Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Following Nebraska's Lead?

by Ryan Anderson
Okay, so technically this was Maine's idea, and we Cornhuskers were about twenty years late in adopting it as our own (the Pine Tree state first passed their electoral reform in 1969, we followed in 1990). But in the long, long, long struggle to fix our nation's flawed system for electing presidents, that twenty year delay makes us wild-eyed radicals of reform.

I'm talking about a proportional system for awarding electoral votes for president, and apparently I'm not the only one talking. Word has it that such reform is a real possibility for the 2008 presidential election in the states of North Carolina and California, large states with relatively small but significant pockets of red and blue that could fundamentally shift our pathetically static political battlefield:

North Carolina:
North Carolina is one step closer to eliminating its winner-take-all method for distributing its 15 electoral votes, a move that would probably help Democrats score again in the state's presidential sweepstakes.....

A candidate would get one electoral vote for each congressional district he or she carries. The candidate who wins statewide would take the remaining two votes.

Republicans called the bill politically motivated and a way to attempt to eliminate their stranglehold on electoral votes in the state. House Minority Leader Paul Stam estimated that Democrats could receive three of the state's electoral votes if the new system took effect with the 2008 elections, with the outcome close in two other congressional districts
California:
A Republican-backed ballot proposal could split left-leaning California between the Democratic and GOP nominees, tilting the 2008 presidential election in favor of the Republicans... "If this change is made, it will virtually guarantee that a Republican wins the White House in 2008," [Democratic consultant] Lehane said in an e-mail. Nineteen of the state's 53 congressional districts are represented by Republicans. President Bush carried 22 districts in 2004, while losing the statewide vote by double digits.
Little surprise, of course, that the two parties support this plan when it benefits them and oppose it when it doesn't. What with a Republican state Senator in North Carolina decrying "This is a political act" and some liberal bloggers labeling the California initiative an "Attack on Democracy", you'd think there's nothing objective or principled at all about the struggle to make our elections fairer and more representative.

But the truth is the electoral college isn't fair, isn't representative, and isn't serving the best interests of anyone (unless you happen to be a professional political consultant or the head of a major national party). It's an undemocratic institution meant to smooth the transition from colonial monarchy to representative democracy, and after some 200 years of this nonsense it's time for the training wheels to go.

Since there's little hope and even less enthusiasm for amending this problem at the Constitutional level (where it really belongs), our best course of action for now is to embrace the Maine-Nebraska model and incorporate proportionalism into our existing electoral process. Such reform is imperfect and slow, but it's better than doing nothing at all.

Is it fair to ask one party to take an electoral hit (say, in the solid red state of North Carolina, or the Democratic stronghold of California) while waiting on the rest of the nation to maybe/possibly/hopefully follow suit? No, it's not fair. But that's what makes it objective, that's what gives this plan principle.

If we're not willing to forgo short-term political gain for reform that benefits democracy itself, then we don't deserve a party and we certainly don't deserve the presidency.

It's rare to see Nebraska described as a "trendsetter". Here's hoping this case proves an exception.

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10 Comments:

Anonymous Dave Sund said...

Between gerrymandering and the number of "safe" districts - it'd render the votes of most urban centers completely useless. Hell, the elections would be decided by a few swing "districts" across the country, even worse than the already tedious "battleground" mentality that perpetuates the flyover state problem.

This thing stands zero chance of actually passing in California - the voters aren't stupid enough to render their voice completely meaningless in a Presidential election. ht

8/01/2007  
Blogger Eric said...

Actually, our system is not technically a "proportional system". The proportional system is the one Colorado was considering in 2004 where the number of electoral votes would be tied directly to the proportion of votes cast in the state. With the Maine-Nebraska system, we have never in practice split our vote even though the popular vote in the state is split.

I'm a proponent of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact which is trying to get enough states to just agree to give their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. It would essentially shift to a popular vote but wouldn't require amending the constitution. Also, it could easily be undone if we decide it's a bad idea after a few goes.

The worst part of the current system is the possibility of getting an election thrown into the House. At the very least we need to add one more elector to help reduce the chances of a tie.

8/01/2007  
Anonymous TedK said...

A better method is National Popular Vote (http://www.nationalpopularvote.com/). This is an interstate compact which states that when the number of states in the compact represent the majority of electoral votes, all electors in these states will and must cast their vote for the winner of the popular vote. This ensures that the presidential candidate with the most votes wins, and does not require changing the constitution which would be virtually impossible (2/3 vote in Congress, 3/4 of states). Making piecemeal changes by state will make it much easier for the losing candidate to "win" the presidency. Also, it's a fallacy to think that small states like Nebraska have an advantage in the current system (votes represenative of population + 2 extra votes). This may have been true pre-1800's when there wasn't such a large variance in state population. However with the winner take all system, large states have much more influence. In California, just getting one more vote that your opponent gives you all 55 electoral votes.

