Wednesday, October 5, 2011

PF 2011 November Topic Analysis

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Resolved: Direct popular vote should replace electoral vote in presidential elections.

This resolution contrasts the current electoral system (the presumption is, in the United States) with the concept of a direct election by majority of the popular vote.  But, the pro side is required to affirm the direct vote method is the one that should be used rather than the electoral system.  It is unfortunate, I think, the resolution did not specify "in the United States" since no doubt, many teams will find some way to exploit the oversight.

Background in the U.S.
In the United States, presidential elections are decided by the Electoral College. The Electoral College is comprised of representatives from each of the states who's task is to vote the will of the majority of their constituents. These delegates are distinct and independent from Congressional representatives though they are currently elected in each state by popular vote having been nominated by their state's political parties.  The 12th Amendment prescribes that each elector should cast a single vote for president and a single vote for vice-president and specifies that a simple majority is required to determine who wins the offices.  Additional provisions are given for dealing with alternative election methods in cases where a clear majority is undetermined.  The 23rd Amendment governs how many electors are allowed from each state.

The United States uses a form of plurality voting system (one in which there is a single winner for each seat). In such a system, the candidate who receives the majority of votes will win the seat.  In the United States, the selection is made indirectly as the popular vote gives the electorates instruction in how they should vote and so the seat is won by the majority vote of the electorates.  While the constitution specifies the use of electorates and determines how many are chosen in each state, it is within the domain of state's rights to decide how the electorates are chosen and how they should cast their votes.  In most states, if a candidate wins the majority in the state, then all of the delegates for the state are expected to cast the vote for the majority winner. At various times in history and presently, states have allowed electorates to vote according to the the majority vote in individual congressional districts.  Currently Maine and Nebraska use this method which allows them to split their electoral votes according to how the majority in the congressional districts voted.

Why the U.S. Electoral System was Created
At the time the U.S. Electoral system was proposed, the nation was a loose federation of 13 states, without political parties and very little infrastructure from which to carry out an effective campaign for election. Given these realities, the founding fathers were concerned about the mechanics of how to hold national elections in a way fair to the states.  The history of the formation of the indirect election method employed in the U.S. should be familiar to the debate student running this PF resolution.  The reasoning and various designs proposed are useful information for a thorough understanding of how the current system came to be. But most important is gaining an excellent understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of the indirect method with respect to the direct, popular vote method of selecting a president.

Approach to the Resolution
Since the resolution is not asking us to compare the U.S. specific method of indirect elections (using the Electoral College) then one must consider the comparative advantages and disadvantages of one method versus the other. The weighing mechanism for determining if one is superior to the other will depend on the impact of the flaws as seen in actual practice. If the the flaws have not occurred in actual practice then, the theoretical impact must be examined by presenting a time-frame, probability and magnitude calculus.  Consider the following example. Suppose the debater wants to make the claim that a direct, popular vote method of election is subject to unfair manipulation by powerful minorities. If the debater can not show by example where this has happened in the recent past, then the claim must show even though it has not yet happened, there is a very good chance it will happen (probability) and it will happen very soon (time-frame) and when it does happen, it will be very bad (magnitude).

Flaws or advantages should be inherent in the method of election and not the implementation.  For example, Let's say "electoral vote" specifically refers to an indirect election process by an appointed set of delegates. The methodology specifies the delegates should vote according to majority vote of the population within the respective precincts of each delegate.  Now, if it is shown that many delegates fail to carry out the specification and choose to vote for candidates other than those determined by the popular votes of their precincts, then this not a failure that is inherent in the electoral voting method, rather it is a failure in how it is carried out, or implemented. Perhaps, there are insufficient controls in place to ensure the delegates carry out the task they were appointed to do.  This approach to argumentation can be very effective when defining a particular voting method.  The clever debater can claim, the problem is not because there is something inherently wrong with the methodology, rather there is something wrong with the way it was carried out, or implemented.  The way to effectively prove a method is inherently flawed is to show how the implementation always fails or most of the time fails in actual practice. This provides powerful proof the method may possess inherent flaws even if you are unsure what the precise problems are.

At a minimum, I think it is important to define the voting methods being compared by the resolution.  It must be clear what is meant when one says "direct popular vote" and "electoral vote".  I don't think the fact the resolution specifies "presidential elections" is particularly relevant. The definition of "should" or "should replace" implies there is a compelling reason to replace one with the other.  In LD, the definition of "should" can be significant so I think it would be worthwhile, supplying a definition.  While it seems clear that direct popular vote means a election process whereby the result is determined by a simple majority of total votes cast, there may be alternative definitions that can be exploited if the opponent fails to challenge the definition. The same holds true of electoral vote.  While it suggests indirect vote by delegates there may be alternative definitions which can be exploited.  Nevertheless, I think, trying to leverage obscure definitions will ony serve to disengage the judge, who will enter the round with prior experience and knowledge, no matter how incomplete that knowledge may be.

The PRO Burden
The PRO must prove that direct popular vote should replace electoral vote, what the definition of those terms ultimately turn out to be.  The questions, then, that PRO must answer is why should the latter be replaced and why is the former preferrable?  In the U.S. for example, there may be no compelling reason to not use electoral voting if it works, so PRO must show that it does not. Secondly, PRO must show that direct popular vote is preferrable over the existing method. This basically means it is not flawed, or it is less flawed, or its advantages out-weigh the flaws of either method.

The CON Burden
CON wins the round by showing that direct popular vote should not replace electoral voting. The questions CON must answer are why the is electoral system works and why the popular vote method is not a better alternative.  On the CON side, debates should explore, why, if the electoral system is flaw, is it still used in the United States, for example, and why did it survive a challenge in the 1970's?  This appoach, uses the U.S. as an example of a country which recently looked at the question and decided there is no compelling reason to change.

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