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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Obama Is, If Truth Be Known, Quite Mad

Juggling two kids has been a bit challenging, particularly because they squirm so much when you toss them in the air.  Anyway, I was able to find some time to finally finish Abigail and John, which I found to be a delightful book about the Adamses' relationship and service to our nation.

Near the end, of course, comes the election of 1800, in which John lost his job in an ugly way.  Any time you think the 2012 campaign is vile and incivil, just read a thing or two or three about the first contested election we ever had.  It has ever been thus once Washington left the scene.

Anyway, in light of yesterday's anniversary of women's suffrage, and the voter ID shit in PA, etc, I've been thinking about the manner of our presidential elections.  Not so much the silliness that is our electoral college, but more mundane stuff.

Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution sez:

The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.

The 2nd Congress decided how the mechanics of the electoral process should work in 1792, and once again any geek like me really should find the whole discussion fascinating.  First of all, there was a question about how small a window was appropriate for the States to choose Electors:

Mr Sedgwick...observed he had his doubts whether it would not be best to give a longer time. He enlarged on the disagreeable consequences...in case there should not be a choice by the Electors...He descanted on the pernicious consequences which might result from the collision of parties, and the working of passions in the breasts of men...every reasonable measure should be adopted to prevent the evils which he deprecated; he therefore moved that the words "thirty days" should be struck out, in order to give the people longer time to give in their votes for Electors.

Mind you that not all states allowed popular vote for Electors.  In 1800, the New York slate was essentially decided in April (well outside the ultimate 34-day window) when the Legislative elections were complete, for example.  Instead of pollsters, we looked to the results of various state-level contests throughout the year until South Carolina finally chose its Electors.

The separation of State and Federal responsibility was also debated.  Congressmen Niles and Hillhouse objected to Congress' direction of State Executives in how to provide lists of Electors.  In contrast, Sedgwick and Clark thought this was a clear prerogative of the Federal Legislature--they ultimately won the argument.

It took another half century before our current uniform and predictable election day was set.  Originally the first Tuesday in November was proposed in December, 1844, but the 28th Congress eventually opted for the first Tuesday after the first Monday.

Other than that, there isn't really anything else we can do to make our presidential elections consistent across the States.  So the ballots will be different, the early voting will vary all over the place, etc, because historically we've had a decentralized system.  Which strikes me as a travesty in the modern era.

At least our campaigns will always be mean no matter what state you live in.  It's tradition.


August 19, 2012 in Constitution, Schmonstitution | Permalink


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We're a long way from having robust enough technology to conduct a national direct democratic election. The electoral college was an elegant solution when it was chartered, and it may be providing what little stability there is in our presidential elections these days. Imagine Bush v. Gore being waged in all fifty states.

Yes, it's scandalous. But it's the truth.

Posted by: theodoric of athens | Nov 14, 2012 9:59:03 PM

The recount situ is always the one that gives me pause with NPV, but I think federalizing the current system is a different animal. In fact, I'd submit we wouldn't have had the same Bush v Gore problem because of the uniformity.

Posted by: NTodd Pritsky | Nov 15, 2012 9:53:50 AM

And I realize I'm referring to another argument posted elsewhere, but I posit that if the Feds took over Congressional elections, made early voting for Electors uniform, the States would ultimately just fold local/state elections into the process, so even ballots might end up being consistent across precincts.

Posted by: NTodd Pritsky | Nov 15, 2012 9:55:48 AM

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