Grousing about our arcane and nonsensical Electoral College, and calling publicly for its end, have by now become time-honored election-season traditions in the United States. This year, even the Russians, themselves no paragons of functional democracy, have gotten in on the fun. Admittedly, the U.S. system is problematic, as Electoral College math dictates that Americans living in the battleground states, and no one else, will play the deciding role. On at least four occasions, including the 2000 election, this system has produced a president who failed to carry the popular vote yet won the office anyway.
The fact is that, despite the griping, the Electoral College is not going anywhere anytime soon. Originally put in place (in part) to protect the rights and interests of slave states, who might otherwise have been hesitant to join the Union, it has survived as long as it has because smaller states still value these protections. And there are more than enough small states to block any attempt at a constitutional amendment to dissolve the Electoral College -- particularly since of the three required majorities for doing so, only one, the House of Representatives, is actually dependent on population.
Yet despite these weighty burdens, United States voters can take solace in the fact that they do not bear them alone. And while culturally engrained notions of exceptionalism may lead some Americans to the patriotic presumption that "our" arcane and ridiculous electoral system must be the worst in the world (if only by virtue of it being "ours"), it's a pretty big world out there. When it comes to picking leaders, there are a few systems that are even crazier than America's.
In 1962, the French Republic abolished its own electoral college and established a system of direct popular elections to be undertaken every seven (later reduced to five) years. Out of concern that direct elections might produce a flood of fringe candidates that would needlessly complicate the process, a unique set of laws were set in place so as to weed out potentially unelectable candidates ex ante by way of some stringent vetting mechanism. Here's what they came up with...
To get on the ballot in France, a given candidate must secure at least 500 signed endorsements from among a pool of 45,000 eligible state officials, 36,569 of whom are French "mayors." These mayors, who can endorse only one candidate each, may themselves "represent" constituencies ranging in size from millions (in major cities like Paris) to the very, very small. The smallest technically represents a "village" constituency of one person: themselves.
Beyond the obvious risk for potential horse-trading, corruption, or coercion as candidates traipse around the French countryside seeking the support of elected bureaucrats and micro-constituent mayors, the fact that the lists are subsequently published has proven particularly problematic for potential outsiders. For example, although Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate in this year's election, had been polling at 20 percent in public support, she struggled greatly to fulfill the mayoral requirement as many potential nominators were hesitant to publically endorse the controversial candidate. Meanwhile, less popular figures -- like Philippe Poutou, an auto worker who leads the minor New Anticapitalist Party and did not particularly want to be president -- were able to clear the hurdle with comparative ease. While Le Pen eventually did get on the ballot, the system would seem to fall a bit short of "égalité," to say nothing of "logique."