Wednesday, 8 November 2000

US electoral system

Listening to:

Shostakovich, symphony no. 7 in C major, op. 60 Leningrad. I’m listening to the recording I recommend in this discussion of the symphony.

Well, it looks as if George W. Bush has won the US Presidential election. The US has a funny system for electing its President. (Some official documentation is available on the Federal Election Commission's pages.) Rather than have the whole population just vote for the candidates directly, they have to vote to elect candidates in an electoral college on a state-by-state basis. The members of this college then choose the President.

Each state of the union is responsible for the election of its Electors and in a couple (Maine and Nebraska) the procedure is different from the rest. Thus, the system does not require the states to use the “winner-take-all” model whereby the slate with the most votes in a state gets all of that state's Electors. Nonetheless, this is what happens in 48 states, and this strongly encourages a two-party system, which you may or may not think is a good thing.

There hasn't been an election since 1888 when the most popular candidate didn't actually become President. Contrast this with what happens in parliamentary elections, where governmental majorities are quite easy to form even though the number of people voting for the opposing party may be greater.

Finally, I do think that the careful separation of concerns achieved in the Federal system, whereby the Executive has no necessary connection with the Legislature is a nice design.