Saturday, February 21, 2009

Missing the point by an American mile...

In the US system, the Electoral College is pretty fucking important; it allows the individual states—particularly the sparsely populated ones—to have a reasonable say in who the fuck their President is: at the very least, should they disagree with the population in general, it allows their dissenting vote to be registered.

I feel the need to explain this only because my attention has been drawn to this report from Dizzy...
The reason I am writing any of this is the news that the state legislature in Iowa have decided to change the law on how their Electoral College votes will be decided in Presidential Elections. Rather than sending their seven votes to the College on the basis of who wins in the state, they have said they will send their votes based on the nationwide popular vote. They will only do this however when states totalling 270 college votes have changed their own rules too.

So, basically, the state legistlatiure of Iowa has sent this message to their constituents: "fuck you, people of Iowa—we don't give a shit about how you voted. Your votes mean fuck all, you cunts: we will let the people in the rest of the country decide how your votes should be apportioned. Fuck you, people of Iowa, fuck you right in the fucking face."

Now, I happen to think that this is a really shitty move. After all, let us imagine that we had an general election and our government said, "we are going to hold it across the whole of Europe and the party that they vote for wil be in power" we'd be pretty fucking annoyed, right?

Let's say that everyone in this country voted for the Tories, and the rest of Europe voted for Labour, we'd be pretty pissed off that we'd ended up with another five years of Labour, would we not?

So, what does Tory-supporting Dizzy think of Iowa's measure?
It is politics at its very best.

Really? If you really think that then you are a fucking idiot—you, Dizzy, are a total fucking moron. I have never claimed to be a great fan of democracy, but I happen to think that praising the disenfranchisement of an entire state as "politics at its very best" is fucking stupid—although politics at its most typical it may be.

After all, we live in a country in which the government is run by a party that got 21.6% of the popular vote: do you support that, Diz? Or, to make it more local, more people voted for the Tories in England than voted for Labour, but it was over-ruled by the inbred idiots in our state-teat suckling satellites. Are you a fan of that, Diz?

Let me make this clear: what Iowa have done is to use a pretence of a popular mandate to undermine the power that the voters of Iowa have, using the very same power that enfranchises said legislature. Remind you of anything?

If not, perhaps you would like to remind yourself that our government has done the very same thing in regard to the EU. Are you in favour of the EU, Diz? Is this politics at its very best? I would venture to say that it. Is. Not.

Fucking hellski...


Dick the Prick said...

Yeah, when I read that it created a WTF is this drivel but then realized fuck em - if Obummer lasts 4 years it'll be a fucking miracle the way he's fucking absolutely everything up - quite an achievement really.

Anonymous said...

Do bear in mind that, for most states, if 50.0001% of the state votes for one candidates, 100% of the electoral votes go to that candidate.

If you look at US constitutional history, you will see that the electoral college is not and never has been a mechanism for enhancing democracy. It was originally created as a means to allow the richest and most powerful individuals in a state to exercise a final say over the choice of executive (in other words, if the Electors disagreed with the voters, they were perfectly legally entitled to ignore the will of the voters).

The electoral college is a hangover from days when planter aristocracies dreamed of recreating an oligarchic Roman-style republic. Its major function nowadays is to ensure that, if you're a Republican in California, a Democrat in Maryland or a Libertarian in any state, your vote simply will not count.

Anonymous said...

Diz will be in a right Tiz!

Anonymous said...

Positively undemocratic. No more need be said.

Anonymous said...

The key to this is that it only applies once states totalling 270 votes (i.e. enough to win) have signed up to it). This means that (assuming faithless electors don't swing it, which is a miniscule problem equally found in the current system) whoever wins the popular vote must win.

If Iowa had signed up to a constitutional amendment replacing the electoral college with direct popular election of the President, would you have a problem with it? If ratified by enough states (and Congress) this amendment would ultimately become law, and the President would always be elected by national vote.

If you would have no problem with such an amendment, how can you critiscise this plan, which merely defers the date the President is elected popularly to that when 270 electoral votes sign up. In both cases, Iowa is declaring that the winner of the national popular vote should always win.

I'm not sure the EU analogy holds. You mix issues of greater 'integration' (which I am certainly opposed to) with those of deciding who the leadership should be. Clearly, it would be absurd if our government was chosen by European vote. This is because the British government governs Britain, not Europe so it would be ludicrous to have the government of one region being selected by another. It would be absurd for Ohio voters to select the Iowa governor. However the President of the United States governs, Iowa, and Ohio and the rest. What the legislatures decision is is that the standard for election should be a popular plurality rather than the geographical location of voters within the united states.

