Thursday, May 31, 2012

What's wrong with US Politics: Part 4, The electoral college

The electoral college is an old throwback to when it was tricky to count votes over such a populous and dispersed country as the USA. It allowed each state to elect a set of people that would travel to the capital and cast the actual vote for the president. There are many problems with this, the obvious one is that the president isn't actually elected by gaining the most amount of people to vote for him. In fact a president could be elected with almost as little as 25% of the vote (Highly unlikely obviously). Other problems with the electoral college is that different states have different number of delegates per votes. For instance Rhode Island has 4 delegates for roughly 1 million people (1 delegate per 250 thousand) while California has 55 delegates for roughly 38 million people (Less than 1 delegate than 600 thousand).

The cool thing about this problem is that this might actually already be on the way to be solved by the Popular Vote Compact that is already adopted in many states. The whole idea is that once enough states to represent more than 50% of the electoral votes have joined the compact all the states under the agreement pledge that all their electoral delegates will vote not to the winner of the states election, but to the winner of the popular vote. Since each state's legislator can decide how its delegates should be assigned this can be done without any change to the US constitution (Although most states would need to change their constitutions). The last state to join the compact was California and with this 132 of the needed 270 electoral votes have been pledged to the compact so we are already almost halfway there.

If you live in a state that has a very strong bias to either the right or left this is good news for you. Until now your voice has been largely ignored during the presidential elections since usually all delegates in a state goes to whoever gets more than 50% in the state and since the state already has a strong bias the money and effort to win your state is better spent in other states that are more closely contested. With the compact however, every vote counts the same regardless of which state it comes from so all of a sudden a vote converted to Republican from Democrat in California is worth as much as one in Texas. If you are from a populous state you will also get more say given that today there are a lot less votes per delegate in smaller states than larger states and with the compact every vote will count exactly the same.

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