Sunday, August 29, 2004

Making Every Vote Count

So the New York Times favors abolishing the electoral college. Perhaps anticipating another Bush victory in the college but a loss in raw popular vote, the Times has come down on the side of constitutional change. (Apparently, changing the Constitution is warranted here, but amending it is not when it comes to gay marriage, even as a measure to restrain hyper-active courts.) According to the Times, the electoral college fails to "make every vote count."

Luckily, Claudia Winkler of the Weekly Standard pre-empted the Times by nearly a week with a piece on a book of essays on the electoral college. Winkler does not go through all the arguments and essays in the book, and I will not do so here; but she ends where the book ends -- with Martin Diamond's classic defense of the electoral college. According to Diamond, "In fact, presidential elections are already just about as democratic as they can be. We already have one man, one vote--but in the states. Elections are as freely and democratically contested as elections can be -- but in the states. Victory always goes democratically to the winner of the raw popular vote -- but in the states. The label given to the proposed reform--"direct popular election"--is a misnomer: the elections have already become as directly popular as they can be -- but in the states. Despite all their democratic rhetoric, the reformers do not propose to make our presidential elections more directly democratic; they only propose to make them more directly national, by entirely removing the states from the electoral process. Democracy thus is not the question regarding the electoral college; federalism is. Should our presidential elections remain in part federally democratic, or should we make them completely nationally democratic?

"Whatever we decide, then, democracy itself is not at stake in our decision, only the prudential question of how to channel and organize the popular will."

If there are reasons for abolishing the electoral college, making our system more democratic is not one of them. Nobody can enter this debate responsibly without this book as a reference.


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