Re: NYTimes.com Article: Abolish the Electoral College

From: David Weintraub <david_at_weintraubworld_dot_net>
Date: Mon Aug 30 2004 - 22:19:52 CDT

On Aug 30, 2004, at 9:24 PM, Joel Harris wrote:
> As written before: the United States of America is NOT a democracy.
> It is a republic. Not only that, but the states are "guaranteed" that
> they will be a republican form of government (Article IV Section 4).
> So the fact that the electoral college is not democratic is not even
> remotely a good reason to remove it.

In the Federalist Papers, Hamilton agreed that the difference between a
"democracy" and a "republic" were minimal in the way they are used in
the Constitution. As he pointed out, although fairly democratic,
England wasn't a republic because it was a kingdom. However, Venice was
a officially a republic, but was completely undemocratic. It was pretty
much agreed that Article IV Section 4 implied a democratic form of
government and not simply the types of very non-democratic republics
that were quite common in Europe.

Then again, do you need an electoral college to have a republic or even
a federal republic? Germany and Switzerland are both federal republics,
but seem to do just fine without an electoral college. Mexico (another
federated republic) and France are two republics with presidential
systems, but no electoral college.

The Virginia Resolution (which is what our Constitution was based upon)
never included any requirement to have the states elect a president.
Originally, the plan was to have Congress elect the president. However,
almost all of the delegates objected to that because it would hurt the
separation of powers and make the President to dependent on Congress.
Even the Virginia delegation admitted the flaw, but couldn't figure out
another way to elect a president without hurting large states with low
voter franchise rates.

The Electoral College came fairly late in the drafting of the
Constitution and was pretty much of a compromise. It came about because
slave states didn't want a direct election of the president, and most
states didn't want Congress to choose the President. Wilson (the same
Pennsylvanian delegate who first suggested that the President be
directly elected) proposed something of an Electoral College by
dividing each state into districts, and each district would, through
elections, cast a vote for President. That became the basis of the
Electoral College.

The only reason that the Constitution doesn't state how Electors should
be chosen wasn't to allow the state governments the option to choose
the Electors. It was just that no one could agree on the voter
qualifications. Remember that the voting franchise was restricted, and
not only was it restricted, but there were even different
qualifications for voting for each office. A person might be able to
vote for the lower state house if they paid taxes, but couldn't vote
for the upper state house unless they also owned property. Federal
voter qualifications were discussed, but dropped because of complete
lack of agreement.

In fact, the block voting of Electors was never a given. It was
originally assumed that Electors would be parceled out based upon how
the general population voted. If Candidate A gets 60% of the vote, he
would get 60% of the electors. The authors of the Constitution never
expected political parties to form which caused the whole
winner-take-all voting we currently see in the Electoral college.

As I stated before, the Electoral College was a kluge that broke in the
first truly contested presidential election. That election resulted in
a electoral tie between Jefferson and Burr (Jefferson's vice
presidential candidate). The election was thrown to the house which had
a majority of Republicans (Jefferson's party) but most of the state
delegations were majority Federalist (Adam's party).

Burr should have withdrawn and allowed Jefferson to win, but Burr was
trying to cut a deal with the Federalists. Burr was convinced that
Hamilton was involved in getting some of the Federalist delegations to
vote for Jefferson, and thus assuring a Jeffersonian win. This added to
the personal animosity between the two men which later lead to the
famed "Interview at Weehawken". Any Constitutional provision that
results in a duel to the death is not exactly a master work of genius.

The Electoral College has out lived its usefulness and is bound to
cause major political mayhem one of these days, I'd say it's time to
get rid of it.

> As someone in flyover terretory (Indiana), I find it comforting that
> all presidential politics do not take place in New York, California
> and Texas. States such as West Virginia actually count.

As someone who lives in the parts of the country that contains almost
70% of the vote, but no voter interest in either one of the candidates,
I can't see how that's really fair. Remember that even most of the "fly
over" territory is being ignored too. The election is really only
taking place in maybe 6 of the 50 states. If ever vote counted, the
candidates would be all over the country gathering votes. Kerry would
be all over the South gathering votes in Birmingham Alabama and Atlanta
Georgia. He'd be making stops in each and every African-American church
to pick up votes.

Maybe with Democratic presidential activity in the South, a competitive
Democratic party might form which may mean those states won't always be
written off by the Democrats as "Red States". The same might go for the
Republicans in California and New York. Heck, maybe the country won't
be so polarized once the two parties start to really expand their base
of support.

> I really think we should show a little more respect for the
> Constitution and those individuals who came up with it. They did an
> immaculate job. I dare say if they were writing today--even without
> slavery--they would have come up with something very similar to the
> electoral college due to the varying sizes of the states.

I don't have a lack of respect. The writers of the Constitution had a
very difficult job, and everything was against them. However, the
Constitution was not a gift from the deities, but a political document
full of compromises. Those amendments we are so found of weren't
included in the original Constitution. Most of the delegates were
against any "Bill of Rights" in the constitution. They felt that a Bill
of Rights would be a hollow promise since there wouldn't necessarily be
anyway to enforce it. Rights are better protected by dynamic opposition
of power centers. The executive and legislative branches would
jealously guard their power. Same with the Federal government and the
states. This would be the true guarantor of liberty, not some empty
promises written into the Constitution.

Yet, when it came to getting the states to pass the Constitution, the
backers of the Constitution relented. There are many clauses in the
Constitution that represented political compromise and not good
government. The Senate in its current format was a despised institution
by most of the supporters of the constitution. However, smaller states
like New Jersey and Delaware refused to consider a new form of
government that took away their equality with other states in the
Confederation Congress (which has a single chamber with each state
getting one vote). The result was the Great Compromise that everyone
pretty much hated but agreed to.

Most of the major players in the writing of the Constitution thought
that a new constitution would be rewritten every 20 years or so. After
all, the states rewrite their constitutions every twenty years or so,
why not the Federal Government? In fact, there is even a prevision in
the Constitution to call a new Constitutional convention.

The fact we never rewrote the Constitution every generation or so had
to do with the political disagreements due to slavery than the high
quality of the document. In the first half of the 19th century, most of
the North hated the document. They felt that it was an anti-democratic
shackle that kept the institution of slavery alive. In a certain
twisted sense, the South agreed and didn't want to lose what they felt
protected their property from expropriation. It was impossible to get
the 2/3 vote needed in Congress to call a new Constitutional
Convention. Something again, our Founding Fathers probably never
anticipated.

Today, if we were really starting from scratch, I would be surprised if
we had an Electoral College since it is an institution that is
associated with petty dictatorships. In fact, I doubt we would even
have a Senate shaped the way it currently is with 70% of the population
getting only 20% of the votes. I'm not too sure what the second chamber
would look like, or even if we would have a second chamber (Nebraska
does fine with just a unicameral legislature).

>
> Regards,
> Joel Harris
>
> Amendment X
> The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor
> prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States
> respectively, or to the people.
>
>

=======================================
Well, I've wrestled with reality for 35 years, doctor,
and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it."
-- Elwood P. Dowd
=======================================

David Weintraub
david@weintraubworld.net
david@weintraub.name
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Received on Tue Aug 31 23:17:21 2004

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