From the Battleground, by Rich Paschall
To be honest, I have thought about this for a while, OK, for years, decades perhaps. There are emotional arguments on both sides so it was not an easy decision. There is also a tradition to consider. While this may be important to many, I think there is another quality even more important. Justice.
When you think of college you may automatically assume justice and equality, but that is not the case. This college no longer provides either one and it needs to calmly and peacefully go out of existence. That, however, is not likely to happen.
If you have not already guessed, I am talking about the Electoral College. It is that time-honored tradition that has caused grief and heartache in recent presidential elections. There are “talking points” often repeated on both sides for its existence, some are valid, some are nonsense.
It would take too long to point out the history of and reasons behind the system of electors that was meant to choose the President of the United States. The law that came from the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was like many others of the time period, a compromise meant to satisfy all the states. You can find a reasonable summary at various sources, including Wikipedia. The Federalist Papers reveal the positions of James Madison and Alexander Hamilton and give insight into the thinking of the time. It is important to realize that the framework of state governments that would send electors was envisioned from an entirely different view of the nation than we have in the modern era of mass communication.
Can you imagine a group of electors, who do not hold public office and who are allegedly not beholden to any party, meeting at the state capital to debate what candidate or candidates they should support when they go to Washington to pick a president? Without the benefit of mass communication, these electors would not likely be swayed by the arguments put forth in other state capitols. How the electors were chosen or voted upon would be decided in each state. The methods varied.
With the number of electors meant to represent the population, small states argued for a minimum number. This lead to the Connecticut Compromise giving us the number of electors equal to the state representatives and senators. In other words, small states had at least three electors. In slaves states the dreadful Three Fifths Compromise was reached to determine population, counting slaves as three-fifths of a person. This really gave the slaves no representation. In some states today, people of color are counted at about the same percent, or worse.
For example, many of the small states today are predominately white. They have a minimum number of three electors and represent a much smaller number of voters than electors in large states. An elector in Wyoming represents approximately 150,000 people and an elector in California represents about 500,000 people. If an elector in California votes for president, his counterpart in Wyoming is casting a more powerful vote. That is not exactly equality. It may have been a good compromise in 1787, but today…
“No one faithful to our history can deny that the plan originally contemplated, what is implicit in its text, that electors would be free agents, to exercise an independent and nonpartisan judgment as to the men best qualified for the Nation’s highest offices.” – Supreme Court Associate Justice Robert H. Jackson
Electors are not free agents nor do they independently gather together any longer to consider the best candidates for office. They are bound by the general election. Worse yet, most states give all of their electors to the winner of the popular vote in the state. This has led to the unfortunate situation of “red states” and “blue states.” If a state with thirty electors has a winner by 5 votes, all thirty electors go to that winner. If a different candidate wins a state with the same number of electors by a million and 5 votes, the election is tied at that point despite one being ahead by a million votes. Why shouldn’t the electors be proportioned according to the will of the people? This would lead to a result likely in line with the overall popular vote. At present, someone with a ten million vote lead could lose the election.
For all the whining and complaining we do about people not voting, this red and blue states fiasco feeds the problem. I always vote, but what does my vote mean? All of the candidates I vote for are going to win and all of the electors of my state will go to the Democrat. My vote is not going to matter really. It is the same for the Republicans. Their candidate is going to lose. In the old days he may have picked up some electors, but not in modern times. We have successfully disenfranchised a large portion of the voters in the states that are solid red or blue.
Justice Jackson had said of the system of party electors we have devised now is one of “voluntary party lackeys and intellectual non-entities.” In other words, it has nothing to do with the original intent of the Electoral College. It has been perverted over the years and takes away the desires of a large percentage of voters in most states. Alexander Hamilton’s view was that we would have a choice “made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station [of president].” We don’t have that.
There was the original concern that a popular vote would lead to campaigning only in the larger cities where a candidate might get the most votes. But isn’t that what has happened? Worse yet, they only campaign in Battleground states, that is, those that might go red or blue. Why come to Illinois? You can not pick up any electors and the winning over of a hundred thousand voters in Cook County (Chicago and suburbs) would actually mean nothing when 74 percent are voting blue.
When I was young we actually voted for electors rather than for president. In small print was the name of the person they had pledged to support for president. Now we vote for the president and have no idea who are the electors.
“It was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder. This evil was not least to be dreaded in the election of a magistrate, who was to have so important an agency in the administration of the government as the President of the United States.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Papers, No. 68, March 14, 1788.
The system of electors, as originally conceived, was meant to have us avoid “tumult and disorder.” But we have strayed so far from the original intent we have created tumult, disorder, and an election process that could make the loser, the winner. Hamilton was concerned about an unqualified candidate, someone of “low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity” reaching office. Isn’t that what happened last time out? Didn’t it almost happen again?
The majority of American people see a danger in this process and want the Electoral College abolished. But it is not the Constitutional process that is the problem, but the door that Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 left open for the states to distort the system.
Sources: “61% Of Americans Want The Electoral College Abolished,” Niall McCarthy, Forbes.com November 4, 2020.
“Is the Electoral College a Problem? Does It Need to Be Fixed?” By Michael Gonchar and nytimes.com, October 8, 2020, updated October 29, 2020.
“The Electoral College Is Actually Worse Than You Think—Here’s Why,” By Why should Wyoming voters have more power than Californians?” response to Jonah Goldberg, LAtimes.com, September 20, 2020.