THE UNITED STATES IS NOT A DEMOCRACY.
What appears to deprive the populace of its power to decide a president is the very mechanism that preserves its power. The Electoral College works that way because the United States isn’t a pure democracy.
The Electoral College has been on life support since a chad—specifically a “hanging” chad—tipped the White House to George W. Bush in 2000. The painful reality of how our Constitution works was never more apparent. The Gore/Lieberman ticket won the popular vote 50,994,086 to 50,461,092 but lost the electoral vote 266 to 271.
There was a lot more to it, but the punchline is that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Bush the winner because he won the electoral vote. It’s a tribute to the American national character that we weathered that cataclysm without civil war, but it left a bad taste in the electorate’s mouth.
During the 2016 Republican primary, when it looked as if Donald Trump would win the popular vote but still not reach the delegate threshold for nomination, that bad taste turned sour. Riding high on populism and “throw the bums out,” Trump complained that the election was rigged because the people wanted him, and whomever the people wanted, they should get. Fortunately for the country, Trump reached the delegate threshold, and we were spared a debacle that would have made 2000’s cataclysm look like a lemonade stand.
Cue the national election. No controversy, scandal, “info dump,” lie, corruption, defection, or dirty trick has been left unturned. Why would election night go smoothly? Frankly, the plane is going down no matter who wins; it’s only a question of water or land and how many survivors there will be. Chances aren’t looking good for the Electoral College.
“This is a democracy,” the people cry. “It should be one person-one vote, and that stupid Electoral College needs to go!” Poor Electoral College. So misunderstood. If the Electoral College has to go, it has to go, but we should at least buy it dinner first. While we’re at it, we might as well get to know it better.
Trust History: You Don’t Want Mob Rule
The sad lot of the Electoral College is that what you see isn’t what you get. Like the counter-intuitive fact that a tire blowout on the right requires a steering wheel correction to the left, the EC works backwards. What appears to deprive the populace of its power to decide a president is the very mechanism that preserves its power. It works that way because this isn’t a democracy; not a pure one.
“Pure democracy” is just another phrase for “mob rule.” Dictatorship of the majority means 51 percent of the citizenry rule the other 49 percent. That minority has no rights except those the condescending majority grants. It works well for those in the 51 percent, not so much for those in the 49. Plato knew it, and James Madison, who knew his Plato, did too. Plato and Madison both recognized that justice and liberty for the minority is possible only when power is shared between groups in society.
Plato’s “Republic” heavily influenced Madison and the other framers to devise a Constitution that protected the minority. Plato held that the ideal, i.e., just, form of government was one in which power was shared correctly between workers, warriors, and rulers. Madison held that the ideal, i.e., American, form of government was one in which power was shared correctly between judges, lawmakers, and rulers.
Inspired as it is, our Constitution protects the minority while preserving the best of democracy: we the people elect representatives to run the government (republic) and we do so by majority vote (democracy). Ergo, this is a democratic republic. Ergo, an Electoral College.
The Electoral College Balances Voting Power
The purpose of the Electoral College is to balance voting power across states so no one region of the country can gain too much control. If a president is elected by a simple majority of votes, a candidate who is wildly popular in one region (e.g., Ted Cruz in Texas, Mitt Romney in Utah) can ignore smaller regions and campaign only where large majorities are possible. Or a candidate who kills in California and New York can write off “flyover country” completely.
If, however, the Electoral College elects a president, a candidate who is wildly popular in one region must also prevail in a number of sub-elections to win. The Electoral College ensures a better result for the country as a whole than the democratic power play wherein 51 percent of us matter and 49 percent of us don’t.
Think of the Electoral College like the World Series. One person-one vote equates to the World Series Champions being determined by total number of runs scored. If the Dodgers win the first game 10-0, and the Yankees win the next four games 1-0, the Dodgers win the series. Even though the Yankees bested the Dodgers in four games, it doesn’t matter because the Dodgers scored 10 runs to their 4. One anomalous game decides the whole series. Without the Electoral College, a few heavily populated states decide the whole election.
