Alan Wallach

Our Election Problem is not the Constitution


I’m old enough to remember how the parliamentary democracies were laughed at after WW II for their seeming instability. We Americans with our hubris pointed to our “superior” stable two party system. Now who’s laughing? Look at the mess our two party system has created.
But there is nothing wrong with our constitution as far as elections go. The problem is not even, as some claim, the electoral college itself. In fact, it’s a help. The problem is the all-or-nothingness of the electoral college that messes us up. Assigning electors proportionately would go a long way toward straightening us out. First of all, the parties are divided, the republican party irreconciliably. The democratic party is divided more by personalities than principle. We have three or maybe four virtual parties that cannot express themselves independently in an election without shooting themselves in the foot by hurting one of the major parties. The republicans should bite the bullet and split but they won’t give up their majority which is currently artificial. If they did, there could be a center right party picking up conservative democrats and marginalizing the extreme right wing. So how to solve it?
If the electoral college votes in every state were proportional, the opportunity for a third party (or fourth) to form and run candidates would be possible and there would be an incentive to do so. With enough electoral votes, a strong third party could prevent either of the major parties from getting a majority and would force a compromise with a third or fourth party to form a coalition government with a coalition president. The other probable result would be the toning down of our cult of personality arising from an incessant campaign for president, including a brutal, excessively lengthy primary process. We are in a continuous electoral cycle which is destructive to our ability to govern. In the parliamentary governments the voter frequently doesn’t even know who the prime minister will be. The party leader is selected by the representatives.
We could learn something from those we snubbed our noses at years ago. Then maybe we could get something done. As it stands now, the only possibility is eternal gridlock.