05 February 2004

How Squeaky Is That Wheel?

All across the blawgosphere (and blogosphere), one finds a raging debate on whether the Supreme Court is acting as an antidemocratic institution. Leaving aside for the moment that I think that essential—one need not even resort to invoking "mob rule" as a potential peril of "pure" democracy to realize this; one need only look at Sarajevo, or at least at what's left of it—I find the corresponding silence concerning the Electoral College far more troubling.

Although we all know better (or at least those of us who were paying attention in high school do), we continue to talk about Presidential elections as if the President is elected by the people. That isn't even a plausible fiction. Instead, the process looks something like this:

  1. Each state (and the District of Columbia) is assigned a number of electoral votes equal to the number of members it has in both houses of Congress combined. Thus, the smallest state has three electoral votes: two for Senators by the virtue of statehood, and one for its population-allocated minimum of one Representative. (As an aside, it seems a bit bizarre that in a growing nation we've stuck with 435 Representatives, fixed by law, for so long, when it takes 640 MPs to govern England.)
  2. At the Presidential election, the voters vote for slates of electors—one elector for each electoral vote. These electors have pledged their votes to specific candidates.
  3. After the votes are counted, the state's electoral votes are allocated to the various slates. In all but (if I recall correctly) two states, this is "winner take all;" the other two are proportional, but are small states (Nebraska and one other). Thus, getting all of Illinois's electoral votes requires only a plurality in the state's popular vote.
  4. In mid-December, the Electoral College meets and casts the actual votes to elect the President. If the College cannot do so (say, there's a tie due to a third-party candidate earning some electoral votes), the election is thrown into the House of Representatives—which continues to vote on a state-by-state basis.

The last election illustrates this. Al Gore had at least half a million more popular votes than did George III, but where those votes came from was his undoing: George III won most of the larger states. Without the Electoral College, there would not have been a Bush v. Gore. I do not see that it continues to serve any valid purpose, and is far more dangerous to "democracy" than our rather restrained judicial system.

The application of this to the publishing industry is left as an exercise for the reader, after close comparison with One Hundred Years of Solitude.