Better for the Minority: Electoral College

we-the-people

I am seeing a lot of people talking, opinion pieces, and news articles about how we should get rid of the electoral college due to the popular vote higher for one candidate and the electoral college being higher for the other candidate. Notice I’m writing this AFTER the election and not before. That’s because few people are concerned before their candidate loses. If you believe in a pure democracy and do not support the republican form of government, I can totally understand why you would want it dismantled. I hope this musing a reminder of its function and encourages you regarding our system of government—while it’s not perfect it’s one of the best the world has seen.

While I’m addressing the electoral college directly here, we should not forget the recent candidates for President were not produced in a vacuum. Americans chose them through the primary process. There were much better options and it’s our fault we didn’t get better candidates. (I believe this is due to moral degradation.) That we had to choose between two moral reprobates in the general election speaks more about the state of our electorate than anything else. I’ve said my piece on this for now.

There are very good reasons the Founders devised the electoral college system. While I realize they were not perfect people, I do know they studied more forms of government, how they worked, and how they didn’t work far more than you or I. They struggled with how best to elect the President. Besides a popular vote they considered having the judiciary (God forbid!), senate, and house be the electing body but rejected these options for various reasons. Before we go throwing out an integral part of our governing system we should strive to understand why we selected in the first place. I’m going to lay out a couple reasons why we shouldn’t abolish the electoral college.

It’s up to you to understand the functions of our government. The cliché “we the people” is truly very important and often glossed over. What this phrase means is we, citizens, decide who governs. Those elected work for us, not the other way around.

By way of introduction to this topic, below is a short, well-made video about the electoral college.

While the video has three, my two main points are as follows: 1) The electoral college reduces the influence of the high population states and elevates the influence of the less populated states. 2) The United state was founded as a Republic, not a Democracy.

For the first point. If we get rid of the electoral college system the largest cities in New York, Florida, Texas, California, and a few other populous states will elect the presidents from that point forward due to their high concentration of population. The Midwest would not matter. It’s that simple. David Barton explains why popular vote was not desirable:

This idea was rejected not because the framers distrusted the people but rather because the larger populous States would have much greater influence than the smaller States and therefore the interests of those smaller States could be disregarded or trampled. Additionally, a nationwide election would encourage regionalism since the more populous areas of the country could form coalitions to elect president after president from their own region. With such regional preferentialism, lasting national unity would be nearly impossible.

To put this in modern terminology, it gives a voice to the minority vote (small states) and keeps the elite (large states) from electing every president. Per capita, each electoral vote represents fewer people in the larger states and more people in the smaller states.

While the first point is very important, the second point may be even more so. You may not realize it but this system of election is a check, a limiter, of human nature. (This is also the reason for the three branches of government.) This may be where you disagree with the reasons for having the electoral college, but the Founders understood human nature very well and therefore it is the main reason they decided against a democratic form of government.

In a democratic form of government (one-person, one-vote) voters can be far too easily persuaded through emotion. Following are some citations from Founders as to why they rejected a democratic form of government:

Alexander Hamilton asserted that “We are now forming a Republican form of government. Real liberty is not found in the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments. If we incline too much to democracy we shall soon shoot into a monarchy, or some other form of a dictatorship.” Hamilton, in the last letter he ever wrote, warned that “our real disease is DEMOCRACY.”

Thomas Jefferson declared: “A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.”

Benjamin Franklin had similar concerns of a democracy when he warned that “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!” After the Constitutional Convention was concluded, in 1787, a bystander inquired of Franklin: “Well, Doctor, what have we got a Republic or a Monarchy?” Franklin replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

John Adams, our second president, wrote: “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself.”

James Madison, the father of the Constitution wrote in Federalist Paper No. 10 that pure democracies “have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

With the electoral college, you vote for the elector who then casts his/her vote for the president. (Each voter’s vote is counted as you can remember from the Florida recount in 2000.) The elector does have the choice to vote for whom they wish. Here’s a quote from Curtis Gans (who’s no conservative, but spent a lifetime studying voter trends) about having a popular vote instead of the electoral college: “The danger of NPV [national popular vote] is that it will undermine the complex and vital underpinnings of American democracy.” Again, while he meant democracy in a broad sense, we don’t live in a democratic form of government, we live in a republic, which by definition is a representative form of government.

The Constitution was designed to be anti-democratic on purpose (for the above reasons, we are a republic by definition). By changing the electoral college, we would be fundamentally changing the form of government which represents us. Our nation has endured longer than most, and while the electoral college is not perfect, it is the best of imperfect options.

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