Presidential election

I completely forgot, but there was a significant presidential election yesterday, in a very large country with a very restricted electorate.

Just 538 voters cast ballots, a tiny fraction of the country’s adult population, but the only citizens constitutionally entitled to vote for the country’s chief executive.

Evidently, someone who was a mere state legislator just four years ago was the choice of this elite class of voters. Intriguing.

(Thanks to Steven for the reminder and inspiration.)

12 thoughts on “Presidential election

  1. Interesting factoid:
    two of Washington State’s eleven electors in 2008 are Muslim-Americans.

    In a republican, presidential-executive constitution that’s largely devoid of purely ceremonial positions [1] (no Life Peers, no Governors-General [2], no Social and Cultural Council) [3], I suppose the office of Presidential Elector is one way in which American political elites can give a symbolic “gong” to minority groups that don’t fare too well in single-seat plurality elections.

    Yes, of course, the Electoral College is plurality on steroids – but still, because it’s a multi-member closed list, it has the big advantage that even an STV shill like I must concede that all closed lists have. Whether you get 1 vote for 11 seats or 11 votes for 11 seats, the parties can give winnable seats to members of otherwise-under-represented groups, or to eminent individuals who don’t want to get their hands dirty by saying publicly “Vote for me and not my opponents”.

    I once met a youngish US pol sci professor [4] who (I was surprised to out find later, when I googled her CV to track down a publication she’d mentioned) had been an Elector a few years earlier. It reminded me of a colleague’s anecdote about meeting a 24-year-old UK Lord who’d been in the Upper House since he was 22. (Although I suppose being an Elector is the very opposite of a lifelong peerage in terms of length of tenure!).

    [1] I have some idea that the US Treasurer (distinct from the Treasury Secretary) is a largely ceremonial, tenured civil service position – signing the dollar bills but not much else. Is that correct?

    [2] One ought to be careful right now describing Governors-General as “purely” ceremonial, but the occasional crisis involving Sir John or Mme Jean only occurs about once or twice a century.

    [3] As in Holland, I believe, and one could include about a third of the Irish Senate in this category also.

    [4] For an Australian, a “professor” under 40 seems impossibly young. I quickly learned that in the US, I could call myself “Professor” but couldn’t call myself “Doctor” (being a mere PhD, not an MD), whereas Down Under it’s vice versa. I suppose they mainly want to know which passengers are qualified to render emergency assistance if someone chokes on their peanuts aboard the Qantas flight.

  2. From Wikipedia:

    “The Treasurer of the United States (established September 6, 1777) […] should not be confused with the far more powerful cabinet level position of Secretary of the Treasury. […] Eager to appoint a woman to a prominent political position, President Harry S Truman appointed Georgia Neese Clark Treasurer in 1949. Since then, every subsequent Treasurer has been a woman, and five of the past nine Treasurers have also been Hispanic.”

  3. For the record, in Australia, the Treasurer is a senior minister and widely regarded as the second member of the government, often more important than the deputy prime minister, and the Secretary of the Treasury is a neutral, professional public servant.

  4. What Alan said. Terminology is often odd. Australia has Governors who don’t govern, while the US has a President who does more than just preside. And we both have Speakers who don’t speak on Bills in the lower house.

  5. I ended up doing some counting. I looked at all prime ministers since the retirement of Robert Menzies in 1966. There have been 9.

    Menzies was himself a former treasurer but he’s a good start point because he first became prime minister in 1939, lost office in 1941, regained it in 1949 and retained it until his retirement. Menzies emphasises the the job’s importance though, because he served as his own treasurer during his first term.

    6 of the 9 post-Menzies prime ministers came to office with previous cabinet experience. 4 of them were former treasurers. 2 PMs were removed by their own party in this time. In both cases the new prime minister was a former treasurer. There was a wide expectation during the Howard government that he would ultimately be succeeded by his treasurer but the electorate put an end to that plan.

    It’s obviously good to be the treasurer.

  6. The broad pattern of finance ministers going on to be Prime Ministers applies in the UK as well, although only to those who succeed as PM without an election: Brown (2007), Major (1990) and Macmillan (1957) all went straight from Chancellor to Prime Minister. The other option is Foreign Secretary: Callaghan (1976), Douglas-Home (1963) and Eden (1955). Callaghan had previously served as Chancellor in 1964-67, and remains the only person to have been Home Secretary and gone on to become PM since Churchill. Of the top offices, Home Secretary makes one associated with perceived policy failure, and Foreign Secretary takes one away from parliamentary colleagues.

    Of Prime Ministers who are elected from opposition, there have been no former Chancellors since, again, Churchill.

  7. Presidential Elections can be reformed in a better way.

    – Each state holds the election with one requirement: a candidate must win an absolute majority for the votes in order for the results to be bound, or else there’s a runoff.

    – Voters get a number of votes equal to the square root of the number of Electoral Votes that state is entitled to (something similar to Switzerland’s “panachage” system, also letting voters write-in candidates not on the ballot and also giving a listed candidate a cumulative vote or erasing a listed candidate)

    – Proportional representation could work very well for the Electoral College.

  8. Totally hypothetical question and I will not engage with comments about whether a particular president in any real world country has or has not engaged in any particular conduct.

    Let us assume that Skyresh Bolgolam, of the Bigendian Party, has been elected President of the Federated States of Lilliput. After the election it is proved that Bolgolam entered into an unlawful conspiracy with the Emperor of Blefescu to effect the result and Bolgolam is forced to resign.

    As a matter of democratic design should the Bigendians retain the presidency or should there be a new election?

    • I would say that the answer should be no, not automatically.

      I’m not averse to the possibility of the legislature being allowed to remove the President through a super-majority and trigger new elections (in order to resolve serious conflicts between the President and legislature) without the President necessarily having even committed an impeachable offence. However, I think that requiring new elections after an impeachment is a hard, inflexible answer to the obviously very variable question of the extent to which the Vice-President and the party are responsible for the crimes of the President.

      I also have the concern that requiring new elections could create a perverse incentive for the party of an incumbent President to hold back on support for impeachment, leaving a crooked President in office in the hope that the scandal will blow over (given how poorly the Bigendian Party would perform in an election immediately after the exposure of President Bolgolam as a traitor).

      • I hope this is a thought experiment and not a thought bubble. I am more focused on the case where the election is tainted by President Bolgolam’s own conduct.

        Let us stipulate that Vice-President Flimnap is also inculpated in Blefuscugate but the Bigendian Party as a whole are not.

      • It’s my view that it would be reasonable for a special election to be held if both the President and Vice-President were implicated in a scandal, and either resign or are impeached.

  9. Institutions Have Consequences, installment #4,709:
    “… [Trump] proposed at one point to cut off disaster aid to fire-ravaged California because its residents would never support him anyway. (This is the sort of abuse invited by the Electoral College; a national popular vote would incentivize a president to worry about the millions of potential lost votes in the largest state.)…”

    Jonathan Chait, “Ex-Aide: Trump Cited ‘Magical Authorities’ to Ignore law. Trump Claims Not to Know Latest Former Aide to Call Him a Dangerous Maniac,” NY Magazine (17 August 2020),

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.