The Electoral College by The Mighty Fahvaag

Well, the founders of this nation got it right again. What am I saying? How did the founders anticipate a close election, and the selection of a President who didn’t win the popular vote? The Electoral College is stupid and unfair? Right? The winner of the popular vote nationwide should win, that is fair. Well, the founders didn’t think so. That is why the Electoral College was born. That is why it will work tomorrow, and on December 18 when it actually votes. First, we will review the main reasons this odd invention. Then I will seek to explain why we should stick with it, and what the alternative would be if someone were to amend the Constitution and popularize the Presidential vote.

The indirect election of the chief executive of the United States was chosen above a popular referendum, because of a compromise worked out between the various states. The problem was simple. There were three large and one medium sized cities in the thirteen colonies; Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and then Charles Town (Charleston) South Carolina. Any candidate carrying three or more of these cities would win a popular vote election. The problem was that candidates and voices from more rural areas, less populated areas of the country would never be heard in such circumstances. The Presidential campaigns would be run in the big cities and leave the countryside to its own devices.

The founders attacked that problem by making the selection of the President indirect instead of direct. Instead of using the existing potential for indirect choice, the Congress (The founders feared a Prime Minister concept. They did not want to mix legislative and executive powers in the same person.) they chose a first layer of indirect purpose chosen people called electors. These electors would be instructed, by the several people of each state, for whom to vote. This forced a state by state referendum on the choice of the President and Vice President.

The number of electors was also a thorny issue. When first proposed, each state had one vote. This was hardly fair to the states with large populations, so the Constitutional Convention turned to the same formulation as the bicameral legislature. Each state would receive one elector for each representative that the state chose to serve in the House and Senate. This meant that the minimum number of electors for any state would be three. Two for the Senate seats and one for a Representative. Virginia as 13 electoral votes, for example. We have eleven Congressional Seats and two Senators.

If no one wins a majority in the Electoral College, then the Presidential Election shifts to the new House of Representatives, that is why the Presidential term was originally started on March 5 or so. It gave enough time for the new house to meet and elect a president if a plurality of EC votes occurred. This was the hedge against viable third and fourth parties being significant enough players to win a statewide referendum. It has happened, and would have happened again if someone like Nader had won a few states. Can we say real horse trading and smoke filled rooms on these actions, boys and girls?

Now, with this system in place, the Presidential Candidates must visit each state in order to amass the necessary majority vote of electors. Or at least that was the thought. These state wide referenda were supposed to remain “winner take all”, and that has rankled many. Some states theoretically can split their electoral votes between competing candidates. The man issue is that there is no run off system, so if there are three people on the ballot in a state who receive votes, the one with the plurality wins. There is no run-off for the electors. The founders didn’t know that we would develop a naturally evolved two-party system. This evolution has cast a dark cloud over the Electoral College.

Okay, that is interesting, but what about winning without a majority of the votes. Remember the city thing? Look at Gore’s map. He won the megacity states. The founders knew that it wasn’t very fair to have the country run by the few states containing megacities. Louisville, KY; New Boston VA; Orem, UT; and Norman, OK deserve to have a say in the choice of the President. The Electoral College helps level the playing field. Without it, Gore would have won without carrying the entire south, most of the west, and even Oregon. That would have been sad, because it would mean that Republicans would lose the White House for most of the foreseeable future, since the Dems have become the Urban party.

To change the system and be fair, we would have to either allocate the electoral votes on some sort of percentage basis, or remove the EC completely and go to a referendum style direct election. There are problems with either of these choices.

In the case of percentage awards, we get into the soup once more with the totals being warped toward the big population states. In addition, it would be more difficult to attain the needed majority of votes and therefore throw more elections to the House. If we take this election for example, neither candidate won a majority of the popular vote, neither would get the full amount of electors, but would still need 270 to win. Something tells me that Mr. Gore would not like that very much. So, far from being more democratic, the weighted distribution of electoral votes would make a bigger mess.

The next case is that of a straight up referendum. This seems like a wonderful thing, but again taking the current election, we do not have a clear majority on either side. In a straight up or down referendum the only fair way to win is by winning a majority of the votes, not a plurality. This means run-offs. The French do this. In the current election’s case, since neither candidate won a majority of the popular vote, then a run-off election would be scheduled for some time in the near future, maybe December 18 just like the Electoral College. In any case this type of election is very expensive, and basically like running a third campaign. The other problems have to do with administration and recounts… How do you manage an election with sixty million votes? The task might be impossible. Fraud would rule.

So, we have what we have and I think it is a decent system. I don’t like it when the other guy wins, but guess what? I don’t like it when the other guy wins… No one does. As long as the rules are the same for all, the reasons for changing the method are largely partisan reasons. Pols are employed when they win. They are unemployed when they lose. They will agitate for the system that they feel will place them at an advantage. For that reason alone, I like the current system. There are other reasons for the indirect selection. The President Elect can become unable to serve before inauguration and the electors can select a new president or vote to send the issue to the House. I must always remind myself and my friends. We are a REPUBLIC, not a Democracy. We work through representatives not mob rule.

I hope that was more clear than the usual mud. I am tired and Mrs. Fahvaag is watching the Florida recount results. The groans are not what I want to hear, so I am going to go to sleep and wait for tomorrow. There is nothing that I can do other than what I already am doing, which is praying.

That damn single bombed out building is still there and we are almost out of ammo. At least Slade Gordon won in Washington State so we keep the Senate. If Gore wins, we get one more Republican Senator. We can live two more years with a GOP House and Senate. Gore is not Clinton, but then Trent LottoHair and Speaker Milquetoast will still be cowerin…I mean running the Legislature.

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