15 December 2008

Pairing up the states

A Ballot Buddy System, by Randall Lane, an op-ed in today's New York Times.

As you may remember, there was a presidential election six weeks ago in the United States. But Barack Obama isn't officially elected president until today; today is the day that the electors cast their votes. This is the first time since 1892 that a state will have electors voting for more than one candidate. Maine and Nebraska both have laws in which two electors go to the winner of the popular vote in the state and one goes to the winner of each congressional district. Nebraska went for McCain, but the 2nd congressional district (Omaha and some of its inner suburbs) went for Obama.

It's been suggested that all states should apportion their electoral votes in this way, on the assumption that less people live in "safe districts" than "safe states". (I'm not sure if this is the case, especially with the way some districts are gerrymandered these days.) But the problem with this is that the majority of people (and legislators) in any state would see their party hurt by the passage of such a law in their state.

Lane's suggestion is that Republican-leaning states and Democratic-leaning states with approximately the same number of electoral votes (say, Texas and New York) could agree to pass these laws together. The problem is that in each pairing, it seems that you'd want two states that are roughly of equal size and are equally far from the political center; it seems that it might not be possible to construct such a pairing. The obvious problem is what to do with California? It's easy to state a few plausible pairs, as Lane does, but I'm not sure that all the states could be paired off in this way. Furthermore, things probably get weird, in terms of how much "power" each state holds in presidential elections, if some substantial number of states have enacted such laws.


notedscholar said...

Hmm, interesting. Lord knows something has to be done about this gosh darn electoral college.


CarlBrannen said...

I fail to see what advantage going to a more proportional system would give. If we did the presidential election on the basis of the popular vote the inevitable result would be that massive vote fraud in, for example, Illinois, would effect the outcome of the election.

The way it is now, the outcome of a close vote depends on swing states. The swing states are the states that alternate between Republican and Democratic administration. It is precisely that alternation in power that causes swing state votes to be have less fraud component than the votes of states that are controlled by machine politics of one sort or another.

The effect of the electoral college is to make the election decided relatively cleanly most of the time. Even a 4% difference in popular vote makes an overwhelming difference in electoral vote. Going to a more popular system is an invitation to the Supreme Court to decide every close election instead of the rare one now and then.

Anonymous said...

Please !

It's the year 2008, and modern places like Minnesota CANNOT even accurately count the votes for a mere Senator.

So we're now gonna tinker some more with Electoral College procedures ??

Wrestle with "Arrow's Impossibility Theorem" if you think you can fine tune the electoral desires of American citizens.