Electoral College worked – and democrats must accept it

It is worth recalling that the last time the Northern Ireland Assembly voted on same-sex marriage, a majority backed it.

However, due to our complex history, the Assembly has a mechanism called a “Petition of Concern” which, if used, effectively means change can only happen if a majority of both main traditions back it. The Petition was used and, since the proposal lacked a Unionist majority, it failed.

Liberals were incandescent.

At around the same time, however, the Welfare Reform Bill was blocked using the same mechanism, this time by Nationalists.

When I put it to the incandescent Liberals that this constituted the same problem of democracy denied, it was peculiar how many suddenly changed their view. In other words, if a Petition was used to block something they didn’t like, it was fine; it was only wrong to use it to block something they liked.

But that isn’t democracy. Making your support for democracy conditional on most things going your way means you lose the right to call yourself a democrat. You support democracy, or you do not.

(The Petition system is there for very good reason, as anyone with an understanding of this part of the world will know. I do happen to believe it is now being used for purposes beyond those originally intended and thus needs reformed, but that is for another post!)

A month ago, a democratic election took place in the United States. As the name suggests, this is not a single entity but a union of States, who collectively elect their President via an Electoral College.

In that Electoral College, quite deliberately, smaller states are slightly overrepresented – just as smaller regions are overrepresented in the Spanish Cortes, smaller States are overrepresented in the German Federal Council (upper house), and Scotland and Wales were overrepresented in the UK Parliament prior to legislative devolution. It is therefore quite normal, indeed expected, for diverse countries to overrepresent smaller areas to avoid larger populations having all the say over the direction of the country.

In last month’s United States Presidential Election, my much preferred candidate Hillary Clinton received 2.5 million more votes than any other candidate.

However, there was a problem. She in fact was a whopping 4 million clear of her nearest rival in the State of California alone. This means in the remaining 49 States plus the District of Columbia, her nearest rival Donald Trump actually received nearly 1.5 million more votes than she did. These were received in smaller States which are proportionately overrepresented in the Electoral College, and therefore led to his receiving the comfortable majority of delegates to it.

In other words, unfortunately, the deliberate (and quite normal) overrepresentation of smaller areas to avoid the tyranny of the most populated ones (like California) led to an outcome I intensely dislike.

But that outcome was perfectly democratic, part of a system whose very design is to ensure the voices of those in sparsely populated states many people could not even place on a map definitely get heard. The system, in fact, worked perfectly.

As someone seriously concerned about the winning candidate, I don’t have to like the outcome. But as a democrat, I have to accept it. Otherwise I lose the right to call myself one.

8 thoughts on “Electoral College worked – and democrats must accept it

  1. 416 says:

    I agree that after a thing happens, it’s probably best to wait a while to try and reform it. But a term I’m reluctant to agree on is “perfectly democratic”. I don’t think there’s a perfect democracy happening in the US. That said, I’m not sure what perfect democracy is.

  2. korhomme says:

    I understood that the idea behind a Petition of Concern was the avoidance of sectarian legislation which would benefit only one community, and harm the other. I cannot see how equal marriage harms the individual members of the ‘protestant’ community. The Welfare Reform Bill might have affected both communities.

    Our MLAs are representatives, that is representing the interest of all the people in their communities, not just those who elected them. So often, MLAs seem to act in their own interests or on the basis of their own ‘beliefs’.

    Democracy? No system is perfect. The US system was designed to prevent a king-like strongman appearing, hence all the ‘checks and balances’. And like in the US, it’s quite possible for a government in Westminster to win a majority of seats on a minority of the total vote. The Scottish parliament uses the Alternative Vote system (FPTP with extras); this was specifically chosen to prevent the SNP from having a majority.

  3. I have no doubt that Trump won the majority of electors as Congress represents the popular demand for the GOP. However I would prefer that states weren’t winner take all or effectively QMV but have the electoral votes split on a state by state basis.

    It’s the democratic thing to do, it’s the republican thing to do too.

  4. At least with our petition of concerns every MLA is not whipped into party blocks, and in theory you could have a situation where a majority of nationalists and a majority of unionists, are not a majority in the Assembly, due ahem in part to your party and other Others.

  5. William Allen says:

    Sadly there seems to be increasing numbers of examples of people refusing to accept the result of democratic votes. The UK ‘Brexit’ referendum is a prime example. This was a straight forward U.K. wide vote and yet we have the SNP and SF bleating about how Scotland and NI voted remain. They didn’t vote remain as Scotland and NI did not have a referendum, the U.K. as a whole did.

    Both the issue of Brexit and the US election illustrate perfectly why I dislike political subdivision of a nation. It breads real division. If we simply had Britain and America in both votes a simple majority should have represented an uncontroversial win. In America it would not have mattered that Clinton’s majority came from the west coast as they would all have been equally American and not Californian, Texan etc.

    Similarly the EU will fail as it try’s to work as a collective of nation states. To work people would need to stop being German, French etc and start being European. The only reason the USA is more stable is that they at least have a single dominant language. For the EU to work it would require the national governments to be abolished and all children to be taught a single language (probably English) as well as the regional language with a process of reducing the significance of the regional language by having all TV, books etc in the selected unified language.

    • korhomme says:

      Leave lost the first referendum; they have been demanding a second referendum for decades.

      The political subdivision of the UK reminds us that it was England who dominated Wales, Ireland and then Scotland. Do you really want this to continue?

      • Absolutely true it seems some Leave supporters do not know the difference between division and their own fear of a different opinion.
        England has the biggest number of pro-Europeans in the UK and I feel it will be England that steers the UK towards pragmatism, if not then quite rightly the UK could be divided because people don’t want to find common ground among differences, but genuinely want to be separated from those with opposing views.

        In which case unionism can be just as guilty as causing division as nationalism, because nothing seems to cause more division than a forced marriage.

    • Erm people do not need to stop being German, French, Belgian or to start being European for the EU to work. The EEC and EU has worked for 41 years, there was no need for conformity.

      It seems that you seem to suggest that conformity is necessary in a nation state, are you really telling me that a Yorkshire farmer has to have the same sort of lifestyle and identity as a nuclear physicist in Sellafeild or a professional golfer in Sterling, or fisherman from Anglesey?

      As far as I seem to be aware it was never the EU than pressed home the need for a Conformity Circus, but the UK in recent times.

      The motto of the EU is unity in diversity, the motto of Brexit seems to be all Diversity is Divisive. Well Bring out the Maoist style grey shirts and stop the multiculturalism of individuality then, why stop at languages?

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