October 5, 2004

On not subscribing to Wired.

The Wired that just arrived (see previous post) is not the newest issue, but the September issue. Wired does that annoying thing that magazines do when you subscribe, which is to send you an older issue, even though you might very well have bought that issue on the newstand. This practice makes subscribing to magazines less of a bargain than the card in that copy you just bought makes it seem.

Yet, in fact, I did not subscribe to Wired. I did something even more foolish. I paid for the premium subscription to Salon.com, because I figured I'd go there often enough that it was worth buying off the commercial they make you watch to get through to the content. But Salon turns out to be less enticing when it isn't walled off with a commercial. Anyway, the subscription to Salon included free subscriptions to Wired and U.S. News & World Report, magazines I now feel that I must at least flip though. Wired and U.S. News & World Report each sent me a postcard offering to cancel my subscription for a $12 (or so) payoff, but I missed my chance. Now I receive these rather silly publications in the mail and waste time looking at them.

I knew it was dumb to say "awesome," but Wired helps me stay hip by advising me to replace "amazing" with "audacious." That's asinine. And Wired's coverage of politics is fatuous. Little sidebars in the September issue identify problems with American politics. Problem #2 is: "The electoral college is broken." A checked box appears next to "SOLUTION." There is a half column explanation of the amazing, audacious solution Wired's genuises have hit upon:
Move to a popular vote. And make it count with instant runoffs. In this system, voters rank the candidates in order of preference. If the first "winner" doesn't get 50 percent of the vote, the least favorite candidate is dropped, and those votes go to the voters' next favorite candidate. You do a new count, and repeat the process until someone gets 50 percent. This way votes aren't wasted: If voters don't get their first choice, they get something close - their second or third choice. It also allows third parties to emerge without "spoiling it" for like-minded candidates. In 1992, for example, many votes for Perot would have transferred to George Bush Sr., and Clinton might never have triumphed. (The reverse applies to Gore and Nader.) The system hasn't been tried partly because the big parties selfishly don't want to encourage competition, and partly because all that recounting is logistically tricky. But now that we're moving to electronic voting, "the technological barrier vanishes. Computers can do those recounts in an instant," says Rob Richie, executive director of the Center for Voting and Democracy. Digital tech could usher in an age where your vote finally matters.
Do you think you might come down for a moment from your high-tech high and apply some of your intelligence to thinking through the ramifications of how this system would play out? Without the Electoral College system, we would have completely different candidates and many more of them, including many strange niche candidates and extremists who would have unpredictable clout. You want to give a chance to a third party candidate? Your solution gives a chance to a tenth party candidate! You think the "big parties" are just being selfish? Have you ever tried to understand the beneficial moderating effect of the two party system?

I recommend Alexander M. Bickel's book Reform and Continuity: The Electoral College, the Convention, and the Party System, published in 1971, which I reviewed, a propos of the 2000 election, in "Electoral College Reform Déja Vu, 95 Northwestern University Law Review 993 (2001). People spent a lot of time considering abolishing the Electoral College in the decade that followed the very close 1960 election and discovered important safeguards it provides that would be lost with a switch to the superficially appealing popular vote. In any case, given the difficulty of amending the Constitution, especially when shifting the states' power is concerned, it isn't going to happen.

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