So, the poor Electoral College sits condemned before its last meal because its power is misunderstood. How ironic—and tragic if no stay-of-execution arrives—that those who clamor for “one person-one vote” are seeking more power at the expense of power they already have.
Source: The Federalist
11 thoughts on “THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE IS STILL NEEDED”
Being a constitutional republic does not mean we should not and cannot guarantee the election of the presidential candidate with the most popular votes. The candidate with the most votes wins in every other election in the country.
Guaranteeing the election of the presidential candidate with the most popular votes and the majority of Electoral College votes (as the National Popular Vote bill would) would not make us a pure democracy.
Pure democracy is a form of government in which people vote on all policy initiatives directly.
Popular election of the chief executive does not determine whether a government is a republic or democracy.
If there were no electoral college, the most populous states would always determine who becomes the President. There would be no point in smaller states like Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, etc voting because their votes would be meaningless. The Electoral College is designed to give the smaller states a voice in the Presidential election. The Founders understood, and talked about in the Federalist Papers, the fact that direct voting for President is defective and creates a tyranny of the majority. It is mob rule.
The political reality is that the 11 largest states, with a majority of the U.S. population and electoral votes, rarely agree on any political question. In terms of recent presidential elections, the 11 largest states have included five “red states (Texas, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Georgia) and six “blue” states (California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New Jersey). The fact is that the big states are just about as closely divided as the rest of the country. For example, among the four largest states, the two largest Republican states (Texas and Florida) generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Bush, while the two largest Democratic states generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Kerry.
In 2004, among the 11 most populous states, in the seven non-battleground states, % of winning party, and margin of “wasted” popular votes, from among the total 122 Million votes cast nationally:
* Texas (62% Republican), 1,691,267
* New York (59% Democratic), 1,192,436
* Georgia (58% Republican), 544,634
* North Carolina (56% Republican), 426,778
* California (55% Democratic), 1,023,560
* Illinois (55% Democratic), 513,342
* New Jersey (53% Democratic), 211,826
To put these numbers in perspective,
Oklahoma (7 electoral votes) generated a margin of 455,000 “wasted” votes for Bush in 2004 — larger than the margin generated by the 9th and 10th largest states, namely New Jersey and North Carolina (each with 15 electoral votes).
Utah (5 electoral votes) generated a margin of 385,000 “wasted” votes for Bush in 2004.
8 small western states, with less than a third of California’s population, provided Bush with a bigger margin (1,283,076) than California provided Kerry (1,235,659).
With the current state-by-state winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later enacted by 48 states), it could only take winning a bare plurality of popular votes in the 11 most populous states, containing 56% of the population of the United States, for a candidate to win the Presidency with less than 22% of the nation’s votes!
A presidential candidate could lose winning 78%+ of the popular vote and 39 states.
Exactly. That is what it was designed to do.
The presidential election system, using the 48 state winner-take-all method or district winner method of awarding electoral votes used by 2 states, that we have today was not designed, anticipated, or favored by the Founding Fathers. It is the product of decades of change precipitated by the emergence of political parties and enactment by states of winner-take-all or district winner laws, not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution.
States have the responsibility and power to make their voters relevant in every presidential election
Link to Federalist Paper #68 where the creation of the Electoral College instead of popular vote is discussed: http://www.historycentral.com/elections/Federalist.html
Unable to agree on any particular method for selecting presidential electors, the Founding Fathers left the choice of method exclusively to the states in Article II, Section 1
“Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors….”
The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the state legislatures over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as “plenary” and “exclusive.”
The Constitution does not prohibit any of the methods that were debated and rejected. Indeed, a majority of the states appointed their presidential electors using two of the rejected methods in the nation’s first presidential election in 1789 (i.e., appointment by the legislature and by the governor and his cabinet). Presidential electors were appointed by state legislatures for almost a century.
