Friday, September 28, 2012

Three Ways That the Electoral College Robs You

The Electoral College was designed to keep We The People from picking a president; instead, a president would be chosen by an aristocratic group elected to talk it over and pick a president based upon the superior wisdom of the Electors.
It has never worked this way, and can never work. All it does is make our democracy ridiculous.

1. The argument is often made that an election based on popular vote will result in smaller states being ignored. This fallacious argument goes:
(A) Campaigns have limited resources
(B) For a given unit of resources, you get more votes from investing it in a high-population area
(C) Therefore campaigns will spend their resources only, or disproportionality, in high-population areas.

Each of those propositions are faulty.

(A) Although campaigns have limited resources in terms of candidate appearances (there are only 24 hours in a day), campaigns are nearing the saturation point in terms of monetary resources. They are literally running out of ad space to buy, so this is not a reason to avoid smaller markets.

(B) The cost of an ad buy is, mostly, proportional to the size of the audience. In a popular vote system, you get roughly the same bang out of buying 10 100,000-voter buys as you get out of 1 million-voter buy. It would actually be better to buy ads in 10 100,000-voter states or cities than in 1 million-voter state or city, because the former can be tailored better.

(C)  It follows from the above that under a popular vote system, campaigns will have no motivation to concentrate only on large states.

2. The Electoral College leads most small states to be ignored in favor of a small number of large states. If we define "small state" as being one with single-digit electoral votes, there are about 30 of them (including DC). Only 3 are battleground states (10%). Contrast this with there being 21 large states or which 5 are battleground states, or 25%). If Mittens loses Ohio and Florida, who cares about New Hampshire and Nevada?

3. The current system means only "battleground states" get attention; voters in most states are ignored. Republicans in Spokane never get any attention because Washington State is so very blue and Republicans in Mississippi are equally neglected because that state is so red!

A worse system would be hard to design. While this presidential election looks pretty close to being decided, perhaps the failings of this system will encourage some sort of reform.

I'm not holding my breath

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