By Wayne William Cipriano
So much fuss about the Electoral college, just like after every presidential election. Why don’t we scrap it? Why not go with a purely popular vote to elect a president?
Occum’s Razor tells us the reason is inertia. The college is and always has been a foundational part of our governmental system and a change would require a Constitutional Amendment. The originators of our system were wise in making amendment-changes very tedious and very time-consuming, under-standing that changes worth making would withstand the vagaries of popular support and manifest themselves in action. Those changes of less importance would not be of sufficient force to move the process. Inertia.
However, the reason for the College is seldom discussed though transparently reflected by our Federal Legislators every day they choose to be in session, which you are correct in noting is not all that many days.
Recall that initially only the Federal House of Representatives was elected by the states’ popular vote. The Senate, supposedly the “upper chamber” possessed of much more deeply applied attention to lawmaking and an elected term three times as long as the members of the House to have the longevity for that attention, was selected by the various State Legislators in whichever way they chose to do so.
In order to understand why such convoluted procedures were initially proposed and remain today (although the 17th Amendment to the Consti-tution of the United States of America provides for the popular election of Federal Senators – but not until 1913!), we must consider the times in which our Constitution was born.
Once again we use Occum’s Razor since it is impossible to know what was “in the minds of the Founders” when they created our Federal System. The Razor suggests, and I for one agree, it was simply fear. Fear of the electorate, the people, the rabble, the great unwashed mob possessing such large numbers when compared to the intelligentsia of the time.
We do not have a democracy in which the people decide upon the action of the government. We have a republic in which the people select those who decide upon the action of the government. Throughout our Federal Constitution our country is “protected” from the whims of the voters by installing safeguards to slow those whims down. The republic system itself. Our judicial system. The short terms of the House of Representatives. The filibuster and other procedures of the Senate by which one Senator can effectively halt the movement of legislation. And then there is the Electoral College.
Some believe the ideals of the Great Compromise which gave birth to our bi-cameral system wherein one part of Congress represents the people, (the House of Represen-tatives) and the other part of Congress (the Senate) represents the states continue in the Electoral College. I disagree.
As we all know, it is up to the states and ultimately individual Electors as to who will be the President and the Vice-President. The original idea was that the Electors would be important, successful, responsible, contemplative men who would gather together and among themselves choose persons for those two positions, president and vice-president, that would maintain the ideals of our new Republic. They would also serve as a necessary insulation between the government and the voters who they generally saw as easily defrauded, simply fooled, casually deflected by shiny objects and shinier promises – voters who were not thought to have the experience, education, nor the inclination to safeguard their gift, the United States of America.
Nowadays, membership in the Electoral College is merely a political plum passed out to party reliables in exchange for large political contributions of cash or time and energy to elect that party’s candidates.
Surprisingly enough, as I understand it, only 29 states and the District of Columbia require their Electors to vote for the persons who collected the most popular votes in those locales. Thus, 29 states (and I guess the possessions) have Electors who may, if they wish, vote for someone who did not win their state’s election – perhaps did not even participate in it. They even have a name for such individuals: faithless electors.
There have been rare occasions when the presidency went to an individual who did not win the popular vote nationwide, most recently Trump over Clinton, and before that Bush over Gore, but there has never been an election where “faithless electors” had any conse-quential effect on the election of the president or vice-president, and only one in which the Electoral College failed to elect a president.
Don’t forget, those 29 states and D.C. could change their laws to free their Electors to vote for whomever they wish. And, since we vote for the Electors put up by the various state political parties and not directly for any candidate, regardless of what name is on our ballots, we could most certainly wake up one morning in mid-December after Electoral votes taken at each state capital were certified by the Congress of the United States of America to find people we have never even heard of had officially been elected to be the president and vice-president of the United States of America: the exact thing the Electoral College was invented to allow – and invented to prevent!
And perhaps it is the headache we get from thinking about this and what we should or could do about it that is the real reason we still have an Electoral College.
What do you think?