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24 November 2016

Keep the Electoral College

I'm glad that Hilary lost; I'm sad that Trump won.

There's often a lot of hurt and pain, following an election. Voting for Darrell Castle, I knew my guy was going to lose, and I'm at peace with that; you get used to it, voting third party. But a number of my friends fully expected they'd backed the winner, and they're sad, upset, and frightened by the outcome. I think either Hilary or Trump winning is grounds for being sad, so it's pretty easy to be sympathetic to those who are upset by our outcomeThey talk about how they are so concerned about where our country is headed. They feel disenfranchised. Some of them were panicky. The outcome was a surprise; many feel robbed. I remember feeling some of those things when Obama was elected; it's not a pleasant place. It's a hard place to be. So I can understand why there's talk of doing away with the Electoral College. Four years ago, and eight years ago, it was a different set of friends expressing many of the same feelings, and also rumbling about doing away with our Electoral College; that seems to come up pretty regularly, about every four years.

"We live in a very different world than they did, and changes need to be made in order to adjust. The way I see it, we're in more trouble every time we try to make rules from hundreds of years ago that no longer make any sense apply to our current country."
-Heather, on Facebook

The Electoral College isn't the problem, and it's not that the Constitution was created hundreds of years ago. It's the monarchical power we've allowed to collect in the presidency that's the problem, and both parties are complicit. Donald Trump, while never a stellar specimen of human decency, was never a cause of widespread fear or dismay as a private citizen. It is Donald Trump with the vast powers that the presidency has assumed that is a cause for alarm. And there is a just cause for alarm.

Many instances can be produced in which the people have voluntarily increased the powers of their rulers; but few, if any, in which rulers have willingly abridged their authority. This is a sufficient reason to induce you to be careful, in the first instance, how you deposit the powers of government.
-Brutus #1

So there's quite a few voices out there right now questioning the legitimacy of our system, and being upset because, as has happened a few times before, Trump won the necessary Electoral votes, but did not collect a majority of popular votes. I've seen a number of opinion pieces suggesting that it's time to do away with the College, this one being pretty representative.

However. Our system was never intended to be a one person one vote kind of system. We are not a democracy, and in fact the Founders were highly critical of democracies, considering them unstable and prone to violent endings, and little more than mob rule or a tyranny of the majority (see the opening of Federalist #10, for example). We do not have a democracy, what we have is a carefully balanced constitutional republic, designed to bring the interests of the People, the States, and the federal Union into balanced and stable harmony, and to serve and protect both the majority and minority voices. A pure democracy can never hope to do all that.

One of the tools used to achieve this balance is the Electoral College. Like the Senate, the College is weighted slightly in favor of the small States. (The House favors the populous States.) But to really understand the way the College works, you have to realize that we are not actually a single nation; we are a federation. One of the charges the antifederalists brought in the ratification debates was that the Constitution aimed to make a single nation of what was then thirteen individual sovereign States. When the colonies threw off English rule they did it working together, but they becme, not a single nation, but thirteen nations -- thirteen States, with Rhode Island being as distinct from and independent of Virginia as the States of France and Spain are distinct and independent of each other. Antifederalist charges that the Constitution aimed to end that independence (for instance in Brutus #1) were vehemently denied in the Federalist Papers, while firmly advocating for continued united cooperation and safety from bloody interstate quarrels in the Union:

An entire consolidation of the states into one complete national sovereignty, would imply an entire subordination of the parts; and whatever power might remain in them, would be altogether dependent on the general will. But as the plan of the convention aims only at a partial union or consolidation, the state governments would clearly retain all the rights of sovereignty which they before had, and which were not, by that act, exclusively delegated to the United States.
-Alexander Hamilton, Federalist #32 (emphasis original)

