The bizarreness of US politics



US Congress Building
Originally uploaded by prameya

Although in general I’m a big fan of the US constitution, there are at least two areas that I find absolutely mind-boggling crazy, and I would change them tomorrow if I could:

  • Gerrymandering: In the US, politicians design constituencies themselves (instead of leaving the design to independent experts such as the boundary commissions in the UK), and the results are atrocious. The effect is that very few constituencies are competitive, which isn’t good for democracy. At the very least, the US should create independent boundary commissions, but ideally they should introduce proportional representation to ensure that every vote counts.
  • Supermajorities: In many cases, supermajorities (such as 60%) are required to pass legislation, especially in the Senate:

    The filibuster is a tactic used to defeat bills and motions by prolonging debate indefinitely. A filibuster may entail long speeches, dilatory motions, and an extensive series of proposed amendments. The Senate may end a filibuster by invoking cloture. In most cases, cloture requires the support of three-fifths of the Senate; however, if the matter before the Senate involves changing the rules of the body – this includes amending provisions regarding the filibuster – a two-thirds majority is required. In current practice, the threat of filibuster is more important than its use; almost any motion that does not have the support of three-fifths of the Senate effectively fails. This means that 41 senators, which could represent as little as 12.3% of the U.S. population, can make a filibuster happen. Historically, cloture has rarely been invoked because bipartisan support is usually necessary to obtain the required supermajority, so a bill that already has bipartisan support is rarely subject to threats of filibuster. However, motions for cloture have increased significantly in recent years.

    There are already plenty of checks and balances built into the US political system, so requiring supermajorities just causes the whole system to grind down to a halt. Apart from constitutional amendments, a simple majority really should be sufficient.

I’m sure there are many more oddities, but if only they would fix these two issues, I’m sure it would make a big difference.

If the EU was like the US



EU Map
Originally uploaded by Cea.

Although I’m often very critical of the US, I’m a big fan of their constitution.

So while we’re waiting for the results from the presidential election, I thought it’d be interesting to imagine how the EU presidential election would work if the EU had imported the US political system wholesale.

The EU Senate would consist of two members from each member state, so 54 members in total (there are 50 members of the US Senate).

The EU House of Representatives would have 435 members (see below for details), just like its US equivalent.

The Electoral College for the EU presidential election would have as many electors for each state as the two above figures combined. For instance, Denmark would have five members of the House of Representatives and two members of the Senate, so this member state would have seven presidential electors. Brussels DC wouldn’t technically speaking be a state, so it wouldn’t be represented in the two houses, but it would nevertheless have three electors.

Using the algorithm for calculating the apportionment for the House of Representatives that is used in the US would lead to the following figures for the EU, using the most recent population figures:

State House of Representatives Senate Electoral College
Austria 7 2 9
Belgium (excl. Brussels) 8 2 10
Brussels DC 0 0 3
Bulgaria 6 2 8
Cyprus 1 2 3
Czech Republic 9 2 11
Denmark 5 2 7
Estonia 1 2 3
Finland 5 2 7
France 55 2 57
Germany 71 2 73
Greece 10 2 12
Hungary 9 2 11
Ireland 4 2 6
Italy 53 2 55
Latvia 2 2 4
Lithuania 3 2 5
Luxembourg 1 2 3
Malta 1 2 3
Netherlands 14 2 16
Poland 33 2 35
Portugal 9 2 11
Romania 19 2 21
Slovakia 5 2 7
Slovenia 2 2 4
Spain 40 2 42
Sweden 8 2 10
United Kingdom 54 2 56
Total 435 54 492

(Whereas the most populous EU member state — Germany — would have 73 electors, the largest number in the US is California’s 55 electors.)

To become president, a candidate would thus need to get one more than half the 492 electors, or at least 247 electors.

Interestingly, it’s quite feasible there could be a draw (for instance, Austria, Belgium, Brussels DC, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Romania, Slovakia and the UK against the rest would add up to 246 electors on each side), in which case the House of Representatives would choose the president, and the Senate would choose the vice-president.