02 December 2016

There's a phrase missing.....

.....from our discussions of the Electoral College.  The phrase is "minority rule".

As the EC comes under scrutiny for delivering the Presidency to Trump despite his large margin of loss (now approaching 2,500,000) in the actual vote, the wingnuts have been trotting out defenses of it, of which this example is fairly typical.  It usually boils down to saying that without the EC, the vast rural interior of the country could never get its choice for President and the coasts/cities/liberals would dominate just because they have a larger population.

This is an argument for minority rule, and we should call it that.  It's not different in essence from defending apartheid on the grounds that it protected South Africa from being dominated by blacks "just because" there were more of them.  30% of the US population is black or Latino; if our system were somehow rigged to give their votes more weight than those of the other 70%, such a system could be defended on the grounds that it protected blacks and Latinos from being dominated by the more numerous whites.  Any plan to allow a minority to outvote a majority could be defended on the same grounds, and they're all fundamentally alike.

Protection for minority rights is necessary, and the US actually has better such protections than most democracies.  The Bill of Rights and the autonomy of states and local governments have in fact protected much of what the rural culture values, such as gun ownership and freedom of religion (though not freedom to discriminate on grounds of religious taboo, which is a different thing).  But in a real democracy, the majority wins elections even if it cannot thereby completely override the rights of the minority.

The defense of the EC is really a defense of the idea that the votes of people in cities (and of blacks and Latinos, who mostly vote Democratic whether urban or not) should count for less than those of people in the numerous thinly-populated states of the interior.  It's an argument for special political privileges for a minority, and we should say so at every opportunity.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about the Senate? Wyoming and California each having two U.S. senators is extremely disproportionate. I'm almost convinced by your argument, but if you're right, it seems like the Senate should also be overhauled.

02 December, 2016 10:58  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

A valid point, but there's no way of reforming the Senate without a (nearly impossible) Constitutional amendment, whereas we do have a better option for getting rid of the inequity of the Electoral College.

03 December, 2016 03:11  
Anonymous NickM said...

Well, Anonymous got there before me. Darn it! The Senate is very important as a check. I mean that is what it is for, right? It is far from perfect as the ongoing scandal of the F-35 fiasco demonstrates. Bits of it are built in, I think, 48 states (and other countries) in strict violation of Kelly Johnson's 14 rules (and the apocryphal 15th). Look 'em up. I mean that's pork for 96% of the Senate, right? Pork, yup, for the 'plane is a veritable pig in knickers. Trillion dollar knickers. The obvious solution for the presidency is just count the votes and whoever gets 50.x% across the USA is Prez.

As Tom Stoppard put it:

"It's not the voting that's democracy; it's the counting."

03 December, 2016 04:27  
Blogger Ryan said...

A conservative acquaintance of mine argued:

"The entire difference in the popular vote between Clinton and Trump is smaller than the difference between them in only the state of California, by a lot.

So in essence those who want the popular vote want California to determine the presidency."

I understand the concern here, but...

1.) Our electoral system guarantees each state three electors because it guarantees each state two Senators and one Representative. A state could have a population of only three--those three politicians--and still have this power.

So imagine that 19 states had a population of 3 each. Their combined population would be 57 and their combined electors would also total 57. California, on the other hand, has a population of 39 million, but only 55 electors. Our electoral system allows for the possibility that 57 people could have more of a say in our government than 39 million.

Of course, this is a sort of reductio ad absurdum, but it still shows that our system is unfair. Besides, it does still have this sort of effect in the real world. For example: the combined population of Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa, and South Carolina--all states that went Republican this time around--is 24.5 million, yet their electors total 55. Again, California also has 55 electors, but has almost 15 million more people. Their votes are effectively thrown away.

2.) People should not be punished for living in dense urban areas or rewarded for living in rural areas.

3.) Our system of government already caters to states and districts rather than population. Choosing the president by popular vote would not mean that all of the smaller states would lose their power in our government.

I also am seeing (exclusively) Republican backlash against Maine's new voting system. Apparently Republicans don't care much for the idea of a government that actually represents the majority of voters--unless, of course, Republicans are the majority.

