Back in the day the Founders instituted the Electoral College to vote for the Vice-President and President because in a country where it took several days just to travel from Philadelphia to New York (or Washington D.C. when it was built) there was concern that the voters wouldn't really get a chance to meet the candidates, and make a fair evaluation of them.
Plus, much as we like to gloss over it now, America was not founded as a democracy as much as it was founded as a republic. "Ochlocracy": Rule of the rabble.
Great idea (the electoral college, not ochlocracy). Then, thinking it would be more democratic, the electors started voting a state's entire delegation to the candidate that won a plurality (and often a majority) in their state.
The one virtue of the Electoral College as configured is that it is a federal arrangment -- a popular vote across the country would unite the states into one national electorate in a way they are not at the moment.
The significant disadvantage of the Electoral College is that we elect the electors, and then just ask them to vote for the plurality/majority candidate in the state that sent them.
We like to think now that we can get to know the candidates in a way that people in the early republic, or even the late nineteenth century, could not.
But is that really true? Not really. How do we know, that John Kerry is "aloof" and "elitist"? How do we know, that George Bush cares more about the rich than the poor, and is in-sincere in his religious beliefs? (To take negative traits attributed to the candidates by the opposition).
I've never met John Kerry, and I've never met George Bush, and I don't think I'm ever likely to. Which puts me in the same category as nearly all of the population. And no, going to a campaign rally where they slap your hand does not count. Geez, by that standard I've met Paul Wellstone, Corey Glover (ex-Living Colour singer), Elijah Wood and Liv Tyler (actually, I've talked to Liv and have her autograph, but that's another story ...)
It's just not possible for politicans to meet and know that many people. They only have a certain number of hours in the day, too. The more people they meet, the less they can actually know each individual person.
What we know about the personality and "character" of our politicians comes not from actual interaction with them, but from what (1) a small number of journalists tell us, and (2) what the opposition party tells us. And once a certain notion about a candidate's character has become established it's nigh on impossible to dislodge.
Despite the fact that we can see and hear them on TV and radio, we are no more able to get to know the presidential candidates than when they were just in the newspapers. Improved transportation does mean a slightly, slightly better chance for people to meet national politicians outside Washington. But the four fold increase in population since 1900 means that your chance of meeting and knowing the candidate has also diminished.
Which brings me back to the Electoral College. If we're not going to have a popularly elected president, why not revive the Electoral College?
Each state could use STV to elect a number of electors in proportion to their population. The electors would then be the people involved in selecting the presidential candidates, perhaps the candidates that had emerged from a primary system similar to the current ones. And then, the electors would have several months to interact with the presidential candidates, before electing the president.
I'm sure you can all see the numerous flaws in this system. It's "undemocratic", but actually no more than the current system, I'd say.
Actually, the key to making this work would be getting electors who were not party hacks, sorry, committed party activists, but making this a real opportunity to return citizen involvement to the process. In other words, making the electors ordinary citizens, and getting some genuine independents and initially undecided people in there. Otherwise the election results would be determined by the numbers of electors from each party. What we would need is public financing of the campaigns to be an elector, and some mechanism to reduce the incentive to have partisan blocs in this electoral college. We would also need to pay the electors well to make it worth the while of ordinary citizens to give up their jobs for a year and be an elector.
Parties arise for several reasons; one is as a form of branding, and the other is to co-ordinate political activity. We can't really get rid of the branding aspect, but if the electors could not serve for more than one presidential election, and were disbarred from running for other office for a short period of time, we might get thinking people who were not tied too closely to a party.
Add this, I suppose, to the list of "great ideas that will never happen" as part 3 ...Posted by robe0419 at September 28, 2004 10:31 PM | TrackBack