some votes are more equal than other votes

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Every election brings on the debate about the Electoral College, even as there is no real prospect of its abolition, nor is the debate taken seriously. It is merely a part of our system that we accept, an antiquated, uniquely American institution that endures like U.S. customary units. Some people even defend the Electoral College, either by hewing to the old apology as a means of combatting the idiocy of the voting majority (which I admit, is rare and you won’t see it any respectable media), or by arguing that it is simply a quirky way to measure the vote, but ultimately works. Some think that it protects the less populated states from tyranny by the big states, the rationale for the two senators each state gets. But what is failed to address is how undemocratic the Electoral College is, and the way that it skews the entire political system for the benefit of the two major parties at the expense of the American public.

The simplest way to gauge this is by examining the amount of electoral votes a state receives in contrast with its population. The other manner is to look at the existence of swing states. Let’s take two states as exemplars, California and Wyoming. With a population of 38,332,521 by a 2013 estimate, the state receives 55 electoral votes. That means that each electoral vote is worth 696,954.9 people. The national population (~317,677,000), divided by the total number of electoral votes (538), comes to 590,477.7. By that measure, California should have 64.9 electoral votes. You can round that up or down if you want to, but that means California is shorted at least 9 electoral votes, or in other words, the votes of 5.9 million Californians do not count.

Of course, not all Californians can or do vote, but the points and representation that a state receives is not based on its voting age population but its total population. In comparison with Wyoming, which receives three electoral votes with a population of 582,658, eight thousand under the average for just one point, California is underrepresented and Wyoming is overrepresented. A Wyomingite’s vote is worth more than three times the vote of a Californian. The fact that state populations rise and fall in contrast to each other over the ten years between censuses, as well as the variations in voter turnout among the states, means that your vote may be worth less or more in compared to other Americans in other states. Changes like in Maine and Nebraska, which apportion electoral votes based on districts, still do not fix the inherent inequality between the worth of some votes. The problem is not winner-take-all but the Electoral College itself; amending how electoral votes are given to candidates does not address that Californian votes will be less valued then Wyoming votes, though it would be a step in the right direction.

Swing states increase the disfranchisement of voters by allowing candidates to rely on their bases to carry party-dominated states. Thus you will see candidates campaigning not for the country but for Ohio, Florida, Iowa, Wisconsin, and the various “purple” states. This means that the needs of Wyomingites and Californians, and other blue and red states are under-addressed by the candidate. The argument that this moderates candidate ideology to fit these middle-of-the-road states does not hold water, nor is it worthwhile. A greater sin, in my opinion, is that the Electoral College almost completely precludes the viability of third-party candidates, who may not have any state as a base but pockets of support around the country. This can only serve the two major parties. From a capitalistic perspective, the Republican and Democratic parties maintain a duopoly on American politics, and without any competition, have no incentive to improve or do better. From a social democratic perspective, to borrow the term from Chomsky, the “capitalist party”, being both the Republicans and the Democrats, are able to maintain their hegemony and continue to be unaccountable to a voting public without any alternative.

By ridding ourselves of the Electoral College, candidates will be more beholden to the whole voting population, all of whose votes will matter equally, and it will mean that a candidate has to campaign all over the country. Republicans will be able to find votes in California, and a Democrat can stump in Texas for some actual gains. Independents and third party candidates will also be able to find support that is not geographical locked and overwhelmed by the local majorities. As it is now, only the two parties get any benefit from this system today.

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left vs. right part 1

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As with so many other fields (sociology, psychology, to name a few), in order to make some sense of the differences between ‘groups’, we must create some boundaries in order to narrow the field enough to generalize adequately. To describe the difference in thinking between the left and the right is no doubt reductive, there being myriad variations within a group (part of the reason why stereotypes are so damaging), but it is still a useful bit of information to have. To boil it all down though, the constituents that remain suggest the greatest difference between left and right thinking is how we construct the world, that is, whether we assign more power to the individual or to the systems they exist within and are molded by.

The right in the United States identify as conservatives and are generally represented by the GOP at the political level, which also contains the Tea Party. This is common knowledge, but let’s talk about how we arrived here. The Republican Party began as an anti-slavery party in opposition to the Democratic party that dominated the South. Part of the reason for this political stance was that the Republicans supported capitalism. Capitalism, despite what many people are taught, is a system where workers sell their labor to employers who own the materials, the location, and the tools. It does not require a free market system in order to function. This distinction is important because this is what separates capitalism from feudalism or serfdom and slavery. Though the southern plantation owners could sell their goods into a free market, this did not make it capitalism, as people were commodified and not their labor. The Republican Party of the 19th century wanted a capitalist nation, not a slave nation (they were, in their time, very “liberal”). From this, the Grand Old Party morphed into a business party that represented the interests of capitalists and business owners. The Democratic Party, after the Civil War, represented white agricultural interests and opposed the efforts of the Radical Republicans during Reconstruction in the South. These differing interests help explain why, when one looks at electoral maps, we generally see and continue to see the North and the South voting for opposite parties. After Reconstruction ended the South continued to resent the Republican Party and rarely ever voted for Republican candidates, especially after the former slaves were disfranchised with restrictive voting laws. Literacy tests, with exemptions for those whose grandfathers could vote before 1963 (i.e. white men), as well as violence and the threat of violence, kept blacks from voting for the party of Lincoln. [As a side note, the reason why there is an explosion of violence against blacks in the South is because they were no longer goods, which meant damages to their bodies no longer carried an economic cost, nor did they have masters interested in their continued existence. Slavery though, for all intents and purposes, did not cease after the 14th Amendment. It continued into the 20th century. See John Pace’s Slave Farm for more on this.] After the turn of the century, neither party was viewed as the civil rights party or the labor party, which the Democratic party would come to be.

The Great Depression threw the Republican Party out of office, and in order to save American capitalism, Franklin Roosevelt helped make compromises, between the socialist and communist parties agitating for revolution or radical reform, and the capitalist business owners whose property would be at risk in such a revolution. Therefore, FDR helped ameliorate the plight of the laborer in America with thick safety nets, public spending, social welfare, and the legitimization of labor unions, all movements which had their roots in the Progressive Era . The Democratic Party dumped classic liberal economics in favor of Keynesian economics, which they continued to support until the Reagan Revolution. In the 50s and 60s the Democratic became the civil rights party with Lyndon B. Johnson pushing through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 after the assassination of JFK. This is likely one of the most important transitions in modern American history, because prior to this the South was firmly Democrat territory. The South strongly supported the New Deal, and much of the Great Society was focused on Appalachia, with programs like the Tennessee Valley Authority designed to bring the South into the modern age with electricity, running water, and other infrastructure. This change is most observable in the 1968 election of Richard Nixon. Within one presidential term the South switched from the Democratic Party, which represented them since before the Civil War, and helped bring many out of poverty and into one of the most prosperous times in American history, to the Republican Party of which its right wing continued to fight the New Deal some thirty years later. Brown v. Board of Education, though its ruling was in the fifties, wasn’t really enforced until the 60s. The rise of politicians like Barry Goldwater and George Wallace help to explain why the Republican Party came to dominate the South, and eventually much of the American landscape.

In my next post I will continue to discuss how the Republican came to its modern form up to the current date.