A genius for equality

After noting that the main defense of the Electoral College is that the only way to ensure justice and equality to rural voters is by making their vote count more towards the outcome, Andrew Prokop responds:

But a national popular vote system wouldn’t devalue the votes of people who live in rural states and small towns. It would accurately value them by treating them equal to people who live in cities, rather than giving them an extra weighting.

But accuracy is relative to what one is aiming for (if the bullet hits a tree, was the shooter accurate?) and so equal vote weighting can only be more accurate if we’ve already determined that equal vote weighing is what we should aim for, i.e. if we’ve already decided that the Electoral College is unjust. The argument begs the question.

The fact is that the argument Prokop is trying to refute and the institution that arises from it are among the all-time greatest acts of political prudence. The equality of all persons is the equality of all just ways of life, but some of these ways of life require less population density. Farming is an obvious example, but so is the life of a pioneer,* a homesteader, or anyone who prefers life in the country. But equal vote-weighting puts those who choose this way of life in a less powerful voting bloc than those who live a way of life compatible with population density, and so incentivizes a president who is not the president of all but only of one faction. And that’s unjust.

It’s a particular wisdom of American politics that it can defend the equality of persons by striking a balance between the urban and the rural/country ways of living. The composition of the senate is one very good example, thought it was a better one when the senators were chosen by the state legislatures and so, for reasons given above, were more likely to represent all the ways of life in their states.** This is also why state capitals are neither in the country nor in the largest city (LA, Seattle, New York City, Minneapolis, etc.) but usually in a place midway between the two.


*Note that there are still pioneers of open spaces today: the shale miners in North Dakota come to mind.

**This also speaks to the genius of the Electoral College as originally designed, where Electors were chosen by State Legistatures. The present winer-takes-all system has its merits, but it is not as good at ensuring equality of ways of life. The cities tend to marginalize the rural vote.





  1. November 13, 2016 at 7:06 pm

    Nothing unfair. Just a bunch of angry, sore losers as with Bush and Gore. It would have been the same had Clinton won though I doubt the rioting would have occurred. Most of us were just prepared to bite our tongues and embrace four more years of POTUS Obummer in the guise of an old woman.

  2. The Lambton Worm said,

    November 15, 2016 at 2:36 pm

    I really ‘get’ the argument for why the system was great when a) the state legislatures chose the electors and b) there were no political parties, such that the electors could not be ‘pledged’ in the sense that they are now and so had to be picked by their legislatures on the basis of its faith in their judgement. This strategy seems to really maximise the benefits hopefully inherent in representative as opposed to direct democracy (i.e. I hope to elect someone who has more political prudence than I do and who can therefore defend my interests better than I could myself); and it also seems to get the ‘maximise representation of all the ways of life’ point that you make above.

    But the current electoral college seems to result in a system where presidents who don’t represent all of the ways of life in the nation get chosen repeatedly anyway; Trump especially seems to me to be the very epitome of “a president who is not the president of all but only of one faction”. So isn’t that a reason for some kind of reform, even if only reform, say, in the direction of having a less powerful president and a legislative house that has to cooperate across parties more often?

    (I say all this as a Britisher.)

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