Saturday, November 26, 2016

Hello Freedom House: a 40% failure rate rates America as "Partly Free"

Just mentioning this right now as an idea, but I'm thinking of setting up one of those online petitions, this one directed at Freedom House and its rating of countries' freedom. In two of the last five American presidential elections, the candidate who won the most votes was not declared the winner of the election. In what other countries that Freedom House rates as "Free" does that happen?

Parliamentary systems with a minority-party leader as PM are not a counterexample, because that PM has to get support of the parliamentary majority. The state-level, winner-takes-all Electoral College system has no counterpart abroad because it's such a stupid system that no one in their right mind has ever contemplating imitating it. Even Britain's troubling 2015 election that gave a parliamentary majority to one party winning 37% of the vote, at least handed control of the country to the side that won the most votes.

I'm not saying it's impossible for this non-democratic outcome to happen elsewhere but rather I'm not sure that it has, certainly not with a 40% failure rate, and if somehow it did then that country should also be shamed accordingly.

While I'd love to see the Electoral College support the actual winner as others are petitioning, I don't see any real chance of that happening. The real end goal is the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, a legal work-around to solve the problem. Getting Freedom House to call out what's happening would be a nice step in the right direction.

Will Freedom House do it? I don't know. Their discussion of the 2000 US election is embarrassing, but maybe they'll do better the second time around. Getting them to cast any shade at all would be an improvement.


david lewis said...

In the 1996 British Columbia election the New Democratic Party (NDP), with only 39.4% vote won 52% of the seats in the Legislature. This gave them control of the government.

Their opposition was the BC Liberal Party (actually a group of right wingers), which got 41.8% of the vote but only 44% of the seats in the Legislature.

In the BC Parliamentary system, the party that controls the Legislature can pass any law it wants. You can't be the government unless you can pass any law you want. The role of the courts is far less than in the US. The tradition is, Parliament is supreme.

So on 39.4% support of citizens who voted, and facing a party that was supported by 41.8% of the citizens who voted, this government could do what it wanted.

A Prime Minister leading a goverment in a Parliament like this is much more powerful than a President is in the US.

A US government as powerful as this would need a supermajority in the Senate, a majority in the House and the President all of one party.

William Connolley said...

I'm not sure why you even see this as a problem. Your electoral college, and our constituencies, are both choice systems that don't have "majority of the electorate" as their winning criterion, but you - for a reason that is perhaps so obvious to you that you don't bother mention it - think it should be the criterion. Why?

Kevin O'Neill said...

WC writes: "Your electoral college, and our constituencies, are both choice systems ..."

Yes, this may not be to the liking of some, but that battle was fought when the Constitution was written and ratified. It was a major concession necessary to bring all parties together. The system is 'rigged' for a reason - not by accident.

What should be done is constantly reminding those that win despite receiving less votes is that they have no 'mandate' for extreme partisan agendas. That the *majority* did not vote for them.

Entropic man said...

I regard the Electoral College as further evidence that Benjamin Franklin deliberately set out to produce a dysfunctional Federal government. He did not want a powerful centre, just a rump to carry out functions like foreign policy that the states could not do themselves.

Phil Hays said...

Benjamin Franklin wasn't the driving force behind the Electoral College.

Slavery was.

The political problem of slave owners was to get enough political power to protect their "property". The Senate was easy. Divide by States. The House was "solved" by the 3/5ths rule. The President was solved by the Electoral College, a combination of voting for President based on Senate and the 3/5ths rule of House representation.

James Madison: “The right of suffrage was much more diffusive [i.e., extensive] in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes.”

It's a "peculiar institution". Then, and now.

Brian said...

David - yes, that sounds bad. But it happened once, 20 years ago, at a sub-national level.

William - maybe I don't understand what you mean by "choice" systems but a system that selects candidates rejected by the people, from whom the system derives its legitimacy, has fundamental problems. Prior to 2000 the problem hadn't happened in over a century, and 2016 showed that 2000 wasn't a one-time aberration.

