Friday, January 19, 2007

Crazy Political Ideas, Part Two

On Wednesday I wrote about a plan to make campaign donations anonymous. Sure, it’s an idea that has never really taken off, and probably never will… but isn’t the elegance of the concept beautiful? Here’s another proposal in that same category: a way to reform the electoral college without a constitutional amendment.

In the year 2000, in what is a continuing tragedy for our country, George W. Bush was elected President without attaining a plurality of the votes. In 2004, the roles were nearly reversed: Bush got about 3 million more votes than Kerry, but was only 100,000 Ohio votes from losing the electoral college. When such events occur the legitimacy of elections is unnecessarily put to question. What’s worse, the electoral college activates all sort of nightmare scenarios – electoral ties, faithless electors that sway a result, etc. – which could easily lead to constitutional crises.

How do we fix this? Passing a constitutional amendment to abolish the electoral college is close to impossible. The current scheme favors smaller states, but constitutional amendments require the assent of two-thirds of all states. Some of them would need to vote against their interests in order for such a measure to pass.

In September of last year a bill passed the California legislature that found a clever way around this problem. Under current law, states have the right to enact whatever method of apportioning electors they choose. What the California measure proposed was that the state send electors for the winner of the popular vote, regardless of who won the California vote. But this law would only kick in once other states agreed to do the exact same thing... enough other states so that they could elect a President all by themselves.

Clever, no? In the meantime, California would not sacrifice its influence in the electoral college. But if enough big states acted in their own interest and rebelled against the electoral college, then these states could elect a President no matter what the small states did. The United States could finally elect a President by popular vote.

Unfortunately, Governor Schwarzenneger chose to veto the bill, and no other states have taken it up. Right now, common sense direct democracy is just a fond dream.

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