So the idea of the United States as "one nation... indivisible" is an incorrect concept of our system, and you cannot really understand the Electoral College with this misconception. What happens is, in each of the several States, the citizens of that State assemble and select a president. In this process, the citizens of each State assemble and cast their votes in order to instruct the Electors from their individual States. Wisconsin's citizens may not dictate to Illinois what who they will select; they are making choices for their own State only. Then, the process is completed with the Electoral College. The College takes the individual votes and weights them in order to ensure that small States are not excluded from the process, in order to aggregate the individual elections held in the several States into a single decision binding upon them all. The Electoral College exists to balance power between the interests of large and small States, and creates the possibility of "swing states" rather than allowing candidates to focus on just California and other populous States and ignore Maine, New Hampshire... and Wisconsin. It keeps ALL States relevant in elections, which is a pretty important function. It also helps to preserve the sovereignty of the several States, and their unique character, by preserving influence to the States, as well as to the individual people, a voice at the federal table.  Historically, the several States have taken turns at being "safe" for this party or that one, and at becoming swing States, so, over the long run they take turns at being more and less in the limelight at election time. Understanding the process makes it clear how very irrelevant it is which candidate collected the greater number of popular votes and how that correlates with the Electoral Votes: we are not having a single election, so the aggregate of popular votes is unimportant, regardless of if it aligns with who wins the College or not.

Every time we've moved from the inspired systems the Founders gave us, we've moved from balance into imbalance and removed checks on the growth of the federal government's power. You can see this in the changes made in the Seventeenth Amendment, which gave us direct election of Senators, rather than having them selected indirectly by the State Legislators, a system which gave those who feel the loss of State power in federal overreach first and personally in their own loss of power the ability to select -- and to recall - Senators who did not remember and observe the limitations on Federal authority. I am convinced that the direct election of Senators not only created massive overgrowth of the federal government, but that it also contributed in no small part to the loss of our identity as a federation of sovereign nations. We are not supposed to have a national system, and but a federation (think Star Wars's Galactic Senate, which was a cooperation among allied entities who each retained their own government and individual culture).

Abolishing the Electoral College would be a huge loss in a number of important ways, and it would make the parties still more powerful; more of the toxic partisan wrangling would be an inevitable result, as well as an increase in the already bloated influence that parties have over politicians who, ostensibly, are hired to represent us. Has you ever wondered why Congress sits in parties, rather than by State? It wasn't always so, and I think it speaks volumes about how their first loyalty lies with the party -- not the People or the State they are supposed to represent. Abolishing the Electoral College will exacerbate an already serious problem.

Rather than abolishing the Electoral College, what we ought to do is repeal the 12th Amendment. Prior to the passage of the 12th, the runner-up became the Vice President, which, rather than leaving Hilary and her supporters out in the cold, we would have kept those voices at the table, with influence both in the White House, and also in the Senate, as the VP is the president of the Senate. Then we could keep the balance of power that the Electoral College gives us and it would keep better representation for those States and individuals who preferred someone other than the front runner.

Additionally, the system we've had since the 12th was passed institutionalized the toxic party system that creates such terrible divisions in our people. Washington warned us of the dangers of party in his farewell speech, and we disregarded his wisdom, to our sorrow. The problems he warned about have pretty much all come about in the deep partisan divides we currently suffer from.

The Constitution is so remarkable, as far as balancing and splitting power both horizontally between the branches, and vertically, between the States and the federal governments, and to abolish the Electoral College would further deform that balance. Instead, we should correct the mistaken 12th Amendment.

There are other objections, not based on the one person one vote argument. This comment is pretty representative of what I have seen of those: 

Yeah. I'm not cool with keeping a system that was based on white male power and slavery. Let's get rid of it
-Gwen, on Facebook

The Constitution, including the Electoral College, isn't about white male power. Its about bridling the avaricious elements of human nature in order to secure maximum Liberty to ourselves and our posterity. It is true that the principled response to the slave States would have been to count slaves at zero fifths -- not because slaves were not human, but because the slave States should not have been claiming they were no better than cattle AND counting them as citizens for purposes of representation. That defect has been corrected, and in a way that counts all humans correctly. But let's not rashly throw the baby out with the bath water.

Slavery is abolished (as it should be), and many things have changed since then -- but human nature is not one of them. And it is in understanding and coping with the human tendency to crave power that the Founders shine the brightest. Each fundamental change of the Constitution away from the limited republican system they gave us brings us closer to democracy's mob rule -- which is exactly why losing an election is such an unpleasant experience. That ought to warn us that we're traveling down the wrong road, and the answer is repeal of the Amendments such as the 12th and the 17th so that we can restore the balance, rather than doubling down on the error and bringing in still more mob rule.


Rozy Lass said...

I know how you feel. My third party candidate didn't win either. But I'm so glad that in the future, when things go south, and not according to all the glib promises, I can be at peace knowing I didn't vote for the characterless character who won.

Anne Chovies said...

Makes sense to me!


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