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The Electoral College is not a “fence”

Summary:
I have frequently argued that the Electoral College (EC) makes disputed elections far more likely, and a new study (or “model” if you insist) shows this to be the case. And not just slightly more likely, this sort of electoral fiasco is 40 times more likely to occur under the EC.For a certain type of intellectual, it’s fashionable to take the contrarian stand on the EC and argue that it is actually a good system. They often rely on “Chesterton fence”-type arguments. The framers must have had good reason to put this system in place.But the Chesterton fence argument is actually not very relevant to this issue. Other countries generally elect their president by majority vote (although a few “ceremonial” presidents are picked by an EC, as in India). So if you plan to a rely

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I have frequently argued that the Electoral College (EC) makes disputed elections far more likely, and a new study (or “model” if you insist) shows this to be the case. And not just slightly more likely, this sort of electoral fiasco is 40 times more likely to occur under the EC.

For a certain type of intellectual, it’s fashionable to take the contrarian stand on the EC and argue that it is actually a good system. They often rely on “Chesterton fence”-type arguments. The framers must have had good reason to put this system in place.

But the Chesterton fence argument is actually not very relevant to this issue. Other countries generally elect their president by majority vote (although a few “ceremonial” presidents are picked by an EC, as in India). So if you plan to a rely on an argument that, “for some mysterious reason real world societies have adopted the EC, despite the fact that it seems undemocratic”, you will lose. Almost all real world societies have done the opposite.

Then you might argue, “But the US is a special place, and the EC fits our unique situation.” But again, that’s a losing argument. The US in 2020 is much more like France in 2020 than it is like the US in 1787. Back then, the US was a collection of loosely attached states that were viewed as semi-autonomous. There was a small and weak central government. We were largely rural. There was slavery, and a debate over how slaves should impact a state’s political weight. (The EC had the effect of boosting the power of slaveowners, as slaves could not vote.) Communication between the states was difficult. A reliable national vote count would have been logistically difficult.

Both modern America and modern France have a huge national government. They are highly urban societies and do not have slavery. There is instant communication and we have the technology to conduct national elections. We are nothing like the America of 1787. The only reason we still have the EC is that our Constitution is very hard to amend, particularly when the amendment would reduce the power of smaller states.

Suppose the Framers had decided that each county would have one electoral vote. Would you still assume that the framers knew best? Would you be OK with a remote west Texas county of 169 people having the same influence as LA county’s 10 million? If not, why assume the current system is appropriate, just because the framers set it up that way under radically different conditions?

Yes, the Constitution says there shall be an Electoral College. The Constitution also says that a future Democratic administration can make 5 more states out of tiny Pacific Islands. Or NYC can be turned into 5 states. I don’t want that. That’s banana republicanism.

I’m not in favor of frequently amending the Constitution, but an amendment getting rid of the EC seems long overdue.

The EC caused the election fiasco of 2000, and some day it will cause another (and perhaps more violent) fiasco. It’s useless, undemocratic and destabilizing. Get rid of it.

Update: Here are 14 short essays by critics of “Critical Social Justice” who oppose Trump. Recommended.


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Scott Sumner
Scott B. Sumner is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, the Director of the Program on Monetary Policy at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and an economist who teaches at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. His economics blog, The Money Illusion, popularized the idea of nominal GDP targeting, which says that the Fed should target nominal GDP—i.e., real GDP growth plus the rate of inflation—to better "induce the correct level of business investment".

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