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Friday, November 09, 2012

A Proportional Problem

From Delaware's complaint to SCOTUS against New York in 1966:

In early presidential elections, the individual electors were chosen by districts in various states in many instances, thus causing a division of a state's electoral vote when the people of such districts differed in their choice of candidates. After the rise of a national two-party system the state unit-vote system became uniform because of the political advantages which accrued to those states which first adopted it...

Election by districts tended to dilute the power of dominant political interests to deliver a state's entire electoral vote to their candidate. Such interests therefore installedthe state unit system because its "winner-take-all" effect maximized their power. The dominant interests were enabled, with any popular vote plurality, to cast all of the state's electoral vote for their party's candidate.

The persons casting a plurality of the popular votes in such a state therefore exercised greater power in a presidential election than was justified by their numbers and these popular pluralities in such states accordingly were more eagerly sought by candidates. This caused other states to adopt the state unit system as a defensive measure to maximize their relative strengths in the national election.

The reasoning in Virginia was typical. Thomas Jefferson stated prior to its switch from the district system in 1800, that "...An election by districts would be best if it could be general, but while ten States choose either by legislatures or by a general ticket it is folly and worse than folly for the other States not to do it."

As Exhibit B shows, a district system was used in 1796 in five of the eight states which allowed popular election oi electors, but by 1808 six of ten such states were using the general ticket, as were twelve of eighteen in 1824. The district system disappeared in 1836 when Maryland abandoned it. It is therefore a historical fact that each state's continued use of the state unit-vote method is caused in part by its continued use by every other state.

Of course, we do now have district systems once again, with NE and ME, but they are relatively small potatoes in terms of EVs and are not swing states, so most likely won't sway an election by themselves.  Still, there's a reason states went away from that approach, much to do with the entrenchment of the partisan duopoly, and perhaps in some part because it's in some ways even shittier and potentially less representative than a WTA mechanism (if a few battleground states used CDS, Romney would be president-elect despite Obama's PV edge).

What this says to me is that any tinkering with the College--especially including the National Popular Vote movement VT sadly signed onto--is a dicey proposition with all sorts of possible unintended consequences.  Of course much of this is driven by partisan and state self-interest, as opposed to, you know, trying to best measure the Will of the People.

However, there is one angle I hadn't considered before:

[A congressional district plan] will be a boon to third parties - that now would be competitive for electoral votes. [A state adopting it] will be a magnet for third parties and special interests. Minor parties will be strengthened and the major parties weakened. The net effect will be the weakening of the two party system that now plays such a critical role in establishing consensus and stability in state politics.

I wonder what it would look like if a state like CA went the district route.  What if the Greens targeted, say...the 35th Congressional District.  Give up on the presidential race for now and just build infrastructure in the LA area, work hard to get a Green in Congress.  Push CA away from WTA, and ultimately win an Electoral Vote.  Then move on to another district, showing people disenchanted with Dems that they really wouldn't be "wasting" their votes.  Implement IRV (instead of CA's stupid open primary bullshit)...who knows, we might actually give non-duopoly candidates a chance to make a real difference.

Not saying it would be easy.  Just wondering if we could attack the problems with our electoral system in a more effective way than Quixotic campaigns for the presidency.  Grabbing for the brass ring seems to be putting the cart before the horse: maybe Greens et al ought to work on creating the space for alternate/proportional systems that would enable voters to vote their conscience and not have to compromise in pragmatic/strategic terms.

ntodd

November 9, 2012 in Constitution, Schmonstitution | Permalink

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