Eric Three Thousand's uncontroversial political commentary.
OK, I'm certainly not non-partisan but I usually try to keep things pretty light and fluffy here at Eric Three Thousand so I don't discuss politics very much. But every once in a while I may find a topic that shouldn't cause too much arguing. Here's one:
Whether you enjoy spending your spare time getting abortions or making it easier for the mentally deranged to buy automatic assault riffles, I think we can all agree on one thing: our electoral system sucks.
Now, obviously, to have a real democracy the first thing we would need to do is get rid of the Senate (since it means people in smaller states have more representation than people in larger states) but that's not going to happen and I think I'm OK with that (the senate performs an important function in the balance of power so I generally like having it there).
As far as the electoral process itself, instant runoff elections would be nice because it would allow for more political parties and we could get candidates that represent the majority of the American people instead of small groups at the extreme left or right. Instant runoff elections mean you vote for several candidates in order of preference. So, for instance, if the environment were the most important issue to you but you didn't think the Democratic Party was strong enough on the issue, you could vote for the Green Party candidate as your first choice and the Democratic Party candidate as your second choice. Since people would be less worried about "throwing away" their votes, third party candidates could actually get some traction. Unfortunately, this idea has been discussed for a long time and doesn't seem to be getting anywhere.
But something we finally have the chance to do something about is the stupid electoral college. The electoral college makes absolutely no sense, everyone hates it, but we just haven't been able to get rid of it. Not only does it mean a person can assume the presidency after losing an election, but it also means the votes of people living in uncontested states effectively count less than the votes of people living in the small number of "battle-ground" states. Living in California, for instance, I always vote but the presidential election is kind of a waste of time since we know the state is going to the Democrat. In a democracy everyone's vote should count.
The original idea for getting rid of the electoral college, which I first remember hearing about years ago, was for the individual states to cast their electoral votes separately in proportion to the popular vote in the state (in other words, if the vote was split 60/40 the electoral votes would be split 60/40). This plan is definitely better but still not very good. One problem is that it would be impossible to perfectly divide the electoral votes (for instance, how would you split five votes in a 50/50 split?). Nebraska and Maine already allow for a split vote but apparently this hasn't occurred. The major problem with this plan is that all the states would have to do this at the same time, otherwise it would give a major advantage to one party or the other. For instance, if California suddenly gave 40% of its votes to the Republican candidate, that would suddenly throw off the balance of the election. And it just doesn't seem possible to get all the states to do it at once.
The new idea for fixing the problem is so simple I can't believe it hasn't been done yet. It's called the National Popular Vote plan. I first heard about this last year and the New Yorker had a brief discussion of it recently (April 16, 2007, Talk of the Town). The idea is for an individual state to simply give all its electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. This would give everyone an incentive to vote, no matter what state they live in. It also wouldn't matter whether one state signed on to this plan or all fifty; it would still help and it wouldn't give an advantage to either party. For some reason the state plans are based on a certain number of states signing on before it goes into effect, which seems unnecessary, but I still think it could happen.
So there you go: one small step toward democracy in the United States of America. It would be nice if we could get democracy and human rights in this country before we try to force democracy on other countries. Oops, sorry, I wasn't going to be controversial.
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