Why we must protect the Electoral College 

April 25, 2013

By Tomi L. Collins

A major conflict lingers in America over whether or not we should keep the Electoral College in place. I personally believe it is a blessing; it has worked reasonably well and it should not be disturbed. I agree that on some levels it may be problematic; but I believe overall it has been a greatly serviceable institution. In fact, the nations most renowned political scientists were polled and there was an overwhelming consensus that, although not perfect, the Electoral College should remain in place (James P. Pfiffner.& Rodger, H. Davidson).

One study in particular was taken in 2001 by the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville. They conducted a study of fifty top historians and political scientists. The study sought to get an evaluation on the Electoral College’s roll in American politics. Over 60 percent of the historians and political scientists surveyed responded by stating that the Collage had an “extremely positive” effect on American public life. They cited that the system protected the nations diversity, required broad based political coalitions, and it supported federalism principal (Gary L. Gregg II).

This however has not lessened the passion behind those who oppose the Electoral College and contends a “one person, one vote”system. I would propose the question to those who combat the current system; do you think the popular vote will actually give us better presidents? I assert no, it would not, as history has clearly shown. If there was not an ElectoralCollege, President Abraham Lincoln, may have not been elected; at the time no party found the key to popular-vote majorities. Lincoln won the Electoral College with less than 40% of the popular vote nationwide. I believe this is a very key point in arguing the value of the Electoral College (James P. Pfiffner. & Rodger, H. Davidson).

The second point I would like to assert is; a popular vote would destroy our two party system, there is value in our current two party system. I strongly believe it is one of the keys to stability in our country. Multi-Party systems are notoriously unstable (Judith Best). The question I propose to those who disagree and are in favor of a multi-party system is; “how low will you go?” What I mean is; if you have multiple people running, and you have a popular voting system; what percent of the popular vote for our president is acceptable, 10, 20, 30 percent? Would we have to have a second election; a “run off” per-say, if they didn’t meet the number of the required percent in a popular voting system?  This I believe another strong argument showing why a popular vote simply would not work.

Lets look at the opposite; say a president wins the majority by running up margins of, say, 80% to 20% in the Eastern and Western Seaboards and is soundly defeated in the middle of the country. This is a president who would not carry the legitimacy to run the country, and in fact he could face a civil war. The Electoral College clearly adds to the legitimacy of the office of the president (Judith Best).

Many people do not agree with the winner “take all method” used by every state except for a few. Whereby, the election for president is actually decided within each state. What I mean is; the people in the state vote for president by majority. The party that wins the majority of the votes in the state gets to cast all the electoral votes allotted to that state for their party’s president. I personally think it works very well. Given the fact it is actually the states right to choose how they use their electoral votes it really should not be a national issue. In fact, recently Colorado voted on weather or not to split up their electoral votes. As a result 66 percent of the state voted to keep the “winner takes all” system in place (Ed Goeas).

I appreciate and respect this system, and I believe it coincides with our Founders respect for individual states rights. Their adamant regards for individual states rights is emphasized in how they designed the system. The fact is, that at the time the framers drafted the Constitution there was not a two party system. In addition, the president and vice president were on two separate ballots until the 12th amendment (James P. Pfiffner. & Rodger, H. Davidson). This meant they clearly realized it was unlikely that any one person would get the majority. The Constitution says that if no candidate gets the majority, the names are to be thrown into the House of Representatives and each state will be allowed to cast one vote. The Constitution was drafted this way so small states would have equality with large ones. The Framers felt it was important preserve individual states rights, and I agree.

Thirdly, I assert the very principal of state representation is key, because it is the best barrier we have to protect our country form something our Founding Father Madison greatly feared, which is majority fraction. I believe our Constitution truly seeks something higher and much better than majority rules. It actually seeks majority rules with the consent of the minority. How it gains consent is because the federal principal we operate under gives minorities multiple opportunities to be part of the majority (Judith Best). This is seen in various aspects of our government as a whole and profoundly so in the Electoral College. Therefore, it is not plausible to warrant an attack on the Electoral College, as doing so I believe is an attack on our federal principals; because such an attack cannot be limited to just the Electoral College. What I mean is; if the federal principal is invalid in how we elect the president then it puts doubt in the very ratification of our Constitution itself, and we would not be wise to open this can of worms. I argue, “if it is not broken don’t fix it.”

