THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE
CONSTITUTIONALLY GROUNDED IN STATES' RIGHTS
"The Electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President..." Amendment XII, ratified June 15, 1804
January 4, 2009
On January 8, 2009 the Congress will meet in joint session to count the electoral votes of the Electoral College. There have been calls for the reform or even the abolition of the Electoral College. Such calls are not new; there have been more constitutional amendments introduced in Congress for alteration or abolition of the Electoral College than on any other subject. The claustrophobically close 2000 Presidential election revived the dispute over the validity of the electoral system. Senator Hillary Clinton suggested, soon after her election to the Senate in 2000, that she would propose legislation eliminating the System. Much of the criticism of the Electoral System is inaccurate, and fails to take account of the structural advantages offered by such a voting mechanism. Recently, your columnists participated on a panel concerned with this subject. That, in fact, is the subject of this column.
R.L.H.: Regarding the Electoral College system... there are those who feel that their logic is irrefutable when they say-"shouldn't the candidate who gets the most votes in the nation win? And, further, if I am in a state which is heavily one-sided, my vote either counts or does not count at all; that makes no sense at all." However, when one understands the logic of the Framers in establishing a system of electors, one is far less likely to call for the elimination of the System.
M.A.B.: When the Constitution was drafted, America was an almost entirely rural society. There were no up-to-the-minute political news flashes, inside-the-Beltway talking-head TV programs, and/or the Internet. It was sometimes weeks, before political news from other states arrived in one's home state. In this atmosphere, the Founders were concerned that a popular regional candidate in a populous area may be able to garner enough votes to win the election. In other words, a regionally popular candidate may win who may not have the interests of the entire number of states-the nation itself-at heart.
R.L.H.: In other words what you are saying is, if a candidate needed to win only the popular vote, it would be possible for that person to be elected President without winning a majority of the heart and soul of the Nation. Therefore, that individual would not have been elected on the basis of any sort of consensus of the states, but simply on popularity in a particular state or in two or three heavily populated areas. And with our present system as it is now constituted, it forces a candidate to win a majority of the states' electoral votes and thus obliges a candidate to appeal to the entire nation.
M.A.B.: Yes exactly, at least a wider portion of the population than simply a few densely populated cities or areas. It is not sufficient for a candidate who is hugely popular, for example, in Philadelphia or New York City or Los Angeles to win the election. But rather, that candidate must make a case more broadly in order to garner the necessary electors nationally to gain the Presidency. In fact, Article 2 of the Constitution and its 12th Amendment stipulates that electors, who are themselves chosen by the state, choose the President. And a state is allotted as many electors as it has representative in both houses of Congress.
R.L.H.: It would appear then, that the Electoral College is a bulwark of states' rights yet, perhaps paradoxically, it also tend to foster the cohesiveness of the entire nation.
M.A.B.: That is true. We call our nation the United States of America, and not the united people of America, because it is a union of states, and not merely individuals. In other words, States directly elect Presidents; individuals indirectly elect Presidents. Thus, this protects the integrity of the various states in that it vests them with the authority to choose electors who will then choose the President.
R.L.H.: And thus, it fosters the cohesiveness of the entire nation and an examination of the issues nationally, and discourages candidates from concentrating on a few dispersed but highly concentrated populated areas and locally popular issues.
M.A.B.: There are several important benefits produced by the current Electoral College system: Because a candidate must win at least 270 electoral votes from across the nation, a candidate cannot become President without a significant widespread voter base. Therefore, the Electoral College ensures a broad national consensus for a candidate that subsequently will allow that person to govern once in office. Think of the influence New York City has over New York State. When is the last time a governor or senator from New York has been from Western New York? Think of the impact this concentration of power has had on the rest of the State.
R.L.H.: And further, since the electoral college operates on a State-by-State basis, this not only enhances the status of minorities by affording them a greater proportional influence within a smaller block of voters at the State level but, it also ensures a geographically diverse population which makes regional domination, or domination of urban over suburban or rural areas, virtually impossible. In fact, since no one region of the country has 270 electoral votes, there is an incentive for a candidate to form coalitions of States and regions rather than to accentuate regional differences.
BOTH: The Electoral College system prioritizes the most important factors and issues in selecting a president. We believe that any system of political representation, which decentralizes decision-making and increases the authority of local control, tends to support the concepts of representative democracy. And this is just what the Electoral College does. It puts a fair amount of selection on one's political national leader in local and regional hands. This decentralization of political selection process and a more widely dispersed political participation in a nation conforms to the original intent of our founding fathers and as articulated in Article 2 of the Untied States Constitution and its 12th Amendment. And thus, the rights of States are well preserved. It is true, the early Framers knew what they were doing and we will see it play out again on Thursday of this week January 8, 2009. That is how we see it FROM OUR PERSPECTIVE.