1 Modern Day
With the recent election of 2000 still fresh in the minds of the nation, the electoral college has become of great recent concern. In that election George W. Bush defeated Albert Gore, Jr. even though Gore had the majority of the popular vote. This angered many in the ignorant masses who felt that they had somehow been cheated out of a president. This was of particular concern since the election came down to the electoral votes in Florida, a closely contested state in which the final results were not clear.
This is not to say that the electoral college has not been the subject of scrutiny before. On the contrary, the electoral college has been the single most criticized element of the Constitution. Over the past 200 years, more than 700 proposals have been introduced to Congress in attempts to abolish the college. The American Bar Association has called the electoral college "archaic" and "ambiguous," and, in 1987, a polling of lawyers showed that 69 percent favored abolishing it. Similarly, public opinion polls have shown Americans favored abolishing it by majorities of 58 percent in 1967, 81 percent in 1968, and 75 percent in 1981.
Political scientists, however, continually support the electoral college and no attempt to eradicate it has been successful.
Even in its bastardized form, the electoral college still has a profound effect on elections today.
The key complaint of those opponents of the electoral college lies in the argument that it is an anachronistic system that serves no actual purpose.
They feel that what the electoral college does do is take away the vote from the people. It is difficult for many to understand how an individual who is not the first choice of the majority of the people can become president. When they are told that this outcome was decided by a system that has been around for hundreds of years, including their entire lifetime, but that they never really acknowledged its existence before, they become even more confused. They see that the system seems to usually not matter at all but only occasionally allows an election to be stolen.
The electoral college does have positive aspects, however.
1.2 Urban v. Rural
One purported effect of the electoral college is that it forces presidential candidates to campaign across the nation. In a direct popular election it is conceivable that a president could be elected by just winning the votes of a select few major metropolises. In a popular election, a skillful politician could win the favor of the voters in New York, New York; Los Angeles, California; and one other major city and have the election fairly well wrapped up.
With the electoral college, winning New York and Los Angeles may allow a candidate to win both the state of New York and California, which is often the case, but it does not allow them to take the entire election. In order to become president they must campaign throughout a relatively large distribution of the states.
1.3 State Sovereignty
The Constitution was a compact among sovereign nations.
While fighting the revolutionary war, each of the thirteen colonies was fighting for its individual independence. The Articles of Confederation merely formed a weak bond between the states. With the failure of the weak Articles it was seen that a stronger connection would be beneficial. Nevertheless, the Constitution was not meant to deny the states their status as nations.
Even with the Constitution, the occupants of the several states still thought of themselves primarily as citizens of their state. Prior to the civil war, the United States still were as opposed to the now common the United States is. Letters written back home by Union soldiers fighting in the south often expressed a desire of the soldier to return to their home country, meaning their home state.
Constitutional basis for state sovereignty is also easy to find.
Prior to the seventeenth amendment, Senators were chosen by the state legislatures. The members of the upper house of Congress were meant to be representatives of the states in the new government. They were meant not only to be a counterbalance to the popularly elected House of Representatives but also a custodian of state interests.
Although confusing upon initial examination, the eleventh amendment also confirms state sovereignty. It protects the right of a sovereign nation to not be sued. Under it, a suit can not be brought against one of the states by any citizen without the express consent of the state. The jurisdiction of the federal judiciary is to be in no way construed to cover such a suit.
Although not evident in the 2000 election, the ability of the electoral college to provide a mandate where one is not present in the popular vote is important. The electoral college can make close elections not seem so close. This helps to reduce the effect that a close election can have on a nation, particularly disunion and strife.
Although not much of an example in terms of lessening disunion, the election of 1860 is a shining example of how the electoral college can skew election results. The election was won by Abraham Lincoln, who had only 39.8 percent of the popular vote. The next closest candidate in the popular vote was Stephen A. Douglas, who had 29.5 percent. However, in the electoral college Lincoln dominated. He won with 180 electoral votes. In contrast, Douglas received only 12 electoral votes.
1.5 Third Parties and Smaller States
Not only is the electoral college part of the Constitution, it is also likely to remain as such.
There are two main forces stopping a reformation of the electoral college. First, the current system effectively eliminates third parties from serious contention. With the winner-takes-all system in effect in nearly every state, third parties are stifled. Needless to say, the two dominant political parties, Democrats and Republicans, greatly enjoy this. It would therefore be incredibly difficult to get two-thirds of Congress to propose an amendment that might affect their perpetual domination.
