Electoral college redesign proposal

Designed to ensure that urban centers didn’t have an unequal voice in the election of the president of the United States and that the president was elected by states not people, the Electoral College bears some re-examination in light of contemporary society.

Under the United States Constitution, the office of president was not intended to represent the people, but rather be a representative of the republic itself. The voice of the people is established in the House of Representatives and to a lesser degree the U.S. Senate. To that end, the electoral college was created as a compromise as part of Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution. Additionally, the states were left to their own devices as to the manner in which electors for president were chosen.

To be clear, when we vote for president, we are not voting for the person, but are in actuality voting for the electors who will then cast their vote for the person. In the same way that we vote for senators and representatives who cast their vote on our behalves regarding laws, budget, etc.

The problem with this method is that as the country has gotten larger, as the issues have become more complex,  the president has been looked at as a caretaker of the nation’s intentions and potential and the bi-party political system that is embedded in our process isn’t allowing for the wide spectrum of needs. Because of this, there is — and has been — a loud cry for a popular vote to elect president.

That might seem like the right answer, but in that case, control of the office would go to the largest population centers which systemically have different needs than the rest of the country. In this election, data shows that the majority of people in rural America do not feel that Clinton is the right person for the job. A popular vote would essentially eliminate their voices. It’s not democracy if it’s oppression by the majority (Madison, Federalist Papers No. 10).

Here’s what I am thinking about:

  1. Make all primaries open and non-party specific. Change them all to direct election rather than caucuses. Don’t let the political parties control primaries, let the primaries stem from the number of candidates. Allow the primaries to the opportunity to winnow the entire field, not just the candidates from major parties.
  2. Allow all winners of primaries to take part in national debates for president. Again, remove the influence of political parties. Let everyone debate so that the public is better informed.
  3. Make electoral votes in each state proportional (like Maine does, for instance).This ensures that dissenting voices are heard and that the electoral votes more accurately represent the people without giving complete control to large population centers. Each state would maintain the number of electoral votes (number of senators plus the number of representatives). The percent a candidate gets is the percent of the electoral votes they receive.
  4. If no majority of the electoral votes is received by any candidate, the process would work as today.

As I’ve thought this through, I believe that we would see the following results:

  1. We would have a greater participation in the primary process.
  2. Party politics would have less of an effect on selection of candidates, thus also improving voter turnout.
  3. Third-party candidates would be given the voices they deserve in a democracy.
  4. We maintain the balance between rural and urban needs that the electoral college maintains, while also making individual votes matter more.
  5. We begin to erode the idea of “blue” and “red” states and binary thinking in general and our government becomes more representative of the actual population rather than political parties.

As a designer and systems philosopher, while I understand the need for a re-vamped electoral process, I think we cannot afford to just delete something we don’t like. We need to understand why it doesn’t work and for whom, how it can be made better, and move forward with an attitude of experimentation in order to truly fix it.

Lastly, I cannot stress enough the need for voter turnout to increase especially in the non-presidential cycle. The Constitution grants that the House and Senate are the direct voices of the people. They are our tools for keeping an unpopular president in check. While I believe that the electoral college can and should be redesigned, it won’t make things better if we don’t participate where it matters.

What do you think?

Ask.com search results redesign

The new ask.com

I thought I’d spend a few paragraphs on the ask.com redesign (linked above). While the search result is just about the same as the previous ask.com, with the Narrower, Broader, and Related terms being returned along with the set, the interface is significantly different.

First off, they’ve created a column on the left entirely related to your search. In there, they’ve dropped the semantic terms, the link to advanced search, and the search box. This is a great idea, since search results take up more vertical space than horizontal, so there’s still plenty of room for results in the bride of the page.

Secondly, they’ve added immediate returns on the Image, Encyclopedia, and Video results in the far right column. Something new for ask.com. This gives the page a look more of an atlas than a set of search results. Third, they’ve organized the center column so that a Best Bets result appears above the sponsored results and the result set proper.

Within the results, they bold your search term and provide a sneak peek of what the result’s web page looks like. Though I’m not entirely convinced a set of binoculars makes any sense, the functionality is welcome.

More drastically, however, is that they’ve done the entire thing using a fairly robust pageless concept. The advanced search widget appears as a layer above a ghosted background, the my stuff and options menus behave as if they were OS menu systems, and each result can be moused over and added to the “Your Stuff” section of ask.com using a little “+” icon.

There’s no evidence I can find that they’ve improved their results, however. That said, ask.com has always been — in my mind — a search engine for librarian-types: research-oriented rather than democracy-driven. A different take, but not one that is necessarily awful.

The result? Well, all of the elements of a solid result set are there: semantic (broader, narrower, related, variant) suggestions, spell-checking, best bets, and exploratory items that a user may not have thought of using (images and video). It’s a well-rounded search engine that deserves more attention than it gets.

On the flip side, while ask.com does the right thing in providing the semantically-related terms, their meta data can sometimes be off. Follow the link above, and see if you can spot the “Related Names” that aren’t necessarily something you’d expect.