walter

 

Hillary Clinton blamed the Electoral College for her stunning defeat in the 2016 presidential election in her latest memoirs, “What Happened?” Some have claimed that the Electoral College is one of the most dangerous institutions in American politics. Why? They say the Electoral College system, as opposed to a simple majority vote, distorts the one-person, one-vote principle of democracy because electoral votes are not distributed according to population.

To back up their claim, they point out that the Electoral College gives, for example, Wyoming citizens disproportionate weight in a presidential election. Put another way, Wyoming, a state with a population of about 600,000, has one member in the U.S. House of Representatives and two members in the U.S. Senate, which gives the citizens of Wyoming three electoral votes, or one electoral vote per 200,000 people. California, our most populous state, has more than 39 million people and 55 electoral votes, or approximately one vote per 715,000 people. Comparatively, individuals in Wyoming have nearly four times the power in the Electoral College as Californians.

Many people whine that using the Electoral College instead of the popular vote and majority rule is undemocratic. I’d say that they are absolutely right. Not deciding who will be the president by majority rule is not democracy. But the Founding Fathers went to great lengths to ensure that we were a republic and not a democracy. In fact, the word democracy does not appear in the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution or any other of our founding documents.

How about a few quotations expressed by the Founders about democracy? In Federalist Paper No. 10, James Madison wanted to prevent rule by majority faction, saying, “Measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.” John Adams warned in a letter, “Remember Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There never was a Democracy Yet, that did not commit suicide.” Edmund Randolph said, “That in tracing these evils to their origin, every man had found it in the turbulence and follies of democracy.” Then-Chief Justice John Marshall observed, “Between a balanced republic and a democracy, the difference is like that between order and chaos.”

The Founders expressed contempt for the tyranny of majority rule, and throughout our Constitution, they placed impediments to that tyranny. Two houses of Congress pose one obstacle to majority rule. That is, 51 senators can block the wishes of 435 representatives and 49 senators. The president can veto the wishes of 535 members of Congress. It takes two-thirds of both houses of Congress to override a presidential veto. To change the Constitution requires not a majority but a two-thirds vote of both houses, and if an amendment is approved, it requires ratification by three-fourths of state legislatures. Finally, the Electoral College is yet another measure that thwarts majority rule. It makes sure that the highly populated states -- today, mainly 12 on the East and West coasts, cannot run roughshod over the rest of the nation. That forces a presidential candidate to take into consideration the wishes of the other 38 states.

Those Americans obsessed with rule by popular majorities might want to get rid of the U.S. Senate, where states, regardless of population, have two senators. Should we change representation in the House of Representatives to a system of proportional representation and eliminate the guarantee that each state gets at least one representative? Currently, seven states with populations of 1 million or fewer have one representative, thus giving them disproportionate influence in Congress. While we’re at it, should we make all congressional acts be majority rule? When we’re finished with establishing majority rule in Congress, should we then move to change our court system, which requires unanimity in jury decisions, to a simple majority rule?

My question is: Is it ignorance of or contempt for our Constitution that fuels the movement to abolish the Electoral College?

Dr. Walter E. Williams   serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics.

(5) comments

otto

Equal representation of the states in the U.S. Senate is explicitly established in the U.S. Constitution. This feature cannot be changed by state law or an interstate compact.

In fact, equal representation of the states in the U.S. Senate may not even be amended by an ordinary federal constitutional amendment. Article V of the U.S. Constitution provides:
“No State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.”

Thus, this feature of the U.S. Constitution may only be changed by a constitutional amendment approved by unanimous consent of all 50 states.

In contrast, the U.S. Constitution explicitly assigns the power of selecting the manner of appointing presidential electors to the states. The enactment by a state legislature of the National Popular Vote bill is an exercise of a legislature’s existing powers under the U.S. Constitution.

otto

Because of state-by-state winner-take-all laws, not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution. . .

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in 2015 was correct when he said
"The nation as a whole is not going to elect the next president,"
“The presidential election will not be decided by all states, but rather just 12 of them.

Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or care about the voter concerns in the dozens of states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind.

With the end of the primaries, without the National Popular Vote bill in effect, the political relevance of 70% of all Americans was finished for the presidential election.

In the 2016 general election campaign

Over half (57%) of the campaign events were held in just 4 states (Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Ohio).

Virtually all (94%) of the campaign events were in just 12 states (containing only 30% of the country's population).

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.


Issues of importance to 38 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.”


otto

Now, the Electoral College would not prevent a candidate winning in states with 270 electoral votes from being elected President of the United States

Now 48 states have winner-take-all state laws for awarding electoral votes.
2 award one electoral vote to the winner of each congressional district, and two electoral votes statewide.
Neither method is mentioned in the U.S. Constitution.

The 538 electors are and will be dedicated party activist supporters of the winning party’s candidate who meet briefly in mid-December to cast their totally predictable rubberstamped votes in accordance with their pre-announced pledges.

The current system does not provide some kind of check on the "mobs."

otto

Now, a presidential candidate could lose despite winning 78%+ of the popular vote and 39 states.

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 only 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!

But 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 7 states have voted Republican(Texas, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Georgia) and 4 states have voted Democratic (California, New York, Illinois, 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.

With National Popular Vote, it's not the size of any given state, it's the size of their "margin" that will matter.

otto

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.

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.

The Constitution does not encourage, discourage, require, or prohibit the use of any particular method for how to award a state's electoral votes

The National Popular Vote bill is 61% of the way to guaranteeing the majority of Electoral College votes and the presidency in 2020 to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the country, by changing state winner-take-all laws (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later enacted by 48 states), without changing anything in the Constitution, using the built-in method that the Constitution provides for states to make changes.

The bill retains the constitutionally mandated Electoral College and state control of elections, and uses the built-in method that the Constitution provides for states to make changes. It ensures that every voter is equal, every voter will matter, in every state, in every presidential election, and the candidate with the most votes wins, as in virtually every other election in the country.

Every voter, everywhere, for every candidate, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election. Every vote would matter in the state counts and national count.

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