Thursday, October 21, 2004

A Presidency By Popular Vote?

David Broder today complains, with some basis, that if states apportion their electors in accord with the popular vote it is likely to result in a significant number of elections being decided in the House of Representatives. He defends the electoral college on the basis that it provides disproportionate voice to less populated states:
When Congress debated it after George Wallace threatened electoral deadlock with his third-party candidacy in 1968, opposition came from small states, whose senators feared they would be overlooked by the candidates, and from urban constituencies, who feared diminution of their power to swing big blocs of electoral votes through the unit rule.
But it is not at all clear from his comment why small states should have that type of veto power, even if rarely manifested in an effect on the election result. Even less compelling is his complaint about the possibility of run-off elections:
Most proposals for direct election specify a minimum percentage for victory -- usually 40 percent or 45 percent -- with a runoff between the top two contenders if no one reaches that threshold. But as soon as you introduce the possibility of a runoff, you create an incentive for minor parties to form, in hopes of bargaining for favors or policy concessions from the runoff opponents.
It seems easy enough to, say, not hold a run-off election, or (if people insisted) to put the threshold much lower (e.g., 34%) such that it would rarely if ever be a factor. Another response? Why is it "good" in Broder's mind that small states can bargain for favors or policy concessions due to their overrepresentation in the Electoral College, but not for "minor" parties (who carry enough clout to deliver a candidate a majority of the popular vote) to do the same?

Most voters in this nation are effectively told, well in advance of a Presidential election, "Your state is solidly blue or solidly red, so your concerns won't factor into the upcoming election unless they correspond to what a 'swing state' wants to hear. Oh - and you might as well stay home, because your vote for President doesn't actually count." I somehow doubt that's what the Founding Fathers had in mind, even if Broder is satisfied.

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