So you are telling me that when I pull the lever to vote for a candidate for the office of President of the United States that I am not actually voting for the candidate, but instead merely expressing my opinion to a group of electors that I do not know, that are not bounded by law, and that are chosen by the party which receives the highest vote tally in my state months in advance, numbering the combined amount of my state’s U.S. Senators and Representatives that will then send their votes to the national government? And you are telling me that then the government will tally those electoral votes and if an individual receives a majority of electoral votes then and only then that individual will be named President of the United States? You are telling me this was planned on purpose and that it’s a good idea? Yes, I am…hang with me for a few paragraphs while I explain why.
Commonly referred to as the Electoral College, the way our Head of State and Commander in Chief of our Armed Forces is elected is spelled out in Article II of the U.S. Constitution. The system dictates, as I alluded to above, that the states shall appoint electors in a manner determined by their individual state legislatures. Then these electors will meet in their states and vote for two persons for President of the United States, only one of which can be from the elector’s home state. The electoral votes are then sent to the President of the Senate and tallied before the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. The person receiving the most of these Electoral votes shall become President of the United States as long as the number is also a majority of the available electoral votes cast. If it is not, then the House of Representatives cast votes to select from the five highest finishers in the electoral tally. Each state’s representative delegation will only have one vote (not each Representative individually) and a two-thirds quorum must be reached. As an aside, the House of Representatives have elected the President of the United States only twice. They elected Thomas Jefferson in the election of 1800 and John Quincy Adams in 1824.
So why did our Founding Father’s opt to enact this complicated system of electing the President instead of making it a simple majority vote? The answer is two-fold. First, the Founders were very cognizant of the power they were granting the President and wanted to ensure a buffer from corruption and the mob mentality (basically peer pressure) that could influence elections in order to consolidate power. Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 68, “The choice of several, to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of one who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes.”
Second, the founders had just finished waging a bloody war of liberation from a King that they saw as a tyrant with no right to govern them due to lacking consent of the governed. The insulation of the electoral process was also to protect the people from themselves. Thereby limiting the possibility of electing someone that was not of “eminent degree”. Hamilton again wrote in Federalist No. 68, “ 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, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States.”
As another election season comes to a close the Electoral College has again been under fire as a flawed system, an outdated relic of a different time that has outlived its usefulness. This year, Secretary Clinton likely won the national popular vote and Mr. Trump the electoral vote and Presidency. Does this make sense? I think it certainly does. For one thing, that’s the rule. The winner of the electoral vote, as long as it constitutes a majority (in the case of this day and age meaning 270 electoral votes) becomes the President. Mr. Trump won the popular vote in 28 states totaling a probable 306 electoral votes to Secretary Clinton’s 232 electoral votes in 22 states and the District of Columbia. But, let’s think a little deeper about what this means and also think about the implications of abolishing the Electoral College in favor of pure democracy, as many protesting supporters of Secretary Clinton would argue we should.
If you read last week’s post, I think you would hardly characterize me as a faithful supporter of Mr. Trump. However, I am definitely a supporter of our system and Constitution and I think the Electoral College is something the framers of our Constitution got exactly right. A few things came to mind as I was thinking about writing this article this week. One is that states have power and should continue to have power. The Electoral College balances the power of the states with the power of the raw will of the majority. Both of those matter, but not exclusively.
The states with lower population are generally more agricultural in nature and those with higher population more urban. This is an obvious and necessary result of the fact that agriculture takes up a bunch of land and is done by relatively few people. However, it is extremely important to our nation. This is not a new phenomenon. As I referenced the Federalist Papers in The Reasons section above this debate has been going on since the country’s inception. The Northern states were more generally industrial and urban and the Southern more agricultural. However, both are essential for the overall health of the security, economy, and people of our nation and always have been. Therefore, it is essential to continue to strike this balance that gives less populated states power- not equal to the urban and more populated states- but proportional to them. This is what the Electoral College is able to do so brilliantly. So California, our most populated state with 38 million people gets 55 electoral votes, which is far more than Alaska’s 3 for 700,000 people. The prize of a candidate winning California is far greater, but the state of Alaska gets 5% of the electoral vote for only 2% of the population. So, does an individual voter in California or Alaska have more sway in who becomes the President of the United States?…If it is hard for you to answer that question with surety, that is by design. Well-done Founding Fathers, and thank you. Thanks for reading!