The Flaws in America's Electoral College - and Ours

Like the U.S., we too have an electoral college made of 'states,' some of which are underrepresented, like Israel's non-Jewish citizens, and some that are disproportionately influential, like settlers and Haredim.

Two days before the U.S. presidential race is decided, the fact that President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney are running neck-and-neck presents the real possibility of a contradictory outcome between the two vote counts - that of the popular vote and that of the electoral vote - with the latter ultimately deciding the election.

If more people vote for Romney but Obama gets the majority of the 538 electoral votes, the Republicans may doubt the validity of the victory, if not actually challenge it legally. But such a result is not a malfunction: It is an expression of the internal logic of America's Founding Fathers.

As per its name, the United States of America is not one country of a few hundred million people. It is a federation of secondary entities that agreed to unite into one, on condition that some measure of the states' rights was preserved. This is why the states have considerable power via the two houses of Congress, and why there is a need for special majorities of both Congress and the states to make amendments to the constitution. These act as a counterweight to the power of the federal government. The banner of "states' rights" is preserved in the presidential election process.

The president and his vice president are actually elected indirectly, by electors from each state, not directly by the 230 million eligible U.S. voters. The number of electors assigned to each state reflects its population. And under U.S. law, this is a winner-takes-all proposition - whoever gets the most votes in a given state gets all its electors, not a proportion. To disband the Electoral College (the body of these electors ) as obsolete would be similar to an initiative to revamp the structure of the United Nations by declaring it no longer a body of nations but a supra-body for all citizens of the world. In this new organization, without the Security Council that gives a veto to the five major powers, billions of Chinese and Indians and hundreds of millions of Moslems and Arabs would be accorded their fair weight. Under such circumstances it is clear that Israelis, as opposed to the State of Israel, would be deemed slightly less important.

To say "whites will vote Romney, and blacks and Hispanics will vote Obama" are gross generalizations - but no less than the bottom lines of "California and New York always vote Democratic" and "Texas votes Republican," which essentially reflect the helplessness of the minority parties in those states. Millions of Republicans in New York and California, and Democrats in Texas, have essentially no say in the election of their president; they will nearly always suffer from a local disadvantage, which effectively cancels out their votes.

But before Israel preens over how superior its electoral process is compared to America's clumsy one, it would behoove us to realize that we have a similar model, wrapped somewhat differently. We also have "states" that are seriously under-represented, first and foremost Arabia, the state of Israel's non-Jewish citizens. Among the Jewish majority, the small states of Settleria and Haredinia, with several hundred thousand people in each, have more power than the larger state of Middleclassia, whose millions of residents pay taxes and serve in the army.

The accumulating frustration about this sparked the summer protests of 2011, led to the phenomenon of Moshe Kahlon and fuels the positive images associated with Shelly Yacimovich and Tzipi Livni, who are painted as reflecting the desires of the majority being oppressed by a minority that enjoys extra rights, not least because they are perceived as coming from the oppressed sector and sharing its troubles. Between the two of them, the polls slightly favor Yacimovich. She is broadcasting pugnacity and a willingness to build a power base and to use it, and is also breathing some fighting spirit into a party that's alive and kicking, while Livni is still deliberating and lacks an organizational framework. It's as if the two of them could be involved in a mud wrestling competition, Shelly as a wrestler, Tzipi as a referee.

The Labor Party constitution allows Yacimovich to insert two known vote-getters among the top 10 slots on its Knesset list. If Livni gives the nod, the No. 2 slot, along with a commitment to receive the foreign affairs portfolio and be a full partner in determining policy, could be hers. Labor is still missing a "security" persona as the third leg of the triangle. One possibility, though not as a Knesset member but only as a minister after appropriate legislation, could be retired military chief Gabi Ashkenazi, currently a victim of the law that mandates a cooling-off period of three years for army officers before they can enter politics.

A large majority of the people are turned off by the vision of the continuing leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Some systems need to be smashed and some lines crossed for there to be full congruence between the will of the majority and its expression by Israel's "electors," the heads of its Knesset factions.