Musings on Sports, Politics and Life in general

2016 Proves the Electoral College Works


Clinton supporters are claiming that since Hllary won the popular vote, it proves the Electoral College is a dysfunctional anachronism that impedes modern democracy. They don’t seem to understand, or care, that statements like those only prove the reasons for the Electoral College in the 1780’s remain with us today.

First and foremost, the Founding Fathers had deep, abiding distrust of unfettered democracy. James Madison wrote in Federalist 10

A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.

This understanding that direct democracy is an unwieldy form of government, certain to end in direct violence of neighbor versus neighbor, is what drove the Founders to establish the United States as a representative republic. They strove, at every level of the federal government they were creating, to isolate the democratic forum to the smallest, most localized unit possible. Indeed, one of the striking aspects of American governance is the interplay between the states and the federal government they devised.

A large part of the reason for establishing that interplay between state and federal government was the Founder’s understanding that, even in the earliest days of the nation, there were stark differences between the various states and regions, and competing interests between heavily populated areas and sparsely populated ones. In establishing a federal government that was an equal partner of the states as regards most matters, they allowed local control over local issues, while allowing for an overarching national policy that might be in direct contravention to what a state preferred. Factionalism, which they understood was an unremarkable and inevitable feature of human society, could thus be controlled. No single faction could become so omnipresent as to impose its will on the rest of the nation.

This theory of government extends through to the idea of the Electoral College. Most of us are familiar with the idea of the Electoral College as stated by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 68:

It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.

But very few of us have given much thought to this part of the same essay:

The choice of SEVERAL, to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of ONE who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes. And as the electors, chosen in each State, are to assemble and vote in the State in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation will expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people, than if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place.

Here we see expressed the idea, once again, of deference to state preference, even when contemplating a federal election. Yes, the election of a President would occur in all the states simultaneously, but it was not a singular electoral event. Rather, it was to be the continuation of state elections. To ensure that each state was not pressured by outside influences, each states electors are to meet in that state and vote. They are not to travel to the seat of national government. The method of their meeting and deliberation is left to the states to decide.

So how does the 2016 general election demonstrate that these ideas are still needed today? Consider this: Mrs. Clinton will assuredly wind up with more raw votes, if tabulated nationally, than Mr. Trump. But, that is due to her extreme support on the Pacific Coast. Her share of the popular vote in California, Oregon and Washington is around 65%. Of the roughly 61 million votes she received, nearly 9.5 million of them came from those three states versus only 4.3 million for Mr. Trump. To look at in reverse, in every other region of the nation, Mr. Trump outpolled Mrs Clinton by some 5 million votes and had the far higher share of the total, with nearly 53% of the votes cast.

If we were to do as Mrs. Clinton’s supporters ask, and amend the Constitution to abolish the Electoral College, we would be saying that only 3 of our states were electing the President. The other 47, despite a preference for the opposing candidate, would be shunned.

But the hidden beauty of the Electoral College is in ensuring that every state and every region receives import upon the selection of the President in proportion to its size and influence in the federal government. So yes, Mrs. Clinton is assured the 74 electoral votes from those states. All she needed was another 196 (or 38% of the remaining) electoral votes to win the Presidency. But Mr. Trump, by virtue of his running a broader campaign that appealed to more voters across a wider swath of the nation, gained more electors in the other states. He outpolled Mrs. Clinton in the deep south, the midwest, the plains states, the mountain west and battled her to a near draw in the northeast.

I understand its a bitter pill for her supporters to admit that Mrs. Clinton’s message did not have the type of broad appeal that resonated across the nation. But one again, the Electoral College is ensuring the candidate with the broadest support will assume the Presidency on January 20.

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