23 November 2016

Electoral College Follies

With Hillary Clinton's shocking defeat, many of her supporters blame the "archaic" electoral college system. Progressive organizations like Move On have begun petitions to abolish it. The usual mainstream media fluffers of the Democratic Party like writers at New York Times, Huff Post, MSNBC, and the Daily KOS have argued for it. And outgoing Senator Barbara Boxer has introduced a bill to replace it with a popular vote. You can read some of the arguments hereherehere, and here.

Most arguments note that it is undemocratic. The distribution of electoral votes among the states does not accurately reflect the population of those states. This is because the number of members of Congress has been limited to 435. Electoral votes get shifted around with the population growth after every census, but the total number remains the same. For example, Wyoming has one electoral vote per 177,556 persons while Texas has one elector for per 715,499 persons. From the perspective of Clinton supporters, the electoral college does not reflect the population of Democratic Party bastions like California and New York.

Other arguments actually look at the original intent of the Founders--noting that their intent was to prevent a Donald Trump from becoming President. Aside from a section containing yet another post-election rant about Trump, an article over at the Atlantic provides an accurate assessment.

Meanwhile, over at CNN, Akhil Reed Amar makes the preposterous claim that slavery is responsible for the electoral college and, ergo, the election of Donald Trump. In his screed, he paraphrases James Madison to that effect, without identifying his source. Meanwhile, he ignores some basic history.

First, the original plan of government drafted by James Madison and introduced at the Constitutional Convention called the election of the President by the Congress. And in that plan,  representation in the Congress was based upon free inhabitants--not slaves. Second, the idea of an electoral college was introduced by James Wilson from Pennsylvania. In 1780, that state passed a law establishing the gradual emancipation of slaves. It therefore hardly could have been designed to enhance the political clout of slave states in the election of a president. Although set aside, the plan eventually found acceptance as a compromise between those who desired the Congress to elect the president and those who preferred a popular vote. Contrary to the claims of Mr. Amar, the electoral college means of electing the president was explicitly adopted out of a skepticism about democracy, especially the doubts about the ability of voters to acquire enough knowledge about the candidates to make an informed decision.

Unfortunately, because we have no access to the contents of Dr. Amar's consciousness, we cannot know if he is ignorant or is a liar.

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