Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Dokken and the Electoral College

I got an email earlier today from my friend Nate, who, after years of ridiculing blogging (for good reasons), told me he just caved in and started his own blog. I realized when he said this that I "haven't posted anything in forever," as my life partner, Michael, friends, creditors, and pen pal Vladimir have been telling me for a few months. Sorry everyone, I guess work, grad school, and moving got in the way. Bitter? No...

So this gives me a good opportunity to both introduce Nate's blog, "Rockin' with Dokken," and to step back into blogging. [I hate any word that uses "blog" as its root, by the way.] You see, now that I have immediate competition from my friends, I'm once again motivated to write on my blog. It's the same behavior that results when you have two guitarists and one guitar in a room. As soon as one guy picks up the guitar and starts playing, the other guy eyes it feverishly and, masking his craving to show that he can also play, calmly asks, "Hey, uh, can I play/give it a whirl/grab the axe/shred for a bit?" So it's not truly altruistic on my part to plug Rockin with Dokken---to the extent someone who gets like 25 hits a day can plug anything.

Nate's first post on those stupid "I Voted" stickers is pretty dead on. I always feel an annoying pressure to vote whenever I see them, which I guess is the point. If I don't vote, I'm not in the sticker club, and I haven't done what I was supposed to do, so I should feel bad. I never saw the point of voting for someone who I didn't think would be a good leader (not to be confused with a good politician), and I still feel that way. I'm not going to exercise my civic right to support a politician in an election just because P. Diddy tells me to (or threatens me to). This pressure led me to vote for Bush in 2004 for god knows what reason, so I'm pretty skeptical that just voting for the sake of voting empowers people to elect leaders that serve their interests any more than not voting does.

"Seriously, I will kill you."

Since it's Election Day, I have a unique opportunity to sway massive public opinion (ha!). I'm not going to get into who to vote for---if you haven't figured it out by now, just don't vote (seriously). Here's my gripe: why do we still have an electoral college? A few days ago I heard Pat Buchanan on MSNBC talking about the possibility of McCain threading his way to victory by way of a popular vote loss but an electoral college win. The New York Times has a story discussing this possibility, as well.

Does this make sense? I realize the the U.S. presidential election system is an indirect democracy, but the present manifestation of something doesn't lend evidence for its existence. That is, just because we're doing something a certain way doesn't mean we can't do it differently, and better. Why not have a direct democracy, (i.e. a true democracy) in which each vote is equal to every other vote. Why should my vote in heavily-Democratic DC have far less impact than someone's vote in Arlington, Virginia, which is 2 miles away?

Good question. Let's look at where this wacky idea of an electoral college came from: the U.S. Constitution. According to the source of infinite knowledge, Wikipedia:

The design of the Electoral College was based upon several assumptions and anticipations of the Framers of the Constitution:
1. Each state would employ the district system of allocating electors.
2. Each presidential elector would exercise independent judgment when voting.
3. Candidates for either office would not pair together on the same ticket.
4. The system as designed would rarely produce a winner, thus sending the election to

Hmm. Number 4 looks like a troublemaker. Seems strange to me that the framers would construct a system that intended to rely on Congress to pick a President and Vice President. Turns out this bit them in the ass in 1796 and again in 1800 after the emergence of political parties, which became effective in gathering large blocks of electoral votes, and thus in manipulating the electoral system to their advantage. In fact, the famously bitter schism between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton arose from Hamilton's support for Thomas Jefferson when Jefferson and Burr were tied for electoral votes for President in the 1800 election, resulting in the Jefferson Presidency. Burr (the sitting Vice President) later shot and killed Hamilton (the sitting Treasury Secretary) for this transgression. Who ever said the Framers were perfect?

The 12th Amendment changed the original system from one in which electors would cast two votes for President to one in which they would cast one for President and one for VP. This is still in place today. No further shootings occurred.

"Hey Hamilton, go fuck yourself."

Enough of the boring stuff.

So it is apparent to me that the Framers were more concerned with establishing an electoral system that satisfied the political whims of the time rather than one that was grounded in democratic principles, those being equality of representation and justice.

If the electoral college system worked such that it exactly represented the popular vote, there would be less of a case against it. Of course, then we'd have to wonder why we even have such an elaborate (and thus, expensive) system. But, unfortunately, as we saw in 2000, the electoral vote put Bush into the Presidency, even though the popular vote should have carried Gore, by half a million votes, to the White House. Whoops. That should have been enough to motivate us to replace the electoral system with a direct democracy. Obviously it didn't. Whether or not the current election actually results in another split between the votes of the electorate and the votes of the people is entirely unimportant. The prospect that it is still a possibility in this and all future elections is grounds for dismantlement or systemic repair. It flouts the contemporary concept of democracy.

So, why do we still carry on with this antiquated system? Precedent provides momentum, sure. But, remember what happened once the electorate was first formed? Political parties self-organized, gathering electoral votes, and accreted power. In any social institution, people will always expand their authority to the extent allowed by the rules, and once that power exists, it is very difficult to change rules that would affect the distribution of power. And so, though the Republicans may hate the Democrats, and the Democrats may hate the Republicans, they need each other to perpetuate the dominance of the two-party system, in the same way that Fidel Castro needs the United States, Garfield needs Odie, and peanut butter needs jelly (why do you think there's an ampersand between them? They HATE each other).

Garfield and Odie: now a compelling political parable.

I'm sure this is rife with applications of game theory, if I understood it. Basically, without an electoral college, third, fourth, and fifth parties could start to eat away at the incumbent parties' votes, and thus their political power. And why would they want that?

Now let's all get drunk and watch the results.

Postlude: I realize there are argument of states' rights, urban overrepresentation, and others, that can be made in favor of the electoral college, and perhaps they can be made convincingly, but any system that strives to be a democratic one must, as a first principle, ensure equality of representation. Before any argument for keeping the current system is considered, I believe you have to first assess whether the current system is functioning to preserve the fundamental democratic rights of the people. If it is not, any argument in support of it fails. But I'm open to argument.