Great Decisions discussion group got somewhat off track yesterday and entertained a long discussion on the merits of the Electoral College as a means of electing our president. Although most participants had a negative view of the electoral system going into the discussion, a small minority—really only one person—claimed that the system gives minorities a fighting chance of having influence. She argued that our electoral system discourages insurrection by those who feel disenfranchised.
The counter-argument made was that voters in small states are afforded influence far beyond their numbers, and voters in large states dominated by a single party—New York and California most notably—have virtually no influence.
Someone made a suggestion I never considered and one that seems appropriate at a time when political gerrymandering is before the Supreme Court. Why not, this person suggested, redistrict the entire country into ten or so states with more or less equal populations? Is this not the kind of result progressives are seeking within the existing states? Not exactly, of course, though clever redistricting can concentrate voters of one party in one district and distribute such voters among several districts, in each case intending to reduce the influence of individual voters of one party. Of course, the worst case of voter inequality is enshrined in the U.S. Senate, in which a senator from Montana has many fewer constituents than one from California.
We aren’t going to redefine our 50 states into 10. The difficulties involved are legion. For federal election purposes, could we define, in some reasonably fair way, 10 or so virtual states, each with the same number of inhabitants and electoral votes? Or we could simply amend the Constitution to allow direct election of the president and vice president.