28 December 2016

The electoral college exists in part because of a worry that a unified faction of voters would grow to encompass more than half of the total population of the country, and then leading to a situation known as tyranny of the majority in which all of the decisions are made to the benefit of that faction, completely leaving the remaining population in the dust.

However, there's nothing special about this being a majority. The same thing is true about any faction that has sufficient voting power to win the vote. If there was a unified block of voters that contained majorities of the voting population in states totalling more than 270 electors, that group of voters could create such a tyranny situation with regards to the presidency with 22% of the voting population. No majority required.

Imagine a small town, which we'll name Towern. There are twelve residents of Towern. Ten of them live in one apartment building, and two of them each live in their own house. The government of Towern has decided that votes will be conducted with each building of residents having one vote, in order to prevent decisions to be biased toward the apartment-dwellers.

Each time a vote is called, the two house-dwellers meet up for dinner and discuss the issue. They don't always have exactly matching priorities, but they come to some sort of compromise and cast their vote in such a way that they can maintain their friendship with one another while benefiting as much as possible. As a result, the apartment-dwellers effectively have no say in the government, and so the system to prevent tyranny of the apartment-dwellers just turned it into tyranny of the house-dwellers.

Is that any better? It really seems just as bad to me. The problem, of course, is that there's a voting block that can control the decisions with no regard for the rest of the population. The fact that the block isn't a majority doesn't make the situation better. If anything, it seems worse.

I don't see any way in which the electoral college as it is implemented now (with electors being essentially proxies for their state's popular vote) prevents a tyranny situation. However, it does clearly reallocate the voting power among the population to the benefit of some and to the detriment of others. It's a very well known effect, and the states with the most deciding power are called swing states. The result is that instead of having earnest discussion about merits of the various systems, we just have people supporting the system that gives them or their political party more power, and spouting whatever semi-plausible arguments support that side.