Californians will decide on a proposal to allocate electoral votes to the winners of Congressional Districts rather than a state-wide winner take all vote. A Field poll shows surprisingly strong support for the idea: 47% of registered votes supported the reform while 35% oppossed. Explaining the partisan disadvantages makes more Democrats oppose the plan, but even then 49% support it and 42% oppose.

It’s a good idea but only if other states like Texas make the same reform. Maine and Nebraska already use the Congressional District system.

This seems like a coordination problem because Californians, particularly Democrats, do not benefit from unilateral reform. This would work if they can come to an agreement with New York, Florida, and Texas to all reform to eliminate partisan advantages.

That’s unlikely of course, because of partisanship and state interests. The election systems were created to resist multi-state cooperation. Reforms must be slow and cautious. If reforms do not unilaterally benefit the state interest, they will be rejected. That’s the entire point.

The Democrats want California’s electoral votes allocated to the winner of the national vote. This supposed “nation” is not a unitary rational actor so the idea of a national will does not exist.

I want to quote Fred Riggs once more:

Unfortunately, I believe, our ignorance of the regime-maintaining requisites of presidentialism blinds us to the negative impact of progressive reforms on the survival of this type of democracy.

In the U.S. itself, debates about proposed “reforms” fail to consider their likely impact on the viability of the constitutional system.

Reforms that limit Congressional Power (term limits) and increase Presidential Power (national elections) make the democratic system more fragile and susceptible to abuse than reformers realize.

The Electoral College is basically a parliament that functions like the second Congress. The US President is elected in a way similar to a UK Prime Minister, in order to limit his political power. Any reform that increases Presidential power, such as a national election, should be looked upon with extreme skepticism.

The current system allocates votes by state. Decentralizing it further – from the states to Congressional Districts – would improve the parliamentary nature of the EC. People should understand that they are voting for a member of EC, just like the vote for members of Congress. The EC even has an advantage over traditional parliaments. It allows citizens to split their vote between a Republican President and Democratic Congressman.

Simply put, district-based democracy outperforms populist democracy. That’s why Parliaments succeeded in history and Presidents do not. I discussed this idea before in Failure of Presidential Democracy. Most Americans do not know how fragile the a Presidential system is.

Despite all these “progressive” debates, I think comparative political science already settled the issue. Presidents do not work. National elections are not democratic. If the Constitution was written today in hindsight, we would have a Westminster Parliament rather than risk it all on a President.