john spurlock 2004

on the electoral college

Better to discuss the electoral college system while the polls are still open and the outcome very much in doubt, than tonight when it's likely (as in 2000) that the winning party will pragmatically jump to its defense as a wise old tradition, and the losing party to its abolishment as an injustice to popular democracy.

We seem to have this discussion every four years, and each time I can help but think that this intentionally complex alteration of the direct popular vote is not only a good thing, but prevents exactly the sort of electorate polarization that coloring states red and blue is meant to imply.

The EC acknowledges that your physical location in this country is one of the best predictors of how you will vote. That is, you're far more likely to vote the same way as the people that you actually live near or run into over the course of the day. This isn't just regional peer pressure, though - most people naturally organize themselves by common interests and values.

Both Republicans and Democrats have picked up on the fact that they can capture political territory more economically by dividing up these interests and values into a sort of landscape of language instead of competing for physical geographic space. But the EC keeps the parties from cheating - since it only allows direct votes for president by well-defined geographic regions (states) usually as a whole (in the winner-take-all elector system that most states use).

If a candidate can win over most of the people in a particular region, the EC cedes that region (as a whole) to the candidate. So in effect, the region (the state) in which an individual resides is considered far more important to the decision-making process than the abstract concept of "US citizen" detached from any regional affliation (like a national mercenary). That is, the fact that the city of Cambridge or the state of Massachusetts prefers John Kerry is more important than how many people actually live in Cambridge or Massachusetts and how lopsided the victory margin is.

You can almost look at the EC as a sort of affirmative action system for voters in regions that otherwise would be considered in the political minority. It explicitly gives more weight to voters in regions outside highly-concentrated population centers.

Without it, presidential candidates would almost certainly write off voters in states like New Hampshire, Iowa, or Wisconsin and instead divide up the popular vote according to a new political districting - focusing exclusively on how to cater to New York, LA, and Chicago, or else how to cater to everyone else. I can't help but think that this would polarize the country much more effectively than any regional difference does currently.

Come on, isn't it at least entertaining that John Kerry has to pretend to know Springsteen lyrics or photographed tossing footballs in "Lambert" field and Bush has to come up with a halfway-decent knowledge of foreign affairs, at least once every four years?