Sunday, January 22, 2017

The 2016 Vote and the Electoral College System Explained — With Help from the European Union

To better understand the 2016 election results in the United States,
it is perhaps helpful to make a comparison that brings in 
the European Union.

Below are 5 points regarding the importance (or lack thereof) 
of Hillary Clinton's victory in the popular vote,
and to what extent it is correct to portray 
her election loss as a scandal.

(The following is meant to be a neutral description of the 2016 election 
as well as of the reasons and concepts explaining America's electoral college, 
since, as I never cease to say, no one was more appalled in March 2016 
than I when Donald Trump emerged as the GOP's candidate…)

Let us start by quoting Mark Twain, 
who, if you remember, said that
there are three kinds of lies — 
lies, damned lies, and statistics.

FIRST of all 
— and what I am going to say will sound
like withering criticism of America, but it is in fact

nothing if not an entirely neutral and dispassionate
observation —
the United States is (get ready for it) 

NOT — repeat NOT — A DEMOCRACY. 

Sounds like a shrieking Trotskyite protester 
from the 1970s, right? (Or from any other era,
not least the present.)
Still, it is true.
The U.S. is not a democracy
(just like France is not a democracy).
It is a republic.
(C'est la RF, la Répubique Française,
pas la DF, pas la Démocratie Française…)


What is the difference?
A Democracy is a government of men,
it is rule by the majority (which sounds
pretty good, until the majority becomes a mob);
A Republic is a government of laws,
it is a rule by the majority,
coupled with protection for the minority
(for the political minority).

SECOND
the United States of America is not a country, not in
the same sense as Denmark or France or Columbia is;
it is a federation, a union (50 states), somewhat like
the European Union (28 nations), but in the final count 

somewhere in-between a country and the EU. 
(The same applies to places like Brazil and Mexico
— 26 states in the República Federativa do Brasil,
31 states in the Estados Unidos Mexicanos.)

THIRD: 

Both the Republican Party and the Democrat Party 
campaigned according to the system in place, not the system 
not in place. Neither was going for the popular majority,
they were going for the victory in the number of states, 
i.e., for victory in  electoral votes.
They knew the goal, that is how they campaigned, and, 
no, there were no unpleasant (or, rather, no unfair) surprises.
You might as well protest that you have calculated that
a hypothetical loser in a specific country's one-vote 

system would have emerged the victor had that country 
adopted an America-style electoral college system.
(Yeah, very interesting, but… so what?)
But the "Democratic" system is undoubtedly better,
you counter? Not sure — read on:

FOURTH: 
Because the citizens of one state feel pretty
knowledgeable about how their state will their turn out
(when they don't, and the state is "up for grabs",
that's when it's referred to as a swing state),
many of them will not bother to vote — just as neither party's
candidate will bother to spend much (or any) campaign time
there — knowing the effort is unlikely to change anything. 


Thus, for instance, neither Hillary nor Trump 

made many campaign stops in California. Meanwhile,
conservatives in the Golden State will not bother to 

leave their homes to vote (knowing it is futile), 
which they certainly would do, if the rule-book allowed  
for a one-vote system (thus changing the popular votes 
back, perhaps decisively, perhaps not, towards the right).
This brings us to the fifth and final point:

FIFTH:
Whatever you think about Hillary and/or Trump
— and I have said time and again how horrified
I was when The Donald won the GOP nomination —

the fact remains, whether you like it or not, that
the Republican candidate won the popular vote
in state after state, from East to West and from
North to South, over and over and over again,
in 30 states (i.e., 30/50).

But because California is (by far) the most populous state,
its winning majority turned the simple state majority into
also the national majority.

Whomever you favor in this contest, shouldn't the fact 
that one candidate won the national vote by nearly 
3 million votes be (at least slightly) tempered by the fact 
that 4 (!) million votes of that candidate's 65 to 66 million 
result came from 1 state out of 50 (California)?

Shouldn't the fact that the winning candidate lost the popular vote
in 30 states out of 50 cause you to pause? (Indeed, imagine 
if it were the other way around, and a winning Republican had won
the popular vote, but also only because of one single state
(Texas?) out of 50.)


Possibly you will recover and say, "Erik, all that is very nice, 
but in the end, it's immaterial, isn't it?" and possibly you will
continue insisting, "So what?! The total amount of votes
is still more fair! Hillary still wins!" 
Well, as it turns out, this is precisely not fair, not at all; 
indeed, it is precisely the kind of local unfairness that the 
"Founding Fathers" sought to prevent when they invented 
the electoral college for their republic (not for their democracy)
— to prevent one single state, or, more accurately, one section 
of the country (or of the Union), from dominating all the others.

Try to imagine this on a European level.
Imagine that in a more unified European Union,
a continental vote has one of two EU candidates win
the popular vote in, say, 20 nations out of 28,
from Denmark and France to Estonia and Greece.

But because the 28th nation is the most populous, the candidate
who wins in Germany wins the whole game, meaning the
eight nations "allied" with it (so to speak) beat out
the 20 lesser-populated countries' choice.

How many times would there be elections,
how long would the EU endure, before all other nations
woke up to the fact that their votes didn't matter, that Germany
(like California in the U.S.) was the dominant member, and indeed,
that they started growling about getting ready to follow the UK in its Brexit vote?!

No. The above scenario shows why, if 

the EU did want to go ahead with "a more closer union",
countries like Denmark, Belgium, and Portugal would
refuse a system based on the one-man-one-vote, because
they would become totally subjugated by the more populous 
countries — and who could blame them for that?

Countries like France, Germany, and Italy, on the other hand, 

would counter that a system in which each country has the 
same amount of votes is ridiculous and unfair, amounting to 
the loss of rights for tens of millions of people when their 
nations have five to 10 times the populations of their smaller 
neighbors — and who could blame them for that?

This is precisely the debate that occurred
between the 13 former colonies, the small
states (Delaware, Connecticut, South Carolina…)
and the large states (Pennsylvania, Virginia,
Masachusetts…), in the 1780s.

Indeed, let us leave the Old Continent
and head back across the Atlantic:
The result of the debates in the summer
of 1787 is the United States Constitution:

• In America, the compromise between small states and large states
on the legislative level led to the two-chamber legislature,
the Senate and the House of Representatives.

• On the executive level, the compromise is a 

combination of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
It is called … the electoral college.