Gongol.com Archives: February 2024

Brian Gongol

February 26, 2024

Science and Technology A live look at the nation's electrical grids

Amazing, really, that an up-to-the-hour look at demand is always within reach

Iowa Who wants to buy a frat house?

A fraternity house at the University of Northern Iowa is on the market for $1.3 million. There's a good chance the buyer will need to replace the carpets.

The United States of America Petitions against the Electoral College are laughably useless

Anyone who thinks they're really accomplishing anything to affect the outcome of the 2024 election by signing an online petition to "end the Electoral College" is painfully naive. Above and beyond any other consideration, the Electoral College is a feature of the Constitution, and changing it requires a Constitutional amendment -- which takes a great deal more actual organizational effort than publishing a digital petition. It's a slow, methodical process, and certainly not one that will have any outcomes before November. ■ Furthermore, online "petitions" are really nothing more than open letters with lots of co-signatories. Maybe that's the kind of performative behavior that satisfies some people -- there's nothing wrong with co-signing an open letter. But it's a far cry from doing anything with binding legal effect. Real petitions have to be signed, delivered, and validated to local authorities. ■ The Electoral College has deficiencies, to be sure. But even if there were an expedited process for jettisoning it, the process is hardly the core problem. It goes too often without notice that certain characteristics made the Electoral College work when the Constitution was new and the country suffered from a deficit of good communication. It took quite a while for news to make its way from one end to the other: The state of Georgia, for instance, was removed by about two or three weeks of travel from New York City in 1800. There were no telegraph cables, high-speed trains, seafaring steamships, or even Pony Express carriers available. ■ Sending elected delegates rather than couriers with vote totals may not have ultimately led to the sort of selection by the best and brightest that the Framers may have intended, but it did reduce the odds that someone could cause mayhem along the way. A set of elected delegates (each of whom would have faced prosecution if they had lied about their credentials) form a much harder device to counterfeit or corrupt than a lone carrier bearing a certificate with a vote count. ■ Today, we neither rely on the wisdom of those individual electors, nor do we need their physical presence to know who won from state to state. But the process of making the Presidential election a state-by-state event does still serve a useful purpose (beyond the original Federalist intent of protecting small states from being overwhelmed by big ones): It helps to compartmentalize shortcomings in local vote counts or disputes over electoral processes. ■ Dumping all votes together into a common national popular vote would raise the stakes for disputing vote totals to a level that could invite legal disputes that could prove terminal to the process. Votes with margins measured in the thousands would open the door to disputes and recounts in virtually unlimited numbers of jurisdictions. ■ The Electoral College, even with its shortcomings, still serves to compartmentalize results -- acting like watertight compartments aboard a ship, so that the damage done by a failure in one state is contained to only that state. That also sharpens the accountability of the officials responsible for the process. Florida made a mess of the 2000 election, and the state immediately undertook corrective reforms to avoid repeating the "hanging chad" nightmare. Georgia became an important battleground state in 2020, but despite extraordinary (and probably illegal) pressure, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger maintained his integrity, under the knowledge that "We've got to follow the law, follow the Constitution; we follow the numbers." ■ Any system that would pivot to a national popular vote would necessarily have to empower a bureaucracy at a national scale to oversee the count, and probably to harmonize details like ballot designs and counting procedures. Every state can issue its own drivers' licenses, but all Americans traveling overseas end up with the same style of passport. Imagine, then, if a national voting agency were to impose a badly designed ballot or to be managed by a political appointee more susceptible to pressure than Brad Raffensperger. The consequences of nationalizing the vote would mean much higher stakes than under the Electoral College. As has often been said, sometimes a cure is worse than the disease.