Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez '13 and Tom Ginsburg: "Five Voting Systems Even Worse than the Electoral College"

Five Voting Systems Even Worse than the Electoral College
Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez '13 and Tom Ginsburg
Foreign Policy
November 6, 2012

Grousing about our arcane and nonsensical Electoral College, and calling publicly for its end, have by now become time-honored election-season traditions in the United States. This year, even the Russians, themselves no paragons of functional democracy, have gotten in on the fun. Admittedly, the U.S. system is problematic, as Electoral College math dictates that Americans living in the battleground states, and no one else, will play the deciding role. On at least four occasions, including the 2000 election, this system has produced a president who failed to carry the popular vote yet won the office anyway.

The fact is that, despite the griping, the Electoral College is not going anywhere anytime soon. Originally put in place (in part) to protect the rights and interests of slave states, who might otherwise have been hesitant to join the Union, it has survived as long as it has because smaller states still value these protections. And there are more than enough small states to block any attempt at a constitutional amendment to dissolve the Electoral College -- particularly since of the three required majorities for doing so, only one, the House of Representatives, is actually dependent on population.

Yet despite these weighty burdens, United States voters can take solace in the fact that they do not bear them alone. And while culturally engrained notions of exceptionalism may lead some Americans to the patriotic presumption that "our" arcane and ridiculous electoral system must be the worst in the world (if only by virtue of it being "ours"), it's a pretty big world out there. When it comes to picking leaders, there are a few systems that are even crazier than America's.

Tom Ginsburg