Neither of the two most important features of the current system of electing the President (namely, universal suffrage, and the 48 state-by-state winner-take-all method) are in the U.S. Constitution. Neither was the choice of the Founders when they went back to their states to organize the nation’s first presidential election.
In 1789, in the nation’s first election, a majority of the states appointed their presidential electors by appointment by the legislature or by the governor and his cabinet, the people had no vote for President in most states, and in states where there was a popular vote, only men who owned a substantial amount of property could vote, and only three states used the state-by-state winner-take-all method to award electoral votes.
The constitutional wording does not encourage, discourage, require, or prohibit the use of any particular method for awarding a state’s electoral votes.
As a result of changes in state laws enacted since 1789, the people have the right to vote for presidential electors in 100% of the states, there are no property requirements for voting in any state, and the state-by-state winner-take-all method is used by 48 of the 50 states. States can, and have, changed their method of awarding electoral votes over the years.
Explanation of Why the Electoral College: http://www.historycentral.com/elections/Electoralcollgewhy.html
Because of state-by-state winner-take-all laws, not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution. . .
In the 2012 presidential election, 1.3 million votes decided the winner in the ten states with the closest margins of victory.
One analyst is predicting two million voters in seven counties are going to determine who wins the presidency in 2016.
With the end of the primaries, without the National Popular Vote bill in effect, the political relevance of three-quarters of all Americans is now finished for the presidential election.
In the 2016 general election campaign
Two-thirds (158 of 234) of the general-election campaign events up to the 3rd debate were in just 6 states (Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, and Iowa).
92% of the events (214 of 234) were in the 11 closely divided “battleground states” identified by Politico and The Hill.
In the 2012 general election campaign
38 states (including 24 of the 27 smallest states) had no campaign events, and minuscule or no spending for TV ads.
More than 99% of presidential campaign attention (ad spending and visits) was invested on voters in just the only ten competitive states..
Two-thirds (176 of 253) of the general-election campaign events, and a similar fraction of campaign expenditures, were in just four states (Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Iowa).
Issues of importance to non-battleground states are of so little interest to presidential candidates that they don’t even bother to poll them individually.
Charlie Cook reported in 2004:
“Senior Bush campaign strategist Matthew Dowd pointed out yesterday that the Bush campaign hadn’t taken a national poll in almost two years; instead, it has been polling [the then] 18 battleground states.”
Bush White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer acknowledging the reality that [then] more than 2/3rds of Americans were ignored in the 2008 presidential campaign, said in the Washington Post on June 21, 2009:
“If people don’t like it, they can move from a safe state to a swing state.”
Over 87% of both Romney and Obama campaign offices were in just the then 12 swing states. The few campaign offices in the 38 remaining states were for fund-raising, volunteer phone calls, and arranging travel to battleground states.
Because of state-by-state winner-take-all laws, not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution. . .
Policies important to the citizens of non-battleground states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.
“Battleground” states receive 7% more presidentially controlled grants than “spectator” states, twice as many presidential disaster declarations, more Superfund enforcement exemptions, and more No Child Left Behind law exemptions.
Compare the response to hurricane Katrina (in Louisiana, a “safe” state) to the federal response to hurricanes in Florida (a “swing” state) under Presidents of both parties. President Obama took more interest in the BP oil spill, once it reached Florida’s shores, after it had first reached Louisiana. Some pandering policy examples include ethanol subsidies, steel tariffs, and Medicare Part D. Policies not given priority, include those most important to non-battleground states – like water issues in the west.
The interests of battleground states shape innumerable government policies, including, for example, steel quotas imposed by the free-trade president, George W. Bush, from the free-trade party.
Parochial local considerations of battleground states preoccupy presidential candidates as well as sitting Presidents (contemplating their own reelection or the ascension of their preferred successor).
Even travel by sitting Presidents and Cabinet members in non-election years is skewed to battleground states
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