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US: Electoral System



Bert Westbrook defends the American electoral system: "The Senate is supposed to be balanced by the House, in which representation is per capita, as opposed to by government (as in the Senate). Using different principles of representation in the two houses was perhaps the greatest compromise in the new Constitution. The electoral college is yet a third body, and which reflects this compromise, i.e., a state is represented by a number of electors equal to the sum of its House and Senate representations. So, currently, there are 538 votes (100 Senate, 435 House, plus 3 for D.C. per the 23rd Amendment). Statistically, this shifts power slightly to sparsely populated states, but not by much. The most populous states have the most electoral college votes. For more on the electoral college (factoid: the term "elector" comes from the Holy Roman Empire) see the excellent site maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration:
http://www.archives.gov/federal_register/electoral_college/electoral_college.html.

There is the possibility that the nation may elect a president who receives less than a majority of the popular vote, is more fundamentally a result of federalism, which is rarely criticized in the U.S. So long as elections are figured on a state-by-state basis, and the vast majority of states are winner-take-all, and electors are generally bound by the popular votes in their states, it will be possible to win the count of states, and hence the Presidency, without winning the popular vote. Without going into the last election, here's a thought experiment: imagine that all states are winner take all, and that Republicans win an election in states that controlled 60% of the electoral votes, let's say 30 states. In each of these states, they win by only 1 vote, i.e., Republicans have X + 30, and Democrats have X votes. In the remaining 20 states plus D.C., imagine that the Republicans earn NO votes, and Democrats receive all the votes. So the popular vote total would be Republicans X + 30, Democrats X + (all votes cast in 20 states plus D.C.). Republicans win the election. But that has very little to do with the two votes per state in the Senate rule"

RH: That is only part of the problem. The real problem lies in the Supreme Court decision that money is a form of free speech. So a person who has ten times as much money as I has ten times more political clout. This perpetuates the rotten borough system of eighteenth-century England, where it disappeared long ago. Now the situation has been made worse as this above-the-fold article in the San Francisco Chronicle (3/5/03) tells: "Court kills ban on 'soft money'. Ruling deals major blow to campaign finance law". Senators John McCain, Rep¨blican, and Russ Feingold, Democrat, have been struggling nobly against the System, which seems unbeatable. This explains the unending fights over judicial appointments like that of Miguel Estrada. Each side wants to get a judiciary which will support its political aims. There is no other Western country where the whole system is so vitiated by money.

In the past I voted conscientiously, mugwumpishly non-partisan. Last time I decided not to vote as a totally ineffectual protest against the System. I plan to maintain that quixotic stance.

Ronald Hilton - 5/4/03


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