In an Essay by James P. Pfiffner he names all of the problematic elections of the 19th century they include 1800, 1824, 1876, and 1888. He notes that there were three elections in the nineteenth century in which the runner-up in the popular vote became president. This happened because of the electoral vote provision in the Constitution and its contingency provisions. There were several close calls in the twentieth century. The one most noted today is the 2000 election between Al Gore and George W. Bush. It was quite controversial, Gore won the national popular vote 50,996,116 to Bush’s 50,456,169, a margin of539,947 (51.6 percent). Bush won 271 electoral votes, one more than majority; and Al Gore won 266. Pfiffner asserts that this is a modern day case of the runner-up in popular votes being elected to the office of the presidency. Again, raising the question of the Electoral College mechanism for selecting the president. (James P.Pfiffner. & Rodger, H. Davidson). However, I assert that the system worked exactly as designed.

Pfiffner States that if you are one that believes the electoral system is “flawed” because the candidate with the most popular vote sometimes does not win; you need to look further into what the framers intended. He says we must recognize that the United States is not, nor was it meant to be pure democracy. Nor was it ever contemplated that the United States would operate under a majority rule. It was designed by the framers to be a republic, one with representatives of the people. In the original Constitution the only office of congress that was elected by the people was the House of Representatives. He further contends that it was the original intent of the framers was to have officials chosen by indirect means, the President and Vice President by the Electoral College; Judge’s are appointed by the President and Senator’s by the State Legislatures (prior to the 17th amendment). He states another important aspect of the framers design that further proves it was not intended to be a “majority rules” democracy, was their design to build into the Constitution the separation of powers. This system of checks and balances was designed to filter out popular moods and fads and slow the impulse to sudden change. The Bill of Rights was written and implemented to insure that the simple will of the majority wouldn’t infringe on the rights of other citizens (JamesP. Pfiffner. & Rodger, H. Davidson).

I would like to point out why it is widely believed that the 2000 election worked exactly as it was suppose to work. It is a fact that Bush lost by about 500,000 popular votes. However it is very important to point out that this election was not one ran to win the popular vote, but the goal was to win the electoral votes. My point is you cannot change the rules of the “game” as it were, and say Gore won under a different set of rules. Had the election been one that was run as a “popular vote election” the entire strategy of the Bush campaign would have changed. It is common knowledge that George W. Bush was a popular governor in Texas, therefore he did not feel he needed to campaign in Texas. In addition, the Al Gore campaign knew they would not win Texas so he did not campaign their either, as a result Texas had a 20 percent lower turn out in the 2000 election. That 20 percent of Texas alone would have put Bush in the lead in the popular vote(Ed Goeas). So as you can see it is really not useful to argue the point of the popular vote with regards to the 2000 election; because clearly with different rules they would have had  different strategic goals. Again, the system worked perfectly in this case.

While we are on the subject of the 2000 election. Let’s look at Florida, the recount process was a mess. We had no idea who was going to be president for weeks. The courts battles were brutal. It was not until the Supreme Court finally ruled on December 12th 2000, and Florida’s recount deadline has expired, that same day, we knew who our president would be (James P. Pfiffner. & Rodger, H. Davidson). This brings me to another strong point to support my opposition to a popular vote. Can you imagine the madness that we saw in Florida expanded in to 5, 10, 20 or 49 more states?

It seems clear to me that the framers intended to protect the public from the sway of the populace. They seem to have intentionally designed the Electoral College and purposefully put it in place along with all the other checks and balances. It soundly appears this was done in order to protect individual states rights. In addition, it protects the people of the United States from the fickleness that comes with the sway in fads. It is clear the system is not perfect, but from the arguments presented, it seems to work very well, within a relatively reasonable margin of error.

In closing, it occurs to me that this is a system that is tried and true, a system we know. It may not be perfect but neither would an alternative be “perfect”. It is obvious that the popular vote idea would be a mess. To me the most compelling reason behind keeping the current system in place, is that we do not know what the result of changing it would be, or what possible problems may come with a new system. It is seems more likely than not, that a new system would propose more problems by far. I personally am not convinced that the historical issues with the Electoral College are drastic enough to warrant scrapping the system our Founders put in place. I think the Electoral College is best described in the words of Alexander Hamilton, he described it as, “If not perfect, at least excellent”.

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