PArdon the lack of formatting...here's an old rough of it.
In Defense of the Electoral College
Every four years, on the Tuesday following the first Monday of November, millions of Americans go to the polls, and cast their vote for the candidate, or in some cases, party, of their choice. Some go thinking that they truly voted for that candidate, that the votes are tallied by counting each individual vote. Others go with some knowledge of the inner workings of our Electoral College system. This system was established by Article II, section 1 of the U. S. Constitution, and was further clarified by the Twelfth Amendment. There has been much gnashing of teeth by some over this system, a few proposals to change it, but to date, there is not a better-proposed system for the election of the President of the United States.
The College itself was established by our founding fathers, to serve as a compromise between the Antifederalist desire to have a purely popular election, and some Federalists who desired that our Congress select the President. Both absolutes have major drawbacks, and a compromise was seen as the best solution, as compromise oft is. The College itself is composed of a member for each member of the House of Representatives, one for each Senator, and, because of the Twenty-third Amendment, three for the District of Columbia. State laws generally handle the appointment of the actual electors. In many cases, these are appointed positions. Though in many elections the question of “Renegade electors” is brought up, it has happened less than a handful of times. These electors are generally older, life long party faithful, and it is considered an honor bestowed upon them. Besides, even if they were to “cross over,” it is not as if the party they crossed to would view them as trustworthy. In any case, there is a slate of electors for each party’s candidate. If a state is “won,” by popular vote, a Statement of Ascertainment is prepared, and those electors are called upon to actually vote for their candidate. (Two states, Maine and Nebraska, do allow a split slate of electors to be chosen.) If there is not a majority of electoral votes won, the Twelfth Amendment cedes the election to the House of Representatives. It is wise to keep in mind, however, that while the likelihood of an elector crossing over, or even a group, is minutely small, it is possible, as there are no federal laws mandating electors vote as the popular vote dictates. In our latest election, a grass-roots organization called “Citizens for True Democracy” urged electors to ignore the state level popular vote, and to vote along the lines of the counted popular vote:
As one of 538 members of the Electoral College, you will help to determine the future of American democracy. If the Electoral College contradicts the nation's popular vote, American democracy will face a serious legitimacy crisis. You have the power to help our nation avert this crisis. I understand that you are committed to support George W. Bush, but before doing so, you should weigh America's national interest. Your state, unlike many others, does not legally require you to vote for your party's candidate. To the best of my knowledge, you will face no penalties whatsoever if you decide to vote with America. Patriotism should come before partisanship. I trust that you will make the responsible choice (Enrich).
While no electors changed their votes, this would have made for a fascinating turn of events.
Alexander Hamilton was the author of Federalist Number 68, a piece whose sole purpose was to defend the use of the Electoral College. In it, he touched on several points. Many people wonder what precisely was behind the creation of the Electoral College. Hamilton sums it up best: “Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption.” (Hamilton). At this point in our young nation’s history, there was still a large fear of corruption, and rightfully so after their experience with King George and his minions. They were very clear in their fear of foreign interests playing any role in a U. S. election. He was also clear in his desire not to allow people to elect themselves: “No senator, representative, or other person holding a place of trust or profit under the United States can be of the number of electors” (Hamilton). The Electoral College also defends us against “Cultist Mentality.” That is to say, one cannot simply “pick” a region of the United States, and campaign the hardest their, no matter the cause. The Federalists wanted a “Renaissance Man” of sorts, one who appealed to the nation as a whole. Cleveland attempted to steal the election in this manner in the election of 1888, by racking up high vote tallies in the South. However, with the safety net of the Electoral College in place, his efforts were thwarted. “Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union” (Hamilton). There was also a slight concern for violence against the electors, as well as a concern for regional mischief. To combat this, electors were spread out, and acts of violence would be unlikely, as they would be putting forth the wants and desires of that elector’s home region. Imagine the potential peril if all the electors were to meet in a pro-slavery state, and they cast their votes to an anti-slavery candidate. This is merely a theoretical situation, as at the time there was no real anti-slavery moment, but their farsightedness to matters that did not exist before them is truly impressive. The Antifederalist did have some qualms with this system. However. One of their chief concerns, cited in Antifederalist No. 72, was that electors would essentially be voting for someone they did not know. Article II, section 1 of the Constitution outlines that the President and Vice-President must not be from the same state. Basically, since travel was a luxury, and some times an impracticality, voting for two candidates, one whom did not reside in the same state, put the electors in a position of “voting for two, one or both of whom they know nothing about” (Republicus). The Antifederalists were very untrustworthy of the process, and saw plenty of room for Congressional shenanigans. They seemed to embrace fully the axiom, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely,” though their fears were somewhat misplaced, as there was no “Absolute power” in this venture. They did go as far as to decry the Federalist movement as depriving them of legitimate government, and creating a system of slavery, with those in charge being the slave masters (Republicus). As in most cases, the Federalists and Antifederalists were on far different pages. Fortunately, in this case, the well thought out plan that the Federalists devised, came to fruition. It did allow people to vote directly, while putting in a system of balance to stop any regional mischievous acts from determining the Presidency.
