the relative “importance” of individual votes may vary slightly from state to state and from election to election. So what? That’s a strength, not a weakness. Besides, it’s not a one way street. Remember that larger states have a proportionately larger sway on the electoral outcomes. California, for example, provides the winner of that single state with 55—more than 20%—of the Electors needed for victory. California’s power was demonstrated in 2004, when a swing of a mere 60,000 votes in Ohio would have handed John Kerry that state’s 18 Electoral votes, making Kerry the president with a 269-268 electoral win despite G. W. Bush’s 3 million national popular vote majority. Bush’s margin was larger than Hillary’s, yet Kerry came within a whisker of victory, in large part because California would have provided 20.4% of Kerry’s 269 votes. You can hardly say that California voters—or Texas (38) or New York (29) voters, for that matter —are inherently short-changed.

The Electoral College as it currently stands acts as a good check on majoritarian power by breaking down the so-called “will of the people” into 51 distinct popular vote contests—which on its own merits is much fairer than a single national popular vote dominated by one or two concentrated voter hotspots. We should keep it. It works well, fits with our giant country’s unique diversity, and, most importantly, is consistent with the most fundamental defining characteristic of America, the primacy of liberty.



If the idea that the relative importance of the single presidential vote is less in large states than in small states is a concern to some, then that may be a good argument for breaking large states up. As Steven Greenhut reports for Reason:

In California, we have one Assembly member for every 483,000 residents. That's the worst ratio in the country. In New Hampshire, which has the best ratio, there are approximately 3,200 residents for every member of the statehouse. What are your chances of influencing or even reaching your legislator—or even his or her staffers—in California?

This means that a single California vote is 1/150th as “important” as in New Hampshire within the state. Compare this to the Electoral College. In California in 2016, there were about 159 thousand votes cast per electoral vote. In New Hampshire, there were approximately 87 thousand votes per electoral vote. So in the Electoral College, California’s vote was a bit less than 1/2 as “important” as in New Hampshire. California voters enjoy a much greater “influence” in the Electoral College than they do in regard to their own representatives.

I realize that this comparison has an element of “comparing apples to oranges”. But the point is still valid that if the goal is to reach some kind of influence parity for every vote (a fantasy if ever there was one), then we should consider breaking up large states rather than do away with an important structural part of the checks-and-balances established to ward off to much concentration of political power and protect liberty.

Again, the one-man-one-vote principle means just that—each individual voter gets one vote, and that’s it. That has nothing to do with proportional voter “influence”. The democratic process in a free country is not primary, and must be considered within a much wider context of constitutional protections of individual rights. The Electoral College was meant to place an intermediary between popular passions (which can be irrational and even mean) presidential governance. That intermediary is the state legislatures. Though elected, state legislators are believed to represent cooler heads.

The College is also intended to balance the power between the state and federal governments. With the states responsible for directly choosing the president, the federal government is therefore more sensitive to the need to balance the interests of the states rather than cater only to the popular vote. The College thus acts as a check on federal power even as the federal constitution acts as a check on state power. Once again; checks-and-balances as a protection of freedom based on individual rights (“liberty rights” for short). America is not a democracy, which is freedom based on the vote, which is not true liberty at all.

Related Reading:

Wouldn't going by Popular Vote be an even worse system than the Electoral College?

Is the Electoral College Un-Democratic? You Bet. Unfair? Nope.

The Conscience of the Constitution—Timothy Sandefur

The Electoral College System Required Trump to Win the Popular Vote—30 Times

Avoid ‘Majority Rule’—Keep the Electoral College in Fact and in Spirit

3 comments:

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Mike Kevitt said...

This breaking up of states into smaller states, and combining states into one state, ain't both forbidden by the Constitution? As for West Virginia, in 1863, that was different. West Virginia seceded from Virginia and from the Confederacy, and joined the Union. If the Confederate constitution forbade that, tough. They lost. Another thing: combining states or breaking up states wound decrease or increase the number of Senators in the US. Senate. How might this affect the effect of the Electoral College? Is that important? On my terms, that's an important question, not trivial.

Michael A. LaFerrara said...

Important points. Maybe a constitutional amendment would be required. Thanks.