Saturday, August 18, 2007

Put away that purple crayon.

There is an interesting news story coming out of California. A group of Republicans are making an attempt to put up an initiative that would split California’s electoral votes. I suppose a brief civics lesson is in order here.

In the United States, there is no elected seat in the national government that is voted on by American citizens as a whole. Congress, in the House of Representatives is voted on in districts by the states and by the state as a whole for the Senate. The Supreme Court Justices are appointed by the President and approved by the Senate. The President is chosen by the Electoral College—not by a popular vote.

The Electoral College is an indirect method of electing the President (and the attached Vice President). Each state is allowed a number of votes that is equal to its representation in Congress. Since Congress has 535 members (435 in the House of Representatives and 100 in the Senate) it should have 535 electoral votes but it doesn’t. There are actually 538 (The District of Columbia was allowed 3 electoral votes with the 23rd Amendment in 1961). So for two examples: Michigan has 17 electoral votes since its delegation to Congress includes 15 representatives and 2 senators; California has 55 electoral votes since its delegation includes 53 representatives and 2 senators. For the sake of keeping this post as simple as possible, I’m going to cut out the exceptions. –Normally, during the Presidential Election, a state will award all of its electoral votes to the candidate that wins the vote in that state. Essentially, it is winner takes all.

What this group wants to do is split California’s 55 electoral votes. California is the largest voting block in the Electoral College. It is also solidly in the Democrat column. However if this group gets their way, 20 or more of those votes would transfer over to the Republican column during the election. In the case of the last two Presidential elections, George W. Bush would have won. No contention.

How exactly this would happen, I’m not sure. From what I’ve read so far, they want to make it based on proportional vote. So a candidate who receives 40% of the vote, would get 40% of the electoral votes. California might also do it by congressional district where each congressional district would award its vote based on the election results within that district (this assumes that the two “Senate” votes would still be based on the entire state vote).

Although I am sure that Republicans love the idea of breaking into California, I am against this proposal. But first let me be clear—I am not a supporter in any way of a popular vote. I am a very much a republican (small “R” this time) and I see a direct popular vote as a threat to the federal and representative nature of our government. But the reason why I am against this comes in two very simple parts.

1.) Districting. If you suspect gerrymandering is ridiculous now, wait until this goes through especially if the electoral votes are based on congressional district votes. It is a nightmare just thinking about it.


2.) It, again, offends my republican (small “R”) sensibilities. The way I see it, it is not the voice of a citizen that says candidate X should be President. It’s the voice of the state that says candidate X should be President. “We, the citizens of Michigan, choose John Kerry to be our President.” “We, the citizens of Ohio, choose George W. Bush to be our President.”

Sorry, but a Michigan citizen is not equal to a California citizen. If we were, we wouldn’t need the Senate* and we might as well scrap state governments.


*See the Connecticut Compromise.

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