03 December, 2016 13:58  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Nick: When I think of a "check", I think of wiser heads intervening against decisions based on impulse and prejudice, as the Supreme Court does. The Senate and the Electoral College both over-empower rural, under-populated states whose inhabitants are less educated, less knowledgeable, less diverse, more prejudiced, and more religious than the population as a whole. It's not only minority rule, it's minority rule by the least qualified.

Ryan: Your conservative acquaintance is wrong. California would not "determine the Presidency" under a popular-vote system because Hillary would not have a majority without all the millions of votes she got in the other 49 states too -- so all the voters in all the states would still carry equal weight in determining the outcome. In the end, something has to determine the outcome, and it should be the total number of votes. Yes, there are checks on the winner's power (such as the Constitution, the Supreme Court, and Congress), but the winner should win.

As it is, campaigns mostly pay attention only to swing states. In a popular-vote system, their attention would be more widely diffused because votes a candidate could win in any state would still matter even if he couldn't carry that state.

03 December, 2016 14:57  
Blogger Frank Wilhoit said...


"People should not be punished for living in dense urban areas or rewarded for living in rural areas."

The Republican Party has purged itself over a long period of time of everyone who agrees with this statement. As emerges from this thread as a whole, the urban/rural split is the only split in American politics, past or present. Everything other split is either an illusion or an allegory or a consequence. The Republicans are the peasant party and the history of 19th/20th century Europe demonstrates that a peasant party is the most dangerous entity in existence.

The larger point us that urban and rural civilizations have nothing in common and cannot coexist -- unless neither really gives a shit about anything, a situation that can be approximated in times of satiating prosperity. Not only are we nowhere near there, but we have also had the peasant party propaganda hammering away for decades at the irreconcilabilty per se.

The meaningful comment about the founders is not that they put a thumb on the scale in favor of the rural areas. It is that they attempted a straddle: always a doomed and illegitimate tactic.

03 December, 2016 16:23  
Blogger Ryan said...

Infidel: That was my first response to him. I then tried to find common ground by arguing that, if we are to keep it, our electoral system should at least strive to be fair within its own parameters, i.e. to grant electors to states evenly. A winner-takes-all-electors system is bad enough without the electors being unfairly distributed. His only reply was to insist that it's "unfair" for California to have so much power in an election, as if having a large population is a bad reason for a state to have great power. He is clearly afraid that a popular vote would prevent a Republican from ever winning again. So much for the party of principles.

Frank: So what hope do you have that Democrats can appeal to Middle America enough to get the positions they need in government to get things done?

03 December, 2016 19:23  
Anonymous NickM said...

OK, Infidel, so would you be in favour of the fly-over States getting less per capita than say NY or Oregon because that is what you sounded like. I note (and I am not trying to be snarky here - I am no troll - here or elsewhere).

As to "wiser heads" (let's gloss over Ted Kennedy) we are getting close to Plato's Republic. That is why the Supreme Court (here as well as your neck of the woods) is selected not elected. Recently the Daily Mail went off on one because the UK Supreme Court is not anti-EU enough and called them "unelected". Well, no they aren't elected. It is about separation of powers and John Locke knew that one.

But a legislature (or Prez) ought to be fairly elected and I think my modest, simple idea fits the bill and no the ultimate arbiters of the law should not make the law. Again John Locke.

05 December, 2016 08:21  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Frank: I guess these days they're a trailer-park party. Probably the effect is the same.

The cultural conflict will eventually be resolved in our favor -- population is migrating from the countryside to cities, not vice versa, and far more people are deconverting from religion than converting to it. Until then, I agree things will often be nasty.

Ryan: If I ever meet that guy, I'll suggest going by differences more meaningful than geography. How about de-weighting the votes of Christians? They have an "unfair" advantage in the US because there are so many of them.

Nick: Not sure what you mean by some of that. I've always said that the vote of every individual should carry equal weight, no matter what state they live in. In case it's not clear, my response to Ryan above is a rhetorical point intended to illustrate how any deviation from the "one person one vote" principle is inequitable, regardless of which group gets disadvantaged. The point is just more obvious when it's one's own group.

05 December, 2016 17:38  

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