Incite -- (v) 1: give an incentive; 2: provoke or stir up; "incite a riot"; 3: urge on; cause to act
Friday, December 24, 2004

In defense of the Electoral College
Written by: Beck

Senator Diane Feinstein (D-Moon) and Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-Bat) have announced plans to push a constitutional amendment in 2005 to abolish the electoral college, instead replacing it by a straight popular-vote system. I think this is a serious mistake. My reasons are simple and straightforward--this is neither rocket science, nor some nefarious scheme to monopolize the presidency for the Republican party.

The electoral college forces candidates to spread their efforts geographically. Feinstein argues the opposite--that it induces candidates to focus on a few battleground states. This mischaracterizes events and relies too heavily on the unusually close examples of the past two elections.

In a straight popular vote, it behooves candidates to concentrate their efforts in the most popular states and areas. With an Electoral College, once a state is in the bag, it behooves candidates to move on to the next area. Winning 60% of a state is no better than winning 55%.

The Electoral College also forces candidates to be more moderate. The need to appeal to a broader geographic range of people by definition means a broader range of interests must be appealed to. It's not enough to appeal to just, for instance, urban voters. A candidate must also appeal to farmers, blue collar laborers, Hispanic immigrants, the elderly... the list goes on. The only way to successfully appeal to such a broad range of people is via studied moderation. John Kerry lost precisely because he failed to achieve that broad, moderate appeal.

Were there no Electoral College, Kerry's approach would become the norm. It would be advantageous for candidates to move to the extremes; the result would be a much greater polarization of politics than currently exists. People liked to call this election the most divisive ever (which, come on folks, have you heard of the Civil War?). In truth, the candidates weren't far apart on most issues. Even with Iraq, Kerry acknowledged the need to see things through to the end now that we're there, and at times expressed support for the initial invasion (this stance, obviously, was subject to periodic nuance modification depending on the latest polling data).

Under a popular vote regime, the candidates would be more likely to look like Howard Dean and Pat Buchanan than what we actually had in 2004. Furthermore, had the most recent election been held with a popular vote regime, Bush would have spent all his time in Texas, Florida, and other concentrated red-state populations while Kerry spent all his time jetting between New York and California. Rather than incenting candidates to spread their effort, they'd be better off ratcheting their popular vote share in their respective core support regions from 65% to 70%.

What's more, the argument that the Electoral College prompted candidates to focus all their efforts on a couple states in 2004 is fallacious. To quote Captain's Quarters (which agrees with me, though takes a different approach by arguing that a popular vote would disproportionately favor Democrats--thus why they support the notion so ardently):
What Feinstein and Lofgren resent was the absence of the presidential candidates in California, which never gave much indication of any chance for George Bush to win. Despite the pair's assertions that only a handful of states got any attention, though, the two candidates spent the last few days of the campaign moving through a dozen states or more each, from high-population states such as Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania to smaller states such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Mexico, and others. Even if they didn't visit any one particular state, voters across the country could hardly miss the moment-to-moment coverage in the networks, cable outlets, Internet wire services, and blogs.
The Electoral College is a good thing, regardless of whether you're a Republican or a Democrat. A popular vote would just constitute another step in the destruction of the federal system.

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John Beck

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