Even if a proposal were to pass Congress, however, it would likely never be ratified by the states. Article V not only requires two-thirds of Congress to propose an amendment, it also requires that three-fourths of the states ratify it. The smaller states benefit too much from the electoral college for them to take any action against it.
It is clear that there are benefits that come along with the electoral college of today. The electoral college, however, was not always the way it is. A smattering of factors influenced its change.
2.1 Emergence of Political Parties
Foremost was the development of the party system in America. Many of the framers were actively opposed to factions. Many of those who did anticipate them never supposed that we would have a long-standing, well-entrenched party system.
2.1.1 Twelfth Amendment
The election of 1796 presented a unique situation. With the departure of George Washington the United States had, for the first time, an election on their hands. Additionally, two distinct political philosophies had emerged. The election ended with the leading men of those two philosophies in first and second place in the electoral college. Thus arose the peculiar situation of a president who had a vice president not of the same party. John Adams, who was an ardent Federalist, became the president and Thomas Jefferson, a Jeffersonian Republican surprisingly enough, became the vice president.
Interparty struggles were even more pronounced in the election of 1800. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were leading candidates once again, but they would not finish in first and second place. Both had clearly acknowledged running mates. Once the votes were counted, it was found that Jefferson had triumphed over Adams. Unfortunately, as there was no way at that time for an elector to differentiate between his preference between president and vice president, Jefferson tied his running mate Aaron Burr.
It took 37 ballots for the lame duck Congress1 to decide upon Jefferson as president. With the adoption of the twelfth amendment in 1804 this problem was eliminated. Unfortunately, it also demonstrated that the electors were no longer voting for the two most able candidates for leader of this country. They were voting for a man and his sidekick, and they were voting for people who shared their own views.
2.1.2 Choice of Electors
Regulating elections is a reserved power of the states. The Constitution does not provide for how the electors must be chosen in a state. It is therefore up to the states to decide how the electoral college will ultimately work.
Unfortunately, the state legislatures in every state have decided to turn the responsibility of nominating electors over to the political parties. The parties tend to worry less about ability when nominating electors and more about loyalty to the party. Electorships are handed out like door prizes to the party faithful.
In many states, electors are bound either by state law or party pledge to vote for the candidate they have said they will vote for. No longer are they making an educated decision for the people, they are merely acting as a proxy for the people.
Additionally, every state except for Maine and Nebraska has now embraced the winner-takes-all system. Now, with a simple majority in a state, a candidate can win all of the electoral votes for that state. This is the leading cause of the disenfranchisement that many feel at the hands of the electoral college.
2.2 Emergence of Democracy
It has become fashionable of late to refer to this nation as a democracy. It most certainly is not.
A quick look at a vintage 1927 civics textbook tells us that "...we call the United States a federal republic." A similar textbook from 1990 tells us that the United States is a democracy.
The 1927 textbook also examines many political systems. In addition to republics, it also defines democracies, monarchies, and others. The 1990 textbook, however, only defines democracies and dictatorships. Rather than presenting the wide range of the political spectrum it only focuses on the far ends.
It is now assumed in our society that the choice of the people is good. That people are good in general. We rebelled against control while we fought rhetorical fights against the controls of dictatorships, particularly of the communist variety.
Our high-falutin', glittering generalities have led the majority of the citizens in our nation to believe that democracy is good.
3 Original Intent
The United States of America were not meant to be bound together as a democracy. When one pledges allegiance to the flag, they do so. "And to the republic for which it stands." It is mindlessly repeated by school children across this nation, yet a key piece of its message does not take hold. One does not pledge allegiance to the democracy in America, for there is not one. There is a republic.
When Benjamin Franklin was approached by a woman at the conclusion of the convention's proceedings on September 17, 1787, who asked, "Dr. Franklin, what form of government have you given us?" Franklin's reply was quite simple. "A republic, Madam, if you can keep it."
The framers were intelligent and interested developers of this nation. They had good reason when they created a republic and not a democracy.
A foremost issue was the simple logistics of running a democracy across a great nation.
Democracies have, throughout history, been limited to relatively small, homogeneous areas. The primary examples are, of course, the Greek city-states. It simply takes too much time and effort for citizens to vote on every single issue on a much larger scale.
This was particularly true back in the day. At the founding of the United States, they were unique in at least one respect. They held a tremendous amount of land, particularly in relation to the number of peoples populating them. Additionally, they lacked a well-established system of roadways. The postal service was incredibly slow at best.
