Tuesday, April 15, 2008

How to defeat sectarianism.

From an interesting article about the purposes of the electoral college, I realized that what Iraq needs is an electoral college. There needs to be a mechanism that forces political parties to seek support in all parts of the country. A mechanism which is particularly needed in a country divided along ethnic and religious lines. If a political party could only prosper by gathering votes from multiple ethnic groups, single groups would be unable to compete. Of course, they could just go on killing each other, but that's what they're doing anyway, so it couldn't hurt.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Dominus Sit Illuminatio Mea said...

Fascinating article. Natapoff's model strikes me as conceptually imprecise, however (As well as historically inaccurate in at least on respect: I believe we owe the Electoral College to Pierce Butler, not Madison). The probability that a contest will come out in a particular way is a factor external to the system, and there doesn't seem to be any reason we should take it into account when designing the system. For example, according to Natapoff, an individual voter's ability to affect the outcome is at its nadir, say, either when everyone else is voting against you or everyone is voting with you. This may be true, but I see no reason why we should design a system to counteract it.

Secondly, I believe we use "voter power" as a relational concept. The ability of an individual voter to affect the outcome of an election may have some intrinsic worth, but I would counter that what we really care about is x's ability to effect the outcome as compared with y's ability to do so. This is in line with your Feb. 2005 defense of the Electoral College. According to that defense, the Electoral College is beneficial because it protects the rural minority. Insofar as it does so, I am its greatest advocate; but I believe the math comes out the other way. (See Banzhaf, "1 Man 3.312 Votes," 13 Villanova Law Review 303).

This is not to say we should abolish the Electoral College. As a subscriber to Burkean gradualism, I wouldn't propose its abolition even if I was convinced that it wasn't in some way beneficial, and I am not so convinced. For one, the Electoral College helps to maintain the two-party system. While some may see this as a liability, I'm convinced of the opposite. Among other things, the two-party system is an engine for pragmatism and moderation, and ensures that any viable political party must have significant geographical support. Without it, we might even end up looking something more like Iraq...

1:46 PM  
Blogger Octavo Dia said...

This may be true, but I see no reason why we should design a system to counteract it.

The Founders were also very concerned about the tyranny of the majority and factionalism. I can envision them designing some such corrective mechanism into the system. It could be a happy side effect, however.

I've been considering a type of election in which votes are rolled over from election to election. Whoever has the most votes wins the election, and has their vote total reset to zero. The rest of the votes are counted in the next election. It would make political parties seek every vote every time. The downside (or upside) is that incumbency would be nearly impossible. But there are advantages to continuity of government too. It would allow more minor party competition, but would automatically exclude parties (like the Prohibition Party), that are so minor they produce fewer votes than population growth. I haven't decided where this would best applied, however.

8:37 PM  
Anonymous Dominus Sit Illuminatio Mea said...

The Founders were also very concerned about the tyranny of the majority and factionalism. I can envision them designing some such corrective mechanism into the system. It could be a happy side effect, however.

Conceded. Though the exact breadth of this kind of thinking may be exaggerated by historical parallax: Madison seems to be the foremost advocate of anti-factionalism at the time (e.g. Federalist No. 10), and his influence on the final draft of the Constitution may be slightly exaggerated by most modern observers. And, as already noted, Madison was not the architect of the Electoral College--in fact I believe that he actually opposed it (none of this is meant to undermine Madison's role in the framing. He was a political genius who had a profound impact on American history and political thought.) In the light of the forgoing, I'd be compelled to argue that the Electoral College's tendency to enhance individual voting power in unevenly weighted contests is a "happy accident." If you're happy with it, that is--it still seems extraordinarily anomalous to me to design a system by guessing at the probability that a contest will come out a certain way, and then weighting the scales accordingly.

I'm intrigued by your "reservoir voting" scheme. It seems to me that it would essentially play out as a more flexible version of term limits--as you noted, it would make incumbency all but impossible. It seems to have an advantage over term limits, however, in that it would enable incumbents who were consistently able to attract broad majorities to stay in power. I wonder, though, if that's really a benefit. The premise of term limits seems to be a distrust of popularity--"demagogues," who the Founders seemed to fear so much, are just the type of politicians that term limits seem to be designed to counteract--and they're also just the type of politicians who would be able to attract consistently broad constituencies. At any rate, I'm not a big fan of term limits, but the reservoir scheme seems to be a superior approach.

4:18 PM  

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