Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Electoral College is "totally undemocratic"

I once had a friend explain to me that the US Electoral College is "totally undemocratic."

Now, I'll agree that use of the College to elect presidents implies recourse to some undemocratic features (assuming, for the sake of argument, that it is easy to draw a line between "democratic" and "undemocratic"). But to call it "totally" undemocratic? Let's look at the history:

In most presidential elections since tallies of the popular vote have been taken, the winner has mostly been the one to garner at least a plurality of the popular vote. The major exceptions that I know of are the elections of 1824, 1888 and 2000.

It is of course more common for the winner to win only by a plurality and not by a flat out majority: for the twentieth century the elections are 1912, 1916, 1948?, 1968, 1992, and 1996.

Still, the winner got the most votes.

By writing the above, I have no intention of claiming that number of votes is the only measure for what constitutes "democratic" elections. Obviously other factors are involved. But to say that the College is "totally" undemocratic is wrong.

Now, isn't this a bit of a straw man argument I am indulging in? You might object that my friend's use of the word "totally" was merely a figure of speech. Maybe. But I find this to be a style of speech very common and allows people to say many outrageous things and disown responsibility for them.

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