Fred Foldvary on Keep the Electoral College
|March 3, 2004||Posted by Staff under Archive, Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Fred Foldvary’s Editorial
Keep the Electoral College
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
The election mess in Florida and elsewhere has brought forth calls to reform the voting process. Some advocate eliminating the Electoral College, the current voting system, and replacing this with a direct election of the president by popular vote. That would be an unwise idea. Here’s why.
The founders of the U.S. Constitution were opposed to mass democracy for the presidency. Much of the public is ignorant, swayed by misleading campaign propaganda, and greedy for special favors. The popular vote also benefits those areas having larger voting populations, which creates an incentive to maximize the voter numbers. A state can get more voters by lowering the standards for voting, including loose standards which allow for voter fraud.
With the electoral college, each State (and the District of Columbia) selects a number of electors equal to the sum of its representation in Congress, the representatives in the House and the Senate. This gives a bit more weight to the small States, each of which have two Senators, just like the big States.
The system has degenerated to a winner-take-all method, where whoever wins in a state gets all its electoral votes. It would better represent the voters if each state split its electoral votes in proportion to the popular vote. That way, Florida today would have split its electors 50/50, and there would not be this mess of court challenges and revotes. Alternatively, each Congressional district could vote for an elector, and the State legislature would elect the two State-wide electors.
Many US voters don’t realize that in many counties, with paper ballots, their votes are not counted precisely. The counting is often statistical, since the machinery does not accurately count each ballot. If the election is not close, it does not matter. But if the election is very close, say within one percent, then the numbers reported are meaningless. It is statistically possible that the winner could have gone the other way.
Voting machines may not be the best solution, since they could be programmed to miscount the votes. That’s also the problem with voting via the internet. It’s difficult to test a computer program for fraud. With paper ballots, fraud is possible if ballots are invalidated or “lost,” but it is easier to witness the process.
The solution with paper ballots in close elections is to run the ballots by machine several times, and then take an average. Hand counting is absurd, being both time consuming and subject to bias.
The election in Florida needs statisticians, not lawyers, to decide the outcome. But in our Brave New America, the lawyers prevail. Judges will determine the outcome rather than statistical analysis.
The ultimate remedy for the problems of mass democracy is nested small- group democracy, as I have written about before. That would be another reason to keep the Electoral College. When democracy gets decentralize to the county level, or better yet, the neighborhood level, then the problems of mass ballot counting will disappear, since each voter will only vote for his neighborhood council. So the best direction of reform is not towards mass popular voting, but towards the other direction, to make the multi-level method even more extensive, all the way down to the neighborhood.
As it stands today, neither candidate has won the presidency, and any outcome will be arbitrary. We will have in effect elected a president by tossing a coin.
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Copyright 2000 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.