Electoral College, Part I

Electoral College, Part I

Immediately after the Presidential election there was much discussion in the news as well as on social media regarding the Electoral College. I wrote my own post last week on how I don’t vote in Presidential elections for the very reason that the Electoral College exists. Of course, the last Presidential election I voted in was in the year 2000 when I first felt the sting of the candidate that won the popular vote losing the electoral vote and, as a result, the Presidency and ever since I have been adamant about the need to abolish the electoral system and move the popular vote for the President of the United States.

As is a common occurrence with our current social structure and 24-hour news cycle, something that was news yesterday isn’t heard of again the next day. The same can be said about the Electoral College issue because you would be hard pressed to find an article in the news or on social media that continues to push the issue. I think it is important enough to keep in the front of everyone’s mind. So, to that end I’m going to make sure to share some correspondence I had regarding the Electoral College.

This week I’ll share an exchange I had on Facebook with someone that I didn’t know but posted on a mutual friend’s Facebook page. One of the most important parts of this exchange is on both sides we were cordial, we were appropriate, and we were respectful. There was no name calling or bashing. It was a respectful discourse to exchange ideas and opinions. That is the way it should be in this and every country.

Original Post on Facebook that is essentially a summary of a USA Today article with some brief insights by the posting party.

This is an article that was written and published in USA Today. I think this excerpt is at least a brief historical perspective on why the electoral college was initially established: "The reason that the Constitution calls for this extra layer, rather than just providing for the direct election of the president, is that most of the nation’s founders were actually rather afraid of democracy. James Madison worried about what he called “factions,” which he defined as groups of citizens who have a common interest in some proposal that would either violate the rights of other citizens or would harm the nation as a whole. Madison’s fear — which Alexis de Tocqueville later dubbed “the tyranny of the majority” — was that a faction could grow to encompass more than 50% of the population, at which point it could “sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens.” Madison has a solution for tyranny of the majority: “A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking.”

As Alexander Hamilton writes in “The Federalist Papers,” the Constitution is designed to ensure “that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.” The point of the Electoral College is to preserve “the sense of the people,” while at the same time ensuring that a president is chosen “by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice.”

My Response

There is no bigger fan of the founding fathers of this country than me. We don’t know each other but if you did know me you would know that I read biographies of the founders for fun and enjoy watching TV shows, movies, and any other way to consume media related to the founding of our great nation. In fact, my two favorite podcasts are Ben Franklin’s World and Conversations at the Washington Library. The point is that I love learning and consuming history regarding the founding of our country and have a deep love and respect for those men. However, to use a quote from one of my favorite West Wing episodes, “For all I know, that thinking reflected the best wisdom of its time, but it’s just plain wrong by any modern standard.”

The men mentioned in the USA Today article also supported the portion of the Constitution that stated that an African-American only counted as three-fifths of a person regarding the calculation of population. Under the same Constitution that developed the concept of the Electoral College (which, by the way, is never named as such in the Constitution) excluded black men from voting for over 80 years (Fifteenth Amendment – 1870), excluded women from voting for over 130 years (Nineteenth Amendment – 1920). That same Constitution even excluded residents of the District of Columbia from voting for President (Electoral College aside) for over 170 years (Twenty-Third Amendment – 1961).

Certainly, at the time, Hamilton had a very good point in The Federalist No. 68 indicating that “the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities to the station”. When Mr. Hamilton published that statement in 1788 the common farmer from upstate New York would not have nor would be expected to have access to accurate information to evaluate the candidates for office. In fact, that common farmer may not even be able to read so how could they possibly know if Andrew Jackson was more or less qualified to be President than Henry Clay? These men that Hamilton wrote about (note it is men, not men and women, and certainly not anyone of color) would have access to the requisite information to make an informed decision.

The current mode of “winner take all” electoral votes as is the case in 48 of the 50 states was also feared by one of the same founders referenced in the article. Madison advocated to allocate the electors by district instead of by what was then called “general ticket”. The founders believed electors would be named by the citizens and that the elector would analyze and deliberate regarding who was best suited for President. James Madison wrote to George Hay, “When they make their elections by districts, some of these differing in sentiment from others, and sympathizing with that of districts in other States, they are so knit together as to break the force of those Geographical & other noxious parties that might render the repulsive too strong for the cohesive tendencies within the political System.” Said another way, Madison was worried that the general ticket concept would create the exact system that we have today where a winner-take-all or “general ticket” would result in an individual being elected that did not win the popular vote.

In today’s climate that allows for nearly all of the voting populace to access to sufficient information to evaluate a candidate on their own there is no need to fall back on an Electoral College system that was designed to allow those who were informed elect the leader of our country. To fall back on the argument that it is the best system because it was supported by founding fathers such as Alexander Hamilton and James Madison is flawed because that would also mean that African-Americans and women would have the right to vote. The Constitution was designed to be a living document and allow for amendments when we, as a Country, had outgrown the best wisdom of its time. We have long outgrown the system of electors that the framers devised and we have long outgrown the “general ticket” concept that most states have adopted. The Seventeenth Amendment stipulates that senators must be elected by direct popular vote. We need an amendment that stipulates that presidents are elected in the same way.

P.S. I also want to point out that this thread has created informed and educated discussion. There isn’t name calling or party bashing. We are respectfully stating our opinions and discussing the merits. This is how it should work. Respectful disagreement. Thank you for that.

Postscript

Thanks for taking the time to read this post about the Electoral College. There will be at least one more post regarding the Electoral College before they actually vote on December 19, 2016 and, I’m hoping but guarantee, another before the votes are actually counted on January 6, 2017. I know you would rather see more posts about crazy things a parent says that is appropriate for a child but sounds dirty, and don’t worry you will, but this is important enough that it should be kept front and center.

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