Inconvenient Politics

In General Interest by Jonathan Tasini0 Comments

The rumblings about changing the Electoral College have one thing in common with the debate over changing the filibuster rules — a lot of people choose a side in the debate based on whether it’s better, right now, for their political party, not what’s good for, uh, democracy.

The Electoral College stinks. It’s a dumb system for a lot of reasons but the key one is that it leaves out a huge part of the country every four years when it comes to campaigns (though one advantage is that people living in those non-swing states are spared the relentless barrage of television ads). We know that presidential candidates simply don’t campaign in two-third of the states, and only land in a few non-competitive places (read: Los Angeles and New York City) in order to raise money.

So, some Republicans, but not all, want to change the game in one state, figuring it will play to their advantage, though it appears unlikely to pass right now:

In Virginia, as in most states, the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote receives all of that state’s electoral votes. A bill proposed Sen. Charles W. Carrico Sr. (R-Grayson County) would instead apportion electoral votes by congressional district. Had Carrico’s bill been in place for the 2012 elections, Obama would have claimed four of the state’s electoral votes instead of all 13.

Nate Silver thinks that if the trend caught fire, it would be bad for Democrats:

An Electoral College based on Congressional districts would be decidedly more friendly to Republican presidential candidates than the current system. Democratic-leaning voters tend to live in more densely populated areas, making for a less efficient distribution of votes. And Republicans were in charge in many states when districts were redrawn after the 2010 census.

Okay, but what is the right thing to do? Is the system good for democracy or not? My view is no — and I would say that no matter who would benefit from a system where electoral votes are allocated to the winner of each Congressional district — or throw the whole system out and have the winner simply be the person who racks up the highest popular vote nationwide (and throw in compulsory voting).

Same is true of the changes to the filibuster. I thought it was pretty lame to hear arguments of the current majority against sweeping changes in the filibuster based on the principle that “well, we might be in the minority some day so we don’t want to throw away the ability to gum up the works.”

The filibuster –or actually the current system masquerading as a filibuster — is rotten. And only the incumbents of both parties — or at least the majority of the incumbents in both parties — wants to keep it because no Senator, given almost unlimited power, wants to give it up.

My point is that it would be nice to have a debate about what is good for the democratic process, not what might be an advantage or disadvantage or inconvenient politics for a particular party. How naive, I know.


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