Monday, September 10, 2007



This is a proposal advanced by a group of Republicans in California. On the face of it, it seems more fair and “democratic” than our present system in which all the electoral votes of a State go to the candidate who wins a plurality of votes in that State. California Democrats, who oppose this change, argue that unless other States also adopt a similar method of assigning their electoral votes this change in California election law would guarantee Republican victories in the next several Presidential elections. Proponents of the measure who are not concerned with giving the Republican Party a temporary advantage in Presidential elections argue that California has been noted as a leader among States. Changes enacted in California are usually copied in other States. An example is term limits for State legislators.

There is something fishy about proposing to allot electoral votes according to Congressional Districts instead of simply dividing them up in proportion to the votes obtained by the various candidates for President. In most States, Congressional Districts have been gerrymandered to favor incumbents or whichever Party controls the State Legislature. We have seen that even a strong shift in public opinion away from or toward a particular political party does not have the result of a large gain of Congressional members for that party. Most Congressional districts represent “safe” seats. They would also represent safe votes for one of the two major political parties. Even if all fifty States changed their election laws so that electoral votes would be decided by Congressional Districts, with the two extra electoral votes assigned to the winning candidate in the State, the result would be no closer to the ideal of a direct popular vote than the present winner-take-all system of assigning electoral votes.

A better reform is the one in which several “large” States assign their electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the national popular vote. If a set of States that collectively have a majority of the electoral votes (268) enact such a law, the result is that the President would be elected by popular vote in every election. Even this reform is not ideal. Third party candidates would still have no chance of obtaining even a single electoral vote. There is also the question of how the electoral votes of the States that adopt this procedure should be awarded if no candidate won an actual majority of popular votes.

The many apparent flaws in our system of electing a President continue to intrigue me. I expect to be blogging about some of them soon.

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