A Very Good Veto By Betsy Newmark

by John Hawkins | October 12, 2006 4:30 am

Whatever you think of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s stewardship of California, occasionally he gets something right. And vetoing the effort of the California legislature to tie California’s electoral votes to the popular vote winner in the country was a very good thing to do. This is a setback to the efforts of people to create a workaround of the Constitutional provisions for the winner of the Electoral College to win the presidency. They wanted to create a compact among enough states to agree that, no matter which candidate won the popular vote in their own states, they would cast all their electoral votes for the winner of the popular vote. That would have necessitated California to have cast all their 55 electoral votes for George W. Bush in 2004. You think that such a move would have made Californians happy? One of the rationales behind this is that candidates would spend more time in a populous state such as California and pay more attention to Californian issues.

George Will[1] credits Schwarzenegger today and gives a well-reasoned defense of the Electoral College.

Furthermore, the electoral vote system is a wholesome political market: It provides steady incentives for parties to change the attributes that make them uncompetitive in many states. How long will the GOP be content not to contest California?

The system aims not just for majority rule but rule by certain kinds of majorities . It encourages candidates to form coalitions of states with various political interests and cultures. Such coalitions can be assembled only by a politics of accommodation. So the electoral college system discourages attempts to build narrow ideological or geographical majorities. Today the system is helping the Democratic Party by nudging it to be less of a coastal party — less reliant on a risky 20-state strategy in presidential elections.

As the rules now stand, the Democrats have to figure out how to win in some red states that went for George W. Bush. Such calculations will force them to move to the center or continue to lose. There is a benefit to requiring such adjustments in a party’s stance. That is why a potential candidate like Mark Warner is so much stronger than a John Kerry or a Russ Feingold, not matter how much they can stoke up the liberal base of the Democratic Party.

Another benefit of the Electoral College is the limit it puts on third parties. It is not so much a third party I worry about, but the fourth and fifth and sixth parties. I don’t want us to disentegrate into something closer to a parliamentary system where a small party can hold disproportionate control over the nation’s politics as it auctions off its support to whichever major party needs their votes to win an election.

Imagine 2008 with independent candidacies by, say, Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo (deport illegal immigrants), Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha (out of Iraq immediately), New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (independence from the two parties is a virtue) and Jesse Jackson (he would think of a reason). None could win, but cumulatively they could prevent the major-party winner from reaching even 40 percent.

And, if we went to a popular vote system, just imagine the possibilities for fraud or for complaining about fraud in a close election.

It is perverse that the 2000 election, which culminated with the lawyers’ riot in Florida, is cited to undermine an electoral vote system that prevented 2000 from being a calamity. If, in presidential elections, popular votes were poured into one national bucket, a close election such as the one in 1960, which was decided by fewer votes (118,574) than there were precincts (166,064), would unleash a coast-to-coast frenzy of litigation — about ballot design, voting hours, alleged voting-machine malfunctions, etc. The electoral vote system quarantines electoral disputes to a few closely contested states.

Imagine Florida 2000 in 50 states in every single precinct. I shudder to think of it. At least now, the luncay is confined to one or two key swing states rather than the entire country.

Bravo for Governor Schwarzenegger. It’s for measures like these that the veto was created.

This content was used with the permission of Betsy’s Page[2].

  1. George Will: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/11/AR2006101101597.html
  2. Betsy’s Page: http://betsyspage.blogspot.com/

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