Electing Our President

The presidential contest in this country has become ridiculously expensive. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent by the candidates and their respective parties. Yet this expense still does not suffice to get the messages out to the people.

Worse yet, most candidates get ruled out early in the primaries or even before due to the expensiveness of campaigns. The major parties often resort to seniority or family connections in order to select a “winnable” candidate. This is not democratic.

This is not a new problem! The Founders anticipated this problem. From the first, this country was too big to have a meaningful nationwide campaign. Back then, the problem was transportation and slow communications channels. Today, it is the huge population.

The Founders also had a solution in mind, a solution that had design flaws and so never worked correctly. That solution was the Electoral College.

Since it has always been impractical for a presidential candidate to meet the people, and the huge number of people voting in the presidential race invites the “why bother” factor, the Founders decided that the way to select the president was to have the people elect people they knew and trusted to make the decision to choose a president and then have this much smaller number of people make the decision to choose a president. In theory, the real presidential campaign should happen after the November elections! In the modern age, presidential hopefuls could be sending emails and doing interviews with members of the Electoral College.

Alas, it never worked out that way. There were two flaws in the design of the Electoral College:

1.      The College only was allowed one round of voting.

2.      The states were given free reign on how to choose electors.

The first measure meant that the choice of candidates for president had to be narrowed down to two or the odds became great that the Congress would end up choosing the President. This led to the two-party system.

The second flaw led to the creation of slates of electors based on party or candidate for president. (Some states require by law that electors vote a certain way, though the constitutionality of such laws is questionable.) So instead of voting for someone you know and trust to select a president, you are presented with a statewide group of people who are committed to vote for an already-selected nationwide candidate.

If we really wanted to get the money factor out of presidential campaigns, we could fix the electoral college system. That is:

1.      The College should be allowed multiple rounds of voting as is done in some political conventions. Elimination voting or the Condorcet system could be used.

2.      There should be one elector per congressional district (whose name is on the ballot, not who s/he will vote for) and two electors per state selected by the state legislators. (One per house in bicameral legislatures would make sense.)

While we are at it, we should make both congresscritters and potential electors more accessible to the voters. Two measures are possible:

1.      More congressional seats than we have currently. (This would reduce the power of the small states, however.)

2.      A law requiring compact districts. For example, districts should follow county line boundaries to the greatest extent possible. (Might need a mathematician here. I suspect such a rule could be defined as requiring no more than one partial county per district. Or would we need to allow more than one partial county in some situations?)

Alas, getting the Electoral College completely fixed would require amending the Constitution and I see little hope of that. Reforming how electors are selected can theoretically be fixed at the state level.

As for the alternative of public financing of presidential elections, how many billions of dollars do we want to commit? Or do we just use tax money for two candidates? If so, how does the government choose the two? We either need privately financed campaigns before the campaign or we are left with autocracy – the government choosing itself.

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There is far more in the book than what is here on this site. Read to rule!