Proposed Constitutional Election Amendment
althouse at FACSTAFF.WISC.EDU
Tue Jan 30 12:42:50 PST 2001
The rest of my response to Bryan Wildenthal:
>>I wrote:***The Democrats can hit the big cities***The Republican
>>candidates meanwhile have a more>> geographically spread out >> base, and
>>are disadvantaged needing to appeal to the sparsely >> populated>>
>BW: I find the above concerns far-fetched. In the
>telecommunications/Internet age, I don't think any major party candidate
>will have trouble reaching his or her voters, whether they be rural or
But the candidates do continue to travel to particular places. A campaign
run entirely through electronic means has not been attempted and is
probably not something we'd want to encourage. I think they need to travel
in part to get the coverage of the electronic media (ironically).
I want to stress that I am not just "speculating" about what I fear might
happen (though an awful lot of legal and political reasoning is subject to
this criticism, which Mark has also invoked). I am anticipating, in part
based on the circa-1970 experience, the issues that will deter persons you
need to vote for your proposal.
>Such speculative partisan advantages or disadvantages seem very
>contingent on uncertain, temporary, shifting circumstances. I would hope
>people would not oppose my proposal on such unreliable grounds.
Why is the presumption in favor of amending the Constitution? Should the
burden be on those who want to change it (as of course it will be)? Why
should I support a proposal that has uncertain benefits and costs?
>I pointed >out in my initial posting how the Electoral College has had a
>potential to unfairly favor either major party in recent times. ***
(I assume a "not" was intended there.) But the EC has appears to help both
major parties and to make it nearly impossible for a third party to get a
footing. Only a regional third party candidate gets any EC votes at all.
Since both parties benefit as against third parties, why is it in either
party's interest to go against the EC? If one party is more benefited than
the other, or if that were believed, the supermajority would be out of
reach. If both are benefited, or the balance of benefits is subtle or
unknowable, the supermajority (of Democrats and Republicans) is perhaps
even more unreachable.
>maximizes each party's incentive to reach as many voters as possible
>wherever they may be. What's wrong with that?
The problem that has been identified in the past is that candidates will
have a new incentive to pile up extra votes in places where they are
already popular and that this could produce a President with too narrow a
>> It's a very complex system, and though abolishing the EC has abstract
>> appeal, once you start thinking through the complexities, it
>> just doesn't>> seem worth the risk. ***>I've said before on this list
>>that I was against the EC ***
>BW: In the final analysis I think most people will find my proposal
>comparatively very simple. The winner is whoever gets the most votes, with
>a runoff if the first-place finisher doesn't get an absolute majority.
>That's what it boils down to. It's the EC that seems creaky and complex.
>But complexity isn't the essence of the EC's problems. It's just an
>undemocratic and not-very-sensible way to choose a national leader.
At first EC seems complex and direct election simple, but I think the more
you look at it the more the complexity of the untried system becomes
apparent, and the ultimate decisionmakers will be people who look closely,
not the general public that will, I grant you, perceive the abstract
democratic appeal. If you were proposing the EC as a new system, it would
of course seem outrageously strange and unacceptable. If you were comparing
the two approaches in the abstract today, it seems inconceivable that the
EC would win. But we're used to the EC, we have a sense of its problems and
have learned to work around them. It is also a deeply rooted aspect of
American culture that we vote state-by-state: we like to see the big map of
the states behind Dan Rather's head with the familiar outlines changing
I really was originally in favor of abolishing the EC, but on a lot of
reflection, I've changed my mind. And as a political matter, I think you
could end up luring Democrats in Congress to fritter away a lot of their
political energy over this, as happened in the past.
Finally, with respect to "it works in France": can you really picture this
argument being made successfully in Congress and in the state legislatures?
In any event, France is a much smaller and less diverse country, and it is
one that does not have a long history of political practice designed in
response to a system that included an electoral college.
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