Abolish the Electoral College?
Regardless of the final outcome, the recent election accomplished two important things.
First, it caused millions of citizens to actually think about the process whereby our republic selects its President every four years — the Electoral College.
Second, the controversy over the Electoral College has demonstrated how completely clueless so many of us were; not just ordinary citizens, but even the people to whom we look for leadership, our elected officials.
Recent polls have indicated as many as 65% of those responding favor replacing the Electoral College with a direct popularity contest. Which explains why politicians near and far, having smelled an opportunity to take a stand on an issue that seems popular and, more importantly, can’t hurt them if they lose, are joining the cry for abolition of the College in favor of the direct election of future presidents.
Leading the pack, predictably, is New York Senator-elect Hillary Clinton who lost no time voicing support for abolition saying, “I believe strongly that in a democracy we should respect the will of the people and, to me, that means it’s time to do away with the Electoral College and move to the popular election of our president.”
Evidently the soon-to-be senator is one of the multitudes who’ve forgotten we are a republic and not a democracy. Of more interest, though, is her statement that “we should respect the will of the people.” If she really believes that, shouldn’t she be speaking out to tell Al Gore to respect the will of the people in Florida, as determined by an election and recount? And if the “will of the people” is the “controlling legal authority,” would she support revoking women’s, and thus her own voting rights if a majority of citizens approved?
Massachusetts Representative William Delahunt has promised to introduce a bill in Congress next year to scrap what he calls “an appendage to an anachronism.” Since the Electoral College must be the appendage, Representative Delahunt apparently believes the U.S. Constitution to be an anachronism — something that has outlived its usefulness. Perhaps he will also introduce legislation to scrap that, as well. Or maybe he just doesn’t think before he speaks.
Regardless, the idea of scrapping the current system is foolish, especially if the goal is to provide for fair representation in the selection of a president.
As many more of us now know than knew last Tuesday, the present system was put in place because people in small states feared their votes would count for less than those of people in more populous states. And that is the most ironic part about the current call to change the system.
If we were to go to direct election of the president, citizens in sparsely populated states would never see a presidential contender campaigning in their area. Think about it. Where do most people live these days? In cities, often in big cities. Since candidates have only a finite amount of time to spend campaigning, why would they waste time in an area with a few thousand votes when they can spend the time wooing a few million?
Now take a moment to think about who the President really represents. If you think it is the people, you are wrong. Want proof? Pick up the phone and call the White House for an appointment. Unless you are very rich or very powerful, do you think you’ll get one?
The President cannot possibly concern himself with the needs of individual citizens. Where would he find the time to listen 200 thousand people, much less 200 million? No, the truth is, in our republic, the President’s job is to look out for the interests of the Republic as a whole, and of the several states.
Individual citizens are the responsibility of the individual states. Which is why you can often pick up the phone and get an appointment with your local representative.
If the president represents the states, then it follows the states should have an equal say in who that representative will be. Which brings us back to the Electoral College.
Today, the Electoral College is far more representative of the popular vote than it is of the interests of the individual states. As presently structured, it is possible for the voters in just 11 states — the most populous ones — to determine who will be president. That’s why both Bush and Gore spent so much time in places like California, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, and Florida and so little, if any time, in Rhode Island, Montana, Hawaii, Alaska, Delaware, North Dakota, and Vermont. Citizens of those states with only a few Electoral votes are kidding themselves if they think their votes really matter all that much.
How can we change things to make it more fair? It is actually quite simple. Keep the Electoral College, but even out the number of votes for each state. If each state had one electoral vote, candidates would be forced to spend time campaigning in each state and whoever carries the state gets the vote. California would be no more powerful than Rhode Island. Each would have an equal say in who represents them.
Think winner-takes-all is wrong? That’s okay. Each state can have three votes, with the top vote getter winning two votes and the runner-up winning one. Want to encourage third-party participation? Let each state have 100 votes with each candidate winning votes in relation to the percentage of the vote cast for him or her.
It doesn’t matter which method is used. What matters is that the result reflect the will of the individual states, not the will of a few concentrations of the population.
What are the chances such revisions will actually come to pass? Pretty slim, I think, since neither major party wants any change that would challenge their current stranglehold on the political system.
But sometimes, ideas take on a life of their own. Perhaps this modest essay will inspire some folk. Maybe the media focus on the current electoral process will motivate people to learn more about the system under which they live. Maybe the combination will get them off their couches and get them involved.
Or maybe they’ll just keep whining and see what’s on channel 5.
John Silveira and O.E. MacDougal discuss the Electoral College in this classic BHM article:
The Electoral College — how we elect the President