I think there's some validity to the counter-argument that the Constitution is a democratic institution and the public has had plenty of time to fix the Electoral College if they wanted to. OTOH, it takes a super-majority to amend the Constitution and one major party is dedicated to stop that.

Here's a thought experiment: what if we continued with a 40% failure rate as typical, election after election? What if it happened more often, with even a larger difference between the popular choice and the selected president? Seems to me that's a problem.

William Connolley said...

Errm, we seem to be talking past each other Brian. The "choice system" - by which, I mean the system used for making a choice of president - does not have as its winning criterion "most number of votes". You might like it to have, but it doesn't. Insisting that the only decent, honest, honourable, democratic one is the one that produces the result that you wanted is just post-fact special pleading. Unless you can produce some convincing arguments otherwise.

> what if we continued with a 40% failure rate

Again, you can't do that: you can't assume /assert that what has happened is a "failure". Well, you can within the bubble of like-minded people who would also like a different result, but it isn't going to play well in the wide world outside. If what you're saying means something - if you want to convince "the other side" you'll have to come up with a more convincing answer than "of course I'm right".

david lewis said...

After that 1996 British Columbia election where the right wing party did not form the government even though it won the popular vote, there was the 2001 election, where the right wingers got 57% of the popular vote. The left wingers, NDP and Green, although their combined vote was 34%, were represented in the Legislature with a mere 2.5% of the seats.

Frustration with these two results in the two previous elections led many on all sides of the political spectrum to support a referendum to change the political system in 2005.

Voters were given a choice between keeping the existing system or changing to a proportional representation system.

The particular proportional system on the ballot was the single transferable vote system, or BC-STV. This system is bit complex, however several features of it were appealing. Instead of voting for a single representative, voting districts would be enlarged and voters would vote for as many as five representatives. This would give voters a chance to split their vote, i.e. a Green leaning left supporting type could vote for one Green and four NDP representatives.

The "transferable" in the name Single Transferable Vote means you cast a vote for a representative, and you indicate your second, third, fourth, etc. alternate choices on your ballot.

Jill Stein supporters could vote Stein and list Hilary Clinton as their second choice. When the vote is counted, after the first count and Stein loses, the votes are recounted only Stein is ignored. Its as if a voter is able to say to the people counting, I want the fact that I support Stein to be known, but once it becomes apparent that Stein doesn't have enough support to win, I want my vote to count for Clinton and not Trump.

The right wing government that allowed the referendum to change the electoral system to get on the ballot in 2005 made a change to BC referendum law at the same time, so that in order for the referendum to succeed, 60% of the voters would have to approve.

57.7% of voters voted in favor of BC-STV, yet because it did not get 60% support, the system was not adopted. Incredibly, the leadership of the BC Green Party, who would have benefitted the most from proportional representation, campaigned against this change.

Brian said...

William - a choice system is only legitimate if it approximates the will of the people. What other legitimacy does it have? Putting the person who lost in charge is a failure.

As far as post-face special pleading, I've been opposed to the Electoral College since 1979, when I wrote my first letter to the editor of my local paper.

William Connolley said...

> if it approximates the will of the people.

Well, getting within 2% is plausibly "approximates". What metric would you use, and what margin of approximation could you define?

> Putting the person who lost in charge is a failure.

But you're doing it again. Trump didn't lose. He won. He only "lost" by the measure that you folk aren't using.

> letter to the editor of my local paper.

Fair enough.

Kevin O'Neill said...

Brian writes: "William - a choice system is only legitimate if it approximates the will of the people."

Yes, and this choice system explicitly represents the will of the people; bearing in mind that was the writers of the constitution and those who ratified it 200+ years ago.

As with any change in the constitution there is a process for change. Simply claiming the Electoral College makes the President illegitimate ignores the constitutional process. Do you believe such a change could even pass? I doubt it. As with many constitutional issues we're stuck with what they wrote because the same compromises that were necessary then would still be required today.