8/01/2007  
Blogger Ryan Anderson said...

"Between gerrymandering and the number of "safe" districts - it'd render the votes of most urban centers completely useless"

Of course, the system we have now renders the Democratic vote in cities like Austin and Alexandria completely useless, too. Not to mention, it renders the votes of those rural Californians useless... people who still deserve a voice, even if they are (gasp) Republicans.

The system's by no means perfect, but not (in my humble opinion) for the reasons you referenced. Our elections are already decided by a few swing states across the country, voters are already all but disenfranchised by the electoral college and the statewide dominance of one party or another. Too much gerrymandering, too many safe districts? Hell, maybe this plan will actually put some pressure on the parties to address that issue and make these seats more competitive.

Thanks to Eric for correcting my vocabulary. I'd prefer the Interstate Compact as well, but I say we grab whatever opportunities we can to get this ball rolling and get it rolling now. And, unfortunately, the Interstate Compact just isn't on the ballot/docket at this time.

8/01/2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good for the Goose...Between gerrymandering and the number of "safe" districts - it'd render the votes of most urban centers completely useless"

Of course, the system we have now renders the Democratic vote in cities like Austin and Alexandria completely useless, too. Not to mention, it renders the votes of those rural Californians useless... people who still deserve a voice, even if they are (gasp) Republicans.

The system's by no means perfect, but not (in my humble opinion) for the reasons you referenced. Our elections are already decided by a few swing states across the country, voters are already all but disenfranchised by the electoral college and the statewide dominance of one party or another. Too much gerrymandering, too many safe districts? Hell, maybe this plan will actually put some pressure on the parties to address that issue and make these seats more competitive.

Thanks to Eric for correcting my vocabulary. I'd prefer the Interstate Compact as well, but I say we grab whatever opportunities we can to get this ball rolling and get it rolling now. And, unfortunately, the Interstate Compact just isn't on the ballot/docket at this time.

8/01/2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Dave. California would need the majority of their voters to actually vote.

Off topic.. did you guys see this video of the Minneapolis Bridge Collapsing? So sad!

8/02/2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OOps, here's the link..

Minneapolis Bridge Collapsing on Huskerfriends.com

8/02/2007  
Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...

I agree with Ryan's original post and find the Maine-Nebraska model a much better alternative than the Interstate Compact. If there were the will and the inclination for states to pledge their electors to the popular vote winner, it would be an easier and a superior option to simply Amend the Constitution to elect the President in such manner.

Right now, the Maine-Nebraska model is a superior system that would make our elections more representative...while maintaining some respect for the Federalist principles on which our nation was founded through the 2 statewide electors. It may not be a perfect system - there is no PERFECT system - but it would change our politics for the better both nationally and in the states where it is adopted.

It's practical. It's in effect. And, best of all, it isn't some pie-in-the-sky, Rube Goldberg concoction like the Interstate Compact....which takes a complicated problem and honestly manages to complicate it further because making a principled change to the Constitution sounds like too hard of work.

By the way, I'm back in action. Thanks for holding down the fort, Ryan.

8/02/2007  
Blogger Eric said...

The Interstate Compact will in effect shift the election to a popular vote, but it doesn't kick in until enough states representing a majority of electoral college votes agree to it. The electoral college vote will then become more of a symbolic formality. In the mean time, the Maine-Nebraska system is certainly a valid alternative to winner-take-all, but it still has many of the same problems.

I also take issue with calling it a pie-in-the-sky idea. I think it is a simple, elegant solution to a difficult problem. Furthermore, it is law in one state and has passed at least one house of the legislature in six others. I wouldn't count the idea out just yet.

8/02/2007  
Blogger Ryan Anderson said...

""By the way, I'm back in action. Thanks for holding down the fort, Ryan."

No prob, Kyle. Wish I could've written a few more posts, but at least I managed to stir up a few good debates.

About the Interstate Compact, although I understand your objections, the fact is that it would be (politically) an easier sell than a Constitutional Amendment. That is, you don't need 2/3rds of the states to sign on for the Compact to work... at the very least, you would only need the 13 largest states. Since the college does tend to give larger states less than their fair share of electors (in Wyoming, there's 1 elector to every 171,668 citizens... in California it's 1:662,864), that'd be at least a little more "doable" than going the Constitutional route.

Of course, it'd make life a little more miserable for Junior High Government Classes, but they're used to it all ready.

8/02/2007  

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