22 September, 2008

The crazy world of US election rules

The BBC has an interesting article by Larry Sabato (politics professor in the University of Virginia) on one of the more arcane features of the US constitution: The US election nightmare scenario. He is talking basically about what would happen if the vote in November produces a tie in the electoral college, something that is not outside the bounds of possibility. Apparently the Senate then gets to elect the vice president (on the basis that the VP is the Senate's chair), and the House of Representatives picks the president. However, the House picks the president not by a straight vote, but by one in which each State's representatives have one vote between them (with a majority of the state's representatives deciding which way the state's vote goes). In such an election, California would have the same clout as Delaware, and the result could easily end up being completely random and bearing no relation whatsoever to the way the popular vote fell. Were this to happen, we may perhaps be spared the prospect of US leaders lecturing other countries on the benefits of democracy.


Nicholas Whyte said...

Indeed. (Check from the quote from the Brussels-based expert halfway down.)

ian said...

Very good point.

I get the impression, though, that the voting system end of the US constitution is completely unreformable, and that it would be basically impossible to have US elections run on the kind of basically sensible level that other countries take for granted.

On voter turn-out... I don't think countries that force voting can really scoff at the USA for having an electorate that doesn't bother to vote, while most European countries that do not force voting are themselves seeing falling turn-outs.