Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell which is which.
Without the Electoral College, Al Gore would have won the presidency in 2000, so one might not expect the GOP to attack that institution.
Nevertheless, that’s what the California Republican Party is doing. It’s pushing a referendum that would scrap the “winner-take-all approach,” and allocate one electoral vote to each of the state’s 53 congressional districts, with the votes going to the winner in each district, “plus two votes would be awarded to the statewide winner.”
The state party is assiduously gathering signatures to put the measure on the June 2008 ballot, hoping to pass the thing in time for the 2008 presidential election. Had such a system been in place in ’04, the party figures the Golden State would have given George W. Bush 22 electoral votes instead of handing all 55 to John Kerry.
“Since each state has the right to determine how their (sic) electoral votes are allocated we can change the way we select our presidential electors!”
This is the kind of thing you might expect from the less-hygienic sectors of the population, so we arranged an interview with Howard Bashford, the state GOP’s director of Constitutional Modernization, to get a clearer picture of the party’s strategy.
We asked the particularly trenchant question, “Mr. Bashford, just why is this a good idea?”
“It’s simple,” he replied. “We’re registering more Republicans every year, but we’re still outnumbered by Democrats. As a result, GOP presidential candidates regard California as a lost cause while Democrat candidates take the state for granted. Neither gives us much attention.
“If we get this passed, the nation’s most populous state will be relevant again.”
We asked, “So you’re in favor of a proportional allocation of electoral votes…”
“Yes, absolutely,” Bashford interrupted, but we continued, “…pretty much like the system favored by the Center for Voting and Democracy.”
The GOP spokesman paused, frowning.
“Certainly not like that collection of diversity mongers,” he said.
“But wouldn’t this move us toward direct, popular election of the president?” we asked. “That’s what that organization wants.”
“It would if every state did it,” Bashford answered. “But we haven’t said we want it for every state, just for California.”
“If it would be fair for California,” we pressed, “why wouldn’t it be fair for everybody?”
Bashford snorted, “Isn’t it obvious? If every state did it, we conceivably could lose electoral votes.”
“So you’d like to see something like this in states like New York and Massachusetts, but not in states like Texas or Georgia?” we asked.
“I hadn’t really thought about it that way,” said Bashford. “But that would make sense.”
“Well, if you start down this road, how do you stop it?” we asked. “Why wouldn’t everybody do it, and why wouldn’t this lead, eventually, to direct, popular election of the president?”
“I hadn’t really thought past the next election,” Bashford replied.
We allowed that short-term thinking could be a problem, and gave the party functionary a couple of quotes from James Madison’s Federalist Paper No. 10:
When a majority is included in a faction, the form of popular government … enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens. To secure the public good and private rights against the danger of such a faction, and at the same time to preserve the spirit and the form of popular government, is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed.
Madison’s answer, we noted, lay in republican constitutional devices like the Electoral College, designed to protect the rights and interests of the minority.
“[Pure democracy] can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole … and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party. … Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.
“Well,” said Bashford. “That was written a long time ago, and times change. We evolve; we get smarter. Maybe we’re smarter than this Madison guy.”
So there’s the question for the California Republican Party: Do you think you’re smarter than James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay?