Columns / Discourse / May 25, 2011

Voice of Reason: Electoral problems

When I was thinking recently about the slow-motion train wreck that was the battle for the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential nomination, I realized something that I hadn’t before. If you think about how America does elections, one thing that almost everybody can agree on is that if we had to start from scratch and redesign it all, absolutely no one would give us the system we have now. That should say a great deal about what’s wrong with our current way of doing things.

The silliness begins where the election season begins, namely in the primaries. Would a hypothetical re-designer look at himself and say, “The best thing to do would be to give two random, small and overwhelmingly white states the ability to basically decide elections for the whole country?” Unless he hated us all, he probably would not say such a thing. Yet somehow Iowa and New Hampshire dominate the primaries and force presidents-to-be to come groveling on bended knee every four years, promising farm subsidies and ethanol mandates to anyone who doesn’t run away fast enough. Not shockingly, there are now $35 billion in annual farm subsidies in the federal budget and a distorted agricultural market; making it impossible for the Third World to grow its own food, because its farmers are snowed under by artificially cheap Western imports, kept cheap by those same farm subsidies.

As the election cycle moves on things do not get better. The Electoral College is absolutely absurd. Everyone seems to accept this, yet there is no serious agitation to change things. Perhaps it made sense two hundred years ago when the average Virginia farmer couldn’t be trusted to vote intelligently, but it serves no purpose anymore. The current system does nothing but reward special interest groups in important states to the detriment of the nation as a whole. Did you know that the American consumer pays twice the going world rate for sugar (and thus more for every product that sugar is in) to protect exactly 2,261 jobs nation-wide, mostly concentrated in Florida, at the rate of $257,000 dollars per job? Why doesn’t the government just drop our sugar tariffs, give each laid-off sugar worker $100,000 to go back to school, and still save the taxpayer money? Because Florida is a swing state. Or to take another example, what is a major factor in the lack of federal law combating carbon emissions? Because coal-mining Pennsylvania is a swing state. This whole mentality of targeting certain states with campaign promises and ignoring others inherently leads to spending and regulation that disadvantage the whole nation as long as the swing state can deliver the right number of electoral votes come November.

What is worse than the sheer silliness of the system is how profoundly anti-democratic it is. The idea that everyone’s vote is equal is a lie plain and simple. You can cast your ballet for President however you want in a solidly partisan state such as Utah or Connecticut and it is not going to make the least bit of difference. Your vote does not matter as much as another vote in Nevada or Ohio does, where it very well might help change the outcome. In the status quo, tens of millions of Americans essentially don’t matter when it comes to electing their leader because they are in states where their votes essentially don’t count. In the end, even ignoring the skewed budgetary priorities and blatant pandering that are systematic in the modern status quo, today in America all men may be created equal, but when it comes to voting, some are more equal than others. We can do better than that.

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