Monday, January 30, 2012

Electoral College – The Last Bastion of State Power

The Electoral College is probably the most debated aspect of our election process by those who are aware of its existence. You will find many articles and arguments on the internet calling for it's removal; I say most of these are by people who either a) don't understand why it exists or b) understand why it exists but believe in having a powerful central government rather than a limited one. Here you will find my views on the subject and some of my arguments on why we should keep the Electoral College, and perhaps strengthen it with a repeal of the 23rd Amendment, which, I am proud to say, was never ratified by my home state of Georgia.

Before we begin, a bit of history and an explanation of Electoral College for those of you who may have no clue what this post is even about (which, sad to say, may be a majority of the country. At various places in this post I will refer to larger and smaller states; when I do this, I refer not to physical size, but population. As such, physically large states with low populations, such as Alaska, are considered a smaller state in the context of this post. So on to the history lesson. When our great country was being set up, there were many great debates, among which was how the states would be represented in the union, for one of the things that was (for the most part) agreed upon was that the country was a union of states, not a single over-arching government for all the people. So when it came to how the states were to be represented; the larger states felt that since they had a greater proportion of the people, they should have more representatives, and thus hold more sway. The smaller states felt that each state should be represented equally. Out of this discussion came the Connecticut Compromise, or the Great Compromise of 1787, that gives us a Senate with equal representation from the states, and the house with representatives apportioned by population.

‘But’, you may be thinking, ‘I already knew that, and what does it have to do with this Electoral College thing?’ As I stated previously, our country is a union of states, not a collection of people. As such, the leader of the union (the president) is selected by its members, the states. To not have the same argument over again, each state gets a number of votes equal to its representation in congress. This group of voters is known as the Electoral College and they vote for our president. No where in our constitution, as originally written, or in any of its twenty-seven amendments will you find a "right to vote" for the president.

Now, most people know they go vote for the president every four years, but you aren't voting for the president, at least not directly. When you cast your vote, you are voting on how your state's electors should vote. In most states (and Washington D.C., more on why they get electors later), the winner of the popular vote of the state determines where all the votes for that state get cast. Two states, Maine and Nebraska, use a different method where each congressional district selects its electoral vote by popular vote, and the remaining two votes are selected by statewide popular vote. Now, the electoral college is supposed to vote for who they are supposed to vote for according to the laws of the state, those that don't are called faithless voters and many states have laws to deal with such people.

Now, one of the common arguments against the electoral college is that it isn't fair. But this is only true if the United States is a collection of the people living in its territories rather than a collection of united states. The leader of a group is voted upon by it's members. You an I are not members of the United States, but the states we belong to are. As a compromise to have a measure of fairness to both large and small states, there are two separate methods of calculating a given state's representation in the union. The method used to calculate the number of senators a state will get (the same for every state, regardless of size) and the method used to calculate the number of representatives each state will have in the House (apportioned by population). This ensures that each state will have a minimum weight of three (two plus at least one) in our union. This weight come into play at least twice, in the congress and in the electoral college.

Over the 200+ years of its existence, especially in the most recent half, the central government has been chipping away at the power of the individual states and taking that power for itself, contrary to constitution which is its founding document and/or the founders who wrote it and the states who ratified it. Some of this has been with actual amendments to the document itself, others without any such justification. The electoral college is, in my opinion, one of the last places where the states still hold power, and even that is under attack. Every four years there are calls to amend the constitution to allow a direct popular vote for the president, under the guise that such would empower the people, much as was done for the senate with the 17th amendment. This actually resulted in less power to the people, and having a direct popular vote for the president would likely do the same. As state nullification efforts are scoffed at by those at what is supposed to be the federal level, elimination of the electoral college would mean the end of states' power (states do not have rights, but they do have power) and the federal system, and as such, I will never vote for such.

Earlier in this post, I mentioned that Washington D.C. had votes in the electoral college, which is odd considering that the District is not a state, and therefore, not a member of the union. Also, the District is the only non-member group present in the college. How did this come to be? The only way it could have, via an amendment to the constitution, the 23rd amendment, to be exact. The was proposed in 1960, ratified by 39 states over the next year, and enacted. New Hampshire was the 39th state to ratify, and technically ratified it after it was enacted. Alabama ratified it over 40 years later in 2002, Arkansas rejected it outright, and the remaining states have not, to date, ratified it. The purpose of the amendment was to grant the District a place in the electoral college with seats no more than that of the smallest state, so, three. I was not around in 1960 to hear the arguments for and against, but I can take a guess as to how they went. I still feel like it was a mistake, undermining the purpose of the electoral college. I am also surprised it only granted seats to Washington D.C., and not any of the other unincorporated territories such as Puerto Rico or Guam; though I suspect this was something of a compromise.

In summary, only states, not citizens, vote for the President of the union, and do so through the electoral college. To dismantle the college and move to a pure popular vote of citizens for president would undermine the last bastion of state power, and firmly lock us in to an all powerful national, no longer in any meaningful way federal, government.

1 comment:

  1. Well said! The 17th Amendment was a TERRIBLE thing, as it eroded states' power and their ability to enforce the 10th amendment and states' rights, since the Senators are now representing the people of the state rather than representing the State itself, keeping itself at arms length of people's mercurial demands and helpoing prevent bad laws from passing due to reactionary mobs demanding response to events. We need to abolish the 16th AND 17th amendments. ~MB