In his Nov. 29 Bangor Daily News OpEd, Richard Posner gives five reasons to keep the Electoral College. But his five reasons can easily be summed up as: “Well, yes, the Electoral College is arcane and undemocratic, but it’s not all that undemocratic or all that bad.”
But the Electoral College isn’t a little undemocratic, it’s exceedingly undemocratic. It’s a fundamental violation of the concept of one person one vote. No other country tolerates such nonsense, and we shouldn’t either.
Posner hails the Electoral College’s “certainty of outcome.” He states that a winning candidate’s share of the Electoral College will likely exceed that candidate’s share of the popular vote, thus making the outcome more certain. Posner cites President Barack Obama’s 51.3 percent of the popular vote and 61.7 percent of the electoral vote. But if Obama won 51.3 percent of the popular vote, why should he win 61.7 percent of the electoral college?
Though he doesn’t say so, Posner is presumably worried that a close election might trigger protests or social unrest. But this is unlikely. In 2000, Democrat Al Gore beat Republican George Bush by 543,895 votes, yet lost the Electoral College. The disputed Electoral College, and thus the election, was decided by five Supreme Court judges appointed by members of Bush’s party. But never mind the Supreme Court, the Electoral College hijacked the will of the people. If the citizenry won’t protest this, why would it protest a close election?
In 1960, John F. Kennedy beat Richard Nixon by 0.2 percent of the popular vote, and it was widely believed that Kennedy won by a landslide the votes of the deceased in Illinois and Texas, but there was no protest whatsoever, not even from Nixon himself.
In 1976, if Gerald Ford had gotten 25,581 more votes in Mississippi and Ohio, he would have won the Electoral College, though he would have lost the popular vote by 1.6 million. It’s hard to imagine this would have sent Jimmy Carter’s supporters into the streets armed with Molotov cocktails. So much for this concern.
Besides, what’s wrong with a little protest and social unrest? It might awaken and invigorate a population stupefied by ultra-stage-managed Politics By Television. Countries the world over have close elections, and somehow they manage to survive the horrific spectacle and trauma of citizens marching in the streets. Surely a strong, vigorous democracy has nothing to fear from this.
Amazingly, Posner cheers the fact that the Electoral College forces candidates to fixate on a handful of swing states — while ignoring all other states. This leads to the absurdity of candidates spending far more time and money wooing the 1.3 million inhabitants of New Hampshire than the 37 million citizens of California.
Posner further argues that by its structure, which slights small states, the Electoral College restores some of the “political balance” lost by small states having as much Senate representation as big states. In other words the solution to an undemocratic Senate is an undemocratic Electoral College.
Wouldn’t it be better to scrap what Posner admits is an undemocratic Electoral College, and what Posner admits is an undemocratic Senate, in favor of a far more democratic unicameral Congress in which representation is based solely on population? Why should Wyoming’s 600,000 residents have as many senators as California’s 37 million people?
Equally amazing is that Posner hails the Electoral College’s supposed guarantee of no run-off elections. This presupposes that run-off elections are bad and best avoided. But U.S. states, and nations around the world, hold run-off elections all the time, and somehow civilization plods on.
But never mind that. There are 538 electoral votes, and a tie is possible. It was precisely to force or avoid such a possible tie that Mitt Romney flooded the airwaves right here in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District in a last-ditch effort to pluck off our single, solitary electoral vote. If the electoral vote had tied, the Democratic-controlled Senate presumably would have elected Obama president, and the Republican-controlled House might well have elected Romney vice president. This would be preferable to a run-off election? In any event, a run-off election is easily avoided by an instant run-off system in which voters state their second preference in case there is a tie.
Clearly the Electoral College is indeed arcane and undemocratic, and its abolition is long overdue.
Lawrence Reichard is a resident of Bangor and an activist with Occupy Bangor.