However, even now, with the emergence of a smaller world through technology, democracy still is not a viable alternative.
3.2 Democratic Spirit
Led by Alexander Hamilton, the founders feared "the amazing violence and turbulence of the democratic spirit." At the founding of this nation, democracy was still a dirty word.
And not for no good reason either. The founders had been witness to the aforementioned "amazing violence and turbulence" before. Nothing more than the recent Shay's Rebellion needed be looked at to demonstrate why "rule by the mob" was a bad idea.
They were not likely to forget any time soon. The French revolution which closely followed the American one quickly spiraled into a deep pit of democratic fervor. The French were only removed from their "Reign of Terror" by a dictator, the vertically-challenged Napoleon Bonaparte.
The government of the United States of America was designed to respect the rights of the minority as well as those of the majority. It is not altogether rare that a minority attempts to restrict the rights of the majority. It is however, more common, for a majority to pick on a minority.
The people can not all be informed on all subjects at the same time. It is inconceivable that every voter should be a master of political science. We have a representative government because it takes more than the average citizen to make informed decisions. The average American is unable to keep track of all the issues surrounding an election.
Thereby it is also not surprising that the people overwhelmingly favor abolishment of the electoral college. How are they to know its real benefits?
Even when an individual is able to be informed of all the issues surrounding an election, chances are still that they will not be able to understand them. The average American is relatively uneducated and incapable of making the best decisions for the nation in the long run.
So even with the advent of communications technologies that would seem to allow the issues to be brought to all mankind, election by the people is still not appropriate.
Also tied in with greater communication is the greater ease with which the people can be led. By capitalizing on many of the flaws of the people which are covered below, Lyndon B. Johnson was able to become president. His "daisy" commercial2 is one of the single most famous pieces of election propaganda ever.
Thereby it is also not surprising that the people overwhelmingly favor abolishment of the electoral college. The unwashed masses do not appreciate being told they should take a bath.
The people have a tendency to think with their hearts and not their minds. It is because of this that the ignorant, unwashed masses tend to vote Democratic. Bleeding-heart liberals have difficulty understanding how helping the poor and the needy might not always be the best idea. They have difficulty comprehending the intricacies of situations.
It is no surprise that the public has overwhelmingly supported an amendment banning the burning of the American flag for all recent memory. The House of Representatives3 has proposed such an amendment many a time. It is luck that the cooler heads of the Senate, who have longer periods between elections and thus are not as much at the will of the people, have prevailed.
Thereby it is also not surprising that the people overwhelmingly favor abolishment of the electoral college. Democracy just sounds too good.
The people can easily be scared into submission. Fear runs deep in them.
After the terrible tragedy of September 114 the balance of power between state and national governments became almost nonexistent as the national government quickly grabbed all the power it could, even if unrelated to homeland defense. Similarly, President George W. Bush has almost completely abolished the system of checks and balances through numerous Executive Orders and other usurpations of power.
The scary thing is not that this happened, but that the people clamored for it. President Bush has some of the highest approval ratings of any president, possibly matched only by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Thereby it is also not surprising that the people overwhelmingly favor abolishment of the electoral college. Communism is a really creepy thought.
Overwhelmingly it seems that the people just do not care. Voter turnout levels have always been anemic and recently they have only gotten lower. Many people are happy just to live their lives and worry little about what governmental system they are living it under.
Thereby it is also not surprising that the people overwhelmingly favor abolishment of the electoral college. If it really does not matter anyways.
Let us keep in mind the framers' intentions. The electoral college in its current form is little more than a convoluted popular vote. A popular vote allows life-time political elitists who are detached from reality take advantage of the common man and say that it is all for the children.
An amendment to the Constitution reforming or abolishing the electoral college is not only unlikely to pass, it is also unnecessary. Through the mere reformation of the state procedures for selecting electors, a buffer zone between the popular passions and the executive can be established once again.
1The problem of a lame duck Congress deciding elections where there is either a tie or no candidate receives a plurality of the vote was not rectified until the adoption of the 20th amendment in 1933.
2This commercial showed a tiny girl counting as she tore the petals off of a daisy. Her count was then turned into a nuclear countdown. The commercial painted many an unfounded untruth about his opponent and had little real relevance. It did, however, convince the people.
3Representatives of the people.
4Terrorists flew planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and into the Pentagon.
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