If we were through some stupidity to agree that a centralised European President is a good thing (as the Americans believe a President is a good thing) then I would certainly support the election of such a figure by straightforward popular vote.

Is it not absurd that the President of the United States can win an election by gaining fewer votes than the loser (Bush 2000)? He should be elected on a national vote, the prize should not go to those skilful/lucky enough to have their support geographically concentrated in the right way.We live in an age where the states do not fear each other as they once did. We live in an age with interstate commerce and cooperation to an extent the Founders could only dream about. Why should we keep the archaic Electoral College, which allows some voters to have vastly more influence than others.

Old BE said...

if 50.0001% of the state votes for one candidates, 100% of the electoral votes go to that candidate

Yes, it is a constituency-based system just as the British system is. Is is not ideal, but is considerably better than some of the alternatives.

There is nothing democratic about saying "I'll go along with what everyone else says".

Anonymous said...

OK, I'm a huge fan of the Electoral College system, and would hate to see it changed, but I don't see what is unreasonable about Iowa's law.

Giving it to the national vote winner means that Iowa's EC votes go to the person who didn't necessarily win the popular vote in Iowa.

Giving each state's votes to whoever won the state means that the national Presidency goes to the person who didn't necessarily win the popular vote nationally.

Both are different frames of reference for votes potentially being awarded against the national vote. They are comparable.

Imagine that the new piece of legislation had gone the other way, and all 7 of Iowa's Electoral College votes would go to the candidate who won the most Congressional Districts in Iowa (there are 5).

Would that be better or worse? The federalist notion of which you are apparently supportive surely means that a Congressional District shouldn't have to cede it's votes to the statewide popular votewinner, doesn't it? How can the popular vote of a Congressional District be overruled by the statewide popular vote? Is it a disgrace?

If you think it is a disgrace, then why not disaggregate by County? If you don't think it is a disgrace, why is the real legislation any worse?

You have to make a case why one level of overriding disaggregation is better or worse than another - you are adamant it shouldn't be the national level (where national popular vote is supreme) but are happy for it to be at the state level (where state popular vote is supreme).

Why State and not National? Why State and not Congressional District? Why Congressional District and not County?

These questions are answerable in Europe (language, cultural history, different political parties, different legal structures for fighting elections) but that is less clear in the US, where states are constitutionally administrative entities.

I don't see how you arbitrate, as a Libertarian, between the levels of aggregation, and which ones get primacy. I can understand your anti-statism suggests that National is worst, but then would want a commitment that you are in favour of the most local aggregation possible (sub-county?).

Essentially, this is a great post, but I'm a little surprised it got you so riled. Both solutions are undemocratic in their own way. I just prefer the complexity of the Electoral College for gambling reasons.

Anonymous said...

>Is is not ideal, but is considerably better than some of the alternatives.<

Is it better than saying that each vote should be counted regardless of the state it's cast in? Is it not fairer simply to count up the votes and decide the winner on that basis rather than giving all of a state's votes to a person who might only have scraped to the narrowest of victories?

>There is nothing democratic about saying "I'll go along with what everyone else says".<

That's a straw man. It is not the only alternative and it is, in fact, not an alternative that I suggested.

Old BE said...

I like the idea of "an idea that I suggested" from an anonymous poster!

The popular vote is not being considered here. Clearly there are arguments in favour of a "one person one vote" system but this doesn't seem to be being proposed. Wouldn't it require a major constitutional change? Chance would be a very fine thing indeed.

As I understand it, the point is that it seems odd to change one state's votes on the basis of what all the other states do. It appears to ignore the actual votes cast by the electorate in that state, meaning that in DK's counter-example Britain's votes could go to the Democrats even if every British voter voted Republican.

"That's a straw man". No, the straw man is to bring in alternatives which are not the subject of the discussion.

Anonymous said...

Democracy is incompatible with freedom.

Anonymous said...

It seems odd that no one, including DK, has considered that Dizzy may have been being ironic? or that he may have meant politics as "the best way to fuck people over" or as a byword for corruption and oppression.

Not saying he did, but it would be more in line with the general tone he takes on his blog.