Though it would shock people today, the popular vote was a tally that was not even kept until the election of 1824. This was the point where it became chic to decry the use of the Electoral College. Andrew Jackson claimed that he had been somehow cheated, because he had won the popular vote, yet lost the election. Small problem with that claim: only six states even recorded the popular vote at that point. Why only six? To put it simply, the popular vote did not matter, one way or the other. The rules of the game were to take the majority of the electoral votes. Popular votes were not at all relevant to the matter at hand. Jackson invented the theory of “popular will,” when he claimed that the House had “thwarted the will of the people.” He would later be lauded by historians for the creation of “Jacksonian Democracy,” but I fail to see any positives in conducting a campaign in this manner. As we move to the next “Constitutional Crisis,” we find the naysayers of the Electoral College focusing on a claim that the election of 1876 proved that the Electoral College could produce bizarre numbers. This is not at all the case. Hayes won the election of 1876 by using a “small-state strategy.” That is to say, he exploited a “weakness” of the small state in the Electoral College. That weakness is, picking up a small amount of voters in a small state, will give you enough votes to win the state, and pick up the electoral votes. Hayes carried all small states, with the exception of Delaware. By concentrating on the smaller states, he surrendered several larger, more populous areas, and may have lost the “popular vote” by close to 250,000 votes. The 250,000 votes are not relevant to the electoral process at all. What is relevant is that he won the electoral vote, all be it by merely one vote. He did, never the less, play by the rules we lay down, and therefore, deserved to win. Finally, in 1888, we had Grover Cleveland, who again won the popular vote, but lost the electoral vote. Cleveland was one of the men that Hamilton wrote Federalist No. 68 in reference to, it seems. He won a huge proportion of the Southern votes, by campaigning on a message geared toward Southerners: tariff reduction. Doing this however, was not conducive to a winning Presidential strategy. Ideally, one campaigns to the fringes in a primary, but in a Presidential election, moderate views are pushed. Tariffs were a Republican hot spot at that point in time, and when Cleveland moved to do away with them all together, he ostracized himself from Republican support. He had a solid base of Republican support in 1884, but when he did this, he essentially drove them away, hoping the South would be enough to carry him. Unfortunately for him, our founding fathers in their infinite wisdom saw past this kind of nonsense, and were far sighted enough to even address this particular issue in the federalist papers. Harrison did not “steal the election,” by any means. A more truthful assessment of this political blunder is that Cleveland snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
Now, the question is, how does all this relate to today’s Electoral College. Quite simply, it still works in the manner it was meant. If we analyze Election 2000, we see the Electoral College working exactly as it should. For starters, we have to keep in mind that the popular vote was an irrelevant number, which was brought into play by a losing candidate in 1824. Nowhere does the Constitution, or the 12th amendment, or the United States Code reference “popular vote” as a prerequisite for winning an election. Therefore, as we reside in Texas, it was quite clear that Mr. Bush would carry our state. Many people do see this as a reason not to vote, as the state’s electoral votes are not in question. The same can be said for California, a state that was heavily carried by Democrats. So, it is impossible to determine what percent of people, if we had all voted, would have voted for Mr. Gore, or President Bush. Moreover, there is no reason to determine it, because it is simply not part of the equation. What matters is this: Bush took 271 electoral votes, and Gore took 267. A majority, as set forth by our founding fathers, was taken, and a winner was therefore declared. Now, if we analyze the county-by-county breakdown, we do see an interesting trend occurring: The fear of Mr. Hamilton was once again addressed.
