Saturday, October 29, 2016

A Simple Argument in Support of the Maligned Electoral College

I don't often delve into political questions in this science and education blog, but from time to time I think it good practice to examine arguments for or against certain controversial political questions. My intent is to provoke or enhance debate on the topic.

The electoral college is the somewhat convoluted process of selecting the President of the United States. Each state gets the same number of votes in the process as they have senators and representatives in congress. The rules guarantee each state at least 3 votes, which implies that people in less populous states are represented better than people in more populous states. Wyoming voters get more impact per person than voters in New York. This difference helps make it possible for someone to win the election without winning the nationwide popular vote. The system has thus been maligned as undemocratic.

The enhanced clout of the small population states is not sufficient to allow individual small states to dominate an election because their total number of votes remain well below those of individual populous states (For example, Wyoming's 3 votes to California's 55). If the small states voted in a way that was random with respect to each other, they would usually cancel each other out to irrelevance. On the other hand, when many small states together agree, the effect of their extra weight is constructive and it acts to protect their collective rights. I think it is a work of genius, even if it seems undemocratic.

The Senate in the US Congress provides each state with equal representation regardless of population, while the House of Representatives provides representation roughly proportional to population. Why should the senate be the only branch of government that gives equal weight to the small states as to the large ones? Why shouldn't the selection of the chief executive give them similar benefits? Many people think it is unfair to grant small states additional protections. Yet, many of the same people think it is fair to protect low income taxpayers with lower tax rates than for the wealthy, or to provide underrepresented demographic groups with scholarships and other support for education.

I see the electoral college system as a just another systemic protection of an underrepresented group of people from the tyranny of majority rule.