I was doing my usual routine of playing music on a Friday afternoon on my Freeform radio show. Getting to spin music for others is the dream fulfilled of my young self who’d routinely buy new music based on what was playing on the radio (back before media consolidation). So, as I’m looking at the liner notes of a compact disc, a news reporter at the station comes in with her parents in-tow.
I say, “Hi” then hearing the they’re from Iowa say, “So I’m assuming you’re going back on Sunday cause you have a job to do on Monday?”
They nod and say, “Yeah, we’ll be back for the caucuses.”
Reflecting on that this morning, it does strike me as odd that Iowa and New Hampshire hold such prominence in how we choose our President. Yet, it also brings up the entirely flawed way we elect our President.
And one that is being talked about on both side. For example, on a conservative friend’s FB page, I comment that I think we should abolish the electoral college. Many of his conservative friends chime in how bad of an idea that is. So I counter back, “I’d be okay with getting rid of the “winner take all” that many states do as well. As it is,” I argued, “small states have more power than larger states.”
He countered, “But then you’d have California and New York deciding the President.”
I point out that you could also add Texas and Florida to the list as well.
He said, “We don’t want 4 states deciding the election.”
I replied incredulously, “How is that different than what happens now? Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Florida decided the last election.”
This exchange got me to thinking.
For the record, I live in a state with 5 electoral votes, which holds its primary in June, so in most elections the nominees from both parties are already decided and our 5 votes rarely make a difference in the race (we’ve been reliably Democratic for the 26 years that I’ve lived here).
But what I’m advocating this morning is more nuanced, now, than just “abolishing the electoral college.” I’ll start with my first reform. We should adopt the Wyoming Rule.
The Wyoming rule would expand the House of Representatives based on population numbers. So since Wyoming gets one legislator (but two senators) for its ~500,000 residents. Based on this, the size of the House would expand greatly (of course that would diminish its power) to 547. The Senate unless it decided to add Puerto Rico and DC as states (that’s another discussion) would stay the same. So the total number of electors would be 647, and thus 324 electors to win the Presidency.
But I’d add another wrinkle, apportion the electors by Congressional district, so that there are two electors (two senate seats) that automatically go to the candidate who wins the most votes in that state and then the remaining are allotted district by district. So for example, in New Mexico in 2012, we had 3 reps (two democratic and one republican). Thus, New Mexico would have 4 congressional seats and more than likely divide up its electors (2 for majority of state + 3 for democratic candidate and 1 for republican candidate) for a grand total of 6 (5 democrats and 1 republican).
Now, if we did just the two reforms above, we’d still have a situation where the majority winner may not win the electoral college. For example, under proportional representation, Mitt Romney would’ve won the electoral vote even though Obama had way more votes. So this, by itself is not an increase in pure democratic principles. Thus, the only way that this works is if we fix one other problem in conjunction with it.
Assuring that each district is drawn in the fairest way possible so that it doesn’t favor one party over another would not be an easy task. We’d have to make sure the system isn’t just gamed by the party in charge of how the commission is set up. We’d also have to come up with regulations on not only who is appointed but make sure they get appointed as a matter of standard procedure. We can’t have commissions where an appointing entity just doesn’t appoint anybody so the commission can’t do its job. Of course, having an executive or congress that simply just doesn’t’ nominate or appoint is not an uncommon occurrence. Indeed, simply refusing to nominate or appoint someone shouldn’t be just relying on the good nature of the entities involved. Thus, there would have to be penalties if the executive or congress failed to do their job. Luckily redrawing districts only needs to happen once every ten years (after the census), so the assembling of the commission wouldn’t be an onerous task.
We may also want to allow a certain number of third (or more) parties to have representation on the commission, but for that we’d need an accurate representation of their size.
Finally, to not only gauge a third party’s size, I’d also legislate Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) to allow 3rd parties to take a more active role in the process. IRV would eliminate spoilers but could also be used to get real data on the size of smaller parties. In all likelihood, IRV may be one of the first reforms that could be implemented as it is being implemented in cities from New York, NY to Santa Fe, NM.
So in summary here’s my fix for US democracy: 1) Expand the number of House seats using the Wyoming rule (reapportioned every 10 years); 2) Assign the number of electors based on the Wyoming rule; 3) Apportion the electors based on congressional district with two going to the majority winner of the state, and the rest by the voting pattern in specific congressional districts; 4) mandate that district lines are drawn by non partisan re-districting committees so they don’t favor one party over another; and 5) enact Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). Easy huh?