In a statistical analysis of square miles of counties won, population of counties won, and the growth of said counties won we get the following data: Gore won 575,184 square miles of counties to Bush’s 2,432,456; Gore’s won counties population totaled 127, 000, 000 while Bush’s total was 143,000,000; The growth of these county’s won, was Gore, at 5% to Bush, at 14%. The most telling statistic? Gore won 676 counties. Bush, in 2,436. The Federalists nailed it (Overberg). Many of us saw the telltale map during the election. “Vast stretches of red across the rural heartland, all Republican George W. Bush country. A coastal perimeter and urban patches of blue, where Democrat Al Gore prevailed (Lawrence). Yes, Gore did receive more tallied popular votes than Bush. However, this is akin to watching a football game and attempting to declare the winner the person who got the most passing first downs. The only thing that matters is the final score, and Bush’s campaign did best Gore’s campaign by four. The process, once again, survived a “Constitutional Crisis.” Naturally, there are detractors to the above data. Not that they do not believe the numbers, per se, but that they believe the numbers were arrived at by a fraudulent disenfranchisement of particular voting classes. (Sekler & Perez, 2003)
Now, knowing that some feel slighted by not truly voting for the President, there is an Electoral College reformatory movement out there, with many options. Option one, of course, is status quo. I believe if it is not broke, we have no business breaking it ourselves by throwing a new system in place. We have a proven winner, why create potential chaos?
In 1977, there was a proposed Constitutional Amendment for direct election of the President. It had strong support from the American Bar Association, League of Women Voters, Common Cause, Chamber of Commerce of the United States, and the AFL-CIO. The proposed amendment was introduced to the Senate, and failed to make get the required two-third’s vote to move toward passage (Avagara). There is also a movement for proportional allocation of electoral votes. This is being pushed strong by a grass roots group called “Reform America,” And incorporates aspects of the electoral vote, as well as the direct vote.
The final Florida tally was very near a 50-50 split between Gore and Bush, but Bush still took all 25 electoral votes. Why can't we allocate the electoral votes proportionally in each state? This would have given in Florida 13 votes to Bush and 12 to Gore. In your home state of Pennsylvania Gore would have won 12 and Bush 11. This is a much fairer way of ensuring that every voter casts a ballot that counts for something. Under the current system in Pennsylvania, voters that cast their ballot for Bush might as well ought to have stayed home, because Gore got all 23 Electoral College votes. Under this system, also voters would always have incentive to get to the polls, even if the media are reporting that their candidate is losing the state. Every vote counts using this method (Breyer)!
This amiable solution might satisfy those of us that still share the Federalist’s views, with the growing number that support the Antifederalist’s views. Unfortunately, as Mr. George Bauman, Former Dallas Area GOP President stated, “All the rules and all the regulations will not change the fact that inside of some people, there is a genuine will to deceive and circumvent the rules of engagement, so to say, that are in place. The system in place isn’t perfect, or ideal, but it seems to get the job done” (Bauman).
There are of course, a dozen more ideas being considered out there, but as I stated previously, I believe there is nothing that can replace what we have. To think that our current system has only had four “contested” elections since its inception is nothing short of miraculous. It screams volumes as to the farsightedness of our forefathers. We have seen the system challenged, but generally, it is not challenged by the rules in place, but by the rules that someone thinks should be in place. Strangely enough, these challenges all come from losing candidates. It is a system that is looked upon worldwide as the be all end all in election processes. It has a built in system of checks and balances, to weed out corruption. Granted, dead people still vote in South Texas, and sometimes they rise up in the streets of Chicago and hit the polls, but this is not the norm. We cannot possibly have planned for every single “What if,” and we do not have much of a choice, in that aspect. To guard against voter fraud completely, would mean taking the popular vote totally away, and that is not an amicable solution. We must accept that the current system may have a flaw or two, but until it fails, and until someone has the ingenuity to create a replacement system that is amicable to all, it is the system in place, and it should stay in place, as is.
Antifederalist #72, Republicus
Bauman, Leo. Personal Interview. 15 Nov 2003.
Breyer, Thomas. Reform America, Inc. 2001.
Enrich, David. Vote with America. Citizens for True Democracy. 1998-2000.
Federalist #68, Hamilton
Lawrence, Jill. “Country vs. city, spelled in red, blue.” USA Today 11 November 2000.
Perez, Richard Rar and Sekler, Joan. (Directors). (2003). Unprecedented. [DVD]. United
States: Sony Music Video.
“Proposed constitutional amendment for direct election of the US President. Avagara.
The Associated Press, ERSI Inc, USA Today analysis by Paul Overberg.