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The Folly of Local Control In Federal Elections

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I have a new article up at TAP about how the collective action problems surrounding attempts to “reform” the distribution of California’s electoral votes to help the GOP is an outgrowth of the foolish (or at least anachronistic) decision to leave most of the standards for federal elections up to state legislatures:

The California case illustrates the central problem with America’s severely deficient electoral system: the fact that the administration of federal elections was largely left to the states. The Electoral College is an anachronism that distorts electoral outcomes (most recently, and with disastrous consequences for not only the country but the world, in 2000) and overrepresents small-state minorities that are already overrepresented throughout American political institutions. (As Yale law professor Akhil Reed Amar has pointed out, “the electoral college was designed to and did in fact advantage Southern white male propertied slaveholders in the antebellum era. And in election 2000, it again ended up working against women, blacks, and the poor, who voted overwhelmingly for Gore.”

But privileging “states’ rights” over people’s rights not only constitutes a primary problem with the Electoral College but makes it nearly impossible to change. It produces the kind of collective action problems we can see in the California case (the states that act first will disadvantage their state’s citizens) and gives small states a vested interest in maintaining the less democratic system. This is particularly irksome because, in a modern democracy, the decentralized administration of federal elections is “local control” fetishism at its least defensible.

The value of decentralized power in some contexts is that it can allow for experimentation and policies more attuned with local values. But such experimentation, while logical for a time period in which giving the franchise even to propertied white males was a fairly radical idea, could not be more inappropriate for a modern democracy. It should no longer be acceptable, of course, for states to “experiment” with which adults should get the franchise.

Much more over at TAP.

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