OR….California State Senate recognizes Electoral College as elitist anachronism

I understand why my fellow b.la’r feels an attempt by the State Senate to shut down the Electoral College is lame. On the surface, the bill seems like a violation of the Constitution (it isn’t). And besides, the Senator carrying the bill got into an embarrassingly ironic car accident (though the bizarre details of that accident were left out). But don’t kill the traffic-weaving messenger. The Electoral College is stupid because when you vote for a President, you’re actually voting for an elector, and that elector doesn’t have to vote the way you asked him/her to vote. Why does that make sense? And before you say “because we live in a representative democracy,” can you tell me who your electors are? What are their names? Why isn’t it that information just a click away?

Yes, we live in a representative democracy. We elect Californians to go to legislatures and vote on stuff on our behalf, saving us from spending our evenings reading about pork futures or anything with “omnibus” in the title. But wait, what about initiatives? You know, those ballot measures for which we get urgent (and annoying) calls to vote a certain way so that kids will be able to breathe or to stop gays from receiving basic rights? Initiatives are a form of direct democracy. If we’re going to have initiatives, then why the hell do we pay legislators to go to Sacramento to do anything? If we want direct democracy, we should just directly vote-by-ballot on every single issue before our state. I mean, we all love to read and dissect the ten or so initiatives that pop up in every election, right?

The fact is, we do not live in a pure representative democracy. We live in a hybrid. And so long as we live in a hybrid, why not have direct election of the President, especially when the Federalist Papers imply the Electoral College was set up to preserve the right of the elite and “landed” classes to control who is President? That is why an elector, by design, can diverge from the popular vote. Isn’t it more fair to have a President that the majority of Americans chose to be their President?

I’m surprised that any Libertarian-leaning, Democratic/Republican-hating, art/tech/grassroots-media/blogger-types would be against such a populist measure. It cuts out the middle man! Then again, it’s easy to yell at politicians that actually make it into the press. I love doing so myself. But the politicians you never hear about are just doing their jobs (like trying to keep feces out of the ocean or fixing a broken foster care system or ensuring auto dealers aren’t ripping you off when your “check engine” light goes on), which makes for really boring copy.

Of course, this bill just dances around a larger issue: whether our votes are actually counted correctly. If they were, Gore would’ve won. Perhaps Kerry too, if this Rove-bot thing is true. Either way, I wouldn’t have gotten my choice. I always vote for Paul Tsongas, even though he’s always dead. Yeah, sure, people say the Electoral College works the majority of the time — that it only diverged from the popular vote twice in the last century. But the last time it did, it really sucked ass.

Before I get flamed in the comments section, please do try to read the actual bill first here. Also, please note that Mark Ridley-Thomas is only one of many, many state politicians that represent Los Angeles in the state legislature. You can find your Senate and Assembly reps by plugging in your zip code on this page.

2 Replies to “OR….California State Senate recognizes Electoral College as elitist anachronism”

  1. I’m just happy that we are discussing all this and thinking about it, regardless of whether we agree or disagree about what it all means.

    I wish that people could get back to arguing about this kind of stuff without it automatically descending into the black hole that political discourse has been in since about, oh, 2000. (and please don’t start blaming this or that side for it, we’ve all been guilty.)

  2. Federalist Paper No. 68 explains in laymens terms (but in old English) as to why the electoral college is necessary. It’s a deliberate abstraction of the popular vote from directly electing a president to protect against any meddling *with* the popular vote. The abstraction is the key:

    “Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one querter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union? But the convention have guarded against all danger of this sort, with the most provident and judicious attention. They have not made the appointment of the President to depend on any preexisting bodies of men, who might be tampered with beforehand to prostitute their votes; but they have referred it in the first instance to an immediate act of the people of America, to be exerted in the choice of persons for the temporary and sole purpose of making the appointment. And they have excluded from eligibility to this trust, all those who from situation might be suspected of too great devotion to the President in office. No senator, representative, or other person holding a place of trust or profit under the United States, can be of the numbers of the electors. Thus without corrupting the body of the people, the immediate agents in the election will at least enter upon the task free from any sinister bias. Their transient existence, and their detached situation, already taken notice of, afford a satisfactory prospect of their continuing so, to the conclusion of it. The business of corruption, when it is to embrace so considerable a number of men, requires time as well as means. Nor would it be found easy suddenly to embark them, dispersed as they would be over thirteen States, in any combinations founded upon motives, which though they could not properly be denominated corrupt, might yet be of a nature to mislead them from their duty.”

    I seriously doubt any one in the legislature bothered reading any of this.

    The real problem here is that Florida 2000 was such a perfect storm of incompetence, there are now legions of people who think the EC is some arcane piece of the constitution that can be tossed out without consequence. It’s actually one of the most vital pieces in protecting our freedom. Despite how you think Florida was handled, the FL-EC could have voted Gore at any time. The electoral process did in fact work correctly.

    And just for the record, just as Sanjay, I’m a libertarian-leaning independent with little love for either party.

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