You can build arguments for and against both the traditional and Iowa's proposed approaches. But it's definitely the case that it was originally set up this way in order to minimise the power of the federal government, make it subordinate to the states.

The US constitution is a work of genius, but those in government have had 400 years to find ways around it. It's more honoured in the breach than the observance these days. For example the 2nd ammendment (the one about guns) was about allowing citizens to protect themselves from the state (at the time, the british state, which had just been thrown out). You try making an argument today that citizens should have guns to use against the police or other govt agents.

Raw democracy is, of course, incompatible with freedom because the majority can override the minority with impunity. That's why the constitution was created, to put limits on what the majority can do. Consequently govt will always be at odds with it.

What everybody seems to miss is that the only good thing about democracy is that it provides a mechanism for removing the leaders without bloodshed and disruption. If things get bad enough that people will take to the streets, then they can simply vote the bastards out.

Giving every man a vote is how it's sold, not it's benefit - this is why the EU want to keep the sales pitch (everyone can vote) while excising the possibility for those votes to actually remove the people in charge. This is the aim of every bureaucracy.

John's New Blog said...

"After all, let us imagine that we had an general election and our government said, "we are going to hold it across the whole of Europe and the party that they vote for wil be in power" we'd be pretty fucking annoyed, right?"

THAT IS PRECISELY what the EU bastards want

Martin Meenagh said...

I think that this is, in part, grandstanding, and in part a consequence of the way Iowa's wannabe urban liberals-who went for Obama, early--don't get the way that the electoral college protects the industries of their small state. On the other hand, maybe they do, and they don't like it.

I think its grandstanding because, like an EU law, it is hard to imagine 270 votes going this way. Big states like California might like it, but the medium-sized ones surely can't be keen? So easy plaudits from reformers can be garnered whilst no prospect of this happening exists.

Even if it did, I wonder whether it would be constitutional, and if it were, how could the electors elected be made to vote one way or another anyway? The electoral college is nominally, and sometimes really, independent.

The United States, ultimately, is a federal nation. I think that it couldn't exist as a popular democracy, because then the (often low) turnout would dominate a central state the leaders of which no longer had to bother about any small state at all. Within small states, no one would have to bother electorally about those pesky, armed, often personally conservative rural voters.

Surely a libertarian would do better promoting the ninth and tenth amendments, locating power at the state and popular levels, than wanting to strengthen the centre?

Finally, since when were the problems of the United States, really, to do with the presidency? A pliant, corrupt and reality-divorced permanent political class in the capitol and in the media which support the congressional system are surely the ones who should be blamed for problems.

Presidents couldn't do anything if Congress didn't pay for it and let them get away with it. Do you see many calls for centralised, uniform congressional districting or at-large elections? If you do, want some of what you are drinking.

I don't think that the United States should forget that it is a federal republic of States and not some centralised quasi-democracy. Are you really asking that America act like, well, France, or pretend that it is Ireland?

Martin Meenagh said...

By the way, the 'libertarian' I addressed myself to--Dizzy--describes himself as a Tory on the right, so I'd just amend that last comment. Sorry, wrote before checking the link!

dizzy said...

Dude, classic misintepretation of my words. I was saying it was a great bit of 'politics'. Not that I thought it was a marvellous idea. I still love you though.

Anonymous said...

I read Dizzy's "It is politics at its very best." comment as a reflection on the rather inventive idea of attempting to change, by proxy, the constitution - which is difficult to change, not on what Iowa was doing was right

Devil's Kitchen said...


"Dude, classic misintepretation of my words. I was saying it was a great bit of 'politics'. Not that I thought it was a marvellous idea."

Ha! That'll teach me to drink and post. Fair enough, matey: perhaps up for misinterpretation though. Well, obviously, in fact.

"I still love you though."

You too, Diz. Hug...?


Anonymous said...

The primary reason why discrepancies between the electoral college tally and the national popular vote occur (vide 2000) is because most of the states apportion their electoral delegates using the winner-takes-all method.

Instead of entering a stupid compact the effective starting date of which is indeterminate, all Iowa had to do was change the method by which it apportions its electoral delegates - to the Congressional District method, for example. It preserves the federalist spirit of the electoral college whilst ensuring that the delegate division better reflects the results of the popular vote.

dizzy said...

The anon @5.14 got it, let this be a lesson to you on the perils of booze plus keyboard young jedi! hugs all round.

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