Electoral Colleges

Watching the run up to the US Presidential Election reminds me of the dangers of electoral colleges.

It’s all about the so-called swing states, or battleground states, because much of the US is heavily Democrat or Republican, and therefore unlikely to change hands.

But that is also in effect what we have in the UK.

The BBC website cited above explains:

  • Each state is given a number of electoral college votes based on its population
  • Almost all states operate winner-takes-all system
  • 10 key swing states: Florida (29 votes), Pennsylvania (20), Ohio (18), N Carolina (15), Virginia (13), Wisconsin (10), Colorado (9), Iowa (6), Nevada (6), New Hampshire (4)
  • Get 270 votes and you’re president

In the UK a prime minister has to be able to muster 326 votes in the House of Commons (650/2 +1).  Those votes are in the hands of our MPs.

  • Each constituency elects a single MP
  • First past the post means that the winner-takes-all
  • Only Marginal Seats matter – vast parts of the country are ignored
  • Get the required 326 MPs and you’re Prime Minister – and forget the size of the popular vote.

Often what we see in American politics we see a few years later in British politics.

  • Voters in marginal seats are targetted and the rest ignored
  • Data Mining means parties can identify the waverers and target them – intensely with automated telephone calls and persitent mailings and social pressure.
  • Data mining means parties can identify those likely to vote for the opposition and target their voter registration (Republicans in Florida – a swing state – seem to have this down to a fine art in this particular round of elections)

I don’t look forward to such “campaigning” defining the next UK election.  Electoral Colleges – either literal as in the USA, or virtual as in the UK – may give “decisive results” but at the expense of ignoring the opinion, involvment and commitment of so very many and leaves the result open to manipulation by pork barrel politics, special interests, finagling, gerrymandering and hanging chads.

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