Jefferson on Pileggi's Plan

Writing in Slate this morning, David Weigel calls on a framer to evaluate the Pennsylvania State Senate majority leader's plan to tinker with the electoral college.

The writer gets Thomas Jefferson to weigh in on the proposed bill by Dominic Pileggi, labeled in the piece as "the most hated man in liberal America," which is saying something.

Unimpeachable, but tricky to cross-examine, Jefferson is quoted in an 1800 letter to James Monroe, on the subject of electing by more popular vote. 

In a nutshell, Pileggi's bill would split the state's 21 electoral votes, awarding them by congressional district instead of winner-take-all. In 2008, for very significant instance, Barack Obama would have pocketed just 11 of the state's votes, not 21. At present, 48 states do electoral business the current way.

Reps say their idea is more fair, more reflective and nuanced. Dems say call it a dirty trick. (The Slate piece is headlined 'College Prank.')

What would Jefferson say? Well, here's what he told his Old Dominion pal, Monroe.

All agree that an election by districts would be best, if it could be general, but while ten States choose either by their legislatures or by a general ticket, it is folly and worse than folly for the other six not to do it. In these ten States the minority is certainly unrepresented, and their majorities not only have the weight of their whole State in their scale, but have the benefit of so much of our minorities as can succeed at a district election. This is, in fact, ensuring to our minorities the appointment of the government.

Meaning, it's fair only if all states do it this way.

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