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U.S. elections

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Keep it the way it is
The electoral glue holds us together

November 14, 2000
The Iranian

Every time we experience a national trauma, the tendency for some is to bring out the scalpel and get ready to attack the body of the Constitution, trimming this, cutting off that, and excising the provision that caused the pain. Over a year ago, in the aftermath of the high-profile massacres, the outraged among us wasted no time to take it all out on the Second Amendment and the citizen's right to bear arms, often zeroing in on the fact that we no longer have or need a "militia" and that we, as a nation, are no longer facing the threats that the nation's Founders had faced.

The prospect of electing a President who may not garner the majority or plurality of the "popular vote" is prompting some to call for the abolition of the Electoral system. Nothing offends us more to think that a mere anachronistic technicality like the electoral college should thwart the "will of the people." After all, we have bought into the myth that this is a participatory democracy, where every voter has one vote and her vote counts: fuzzy math or not, the candidate with the most popular votes should become the President of the United States. After all, that is our experience at a State level, why not then should it be also on the national level?

But if it were only that simple. Contrary to popular belief, on the first Tuesday of November every four years, we do not participate in a national election for a President. We engage in a State election, whose results will then be the basis for the votes that our Electors will cast to determine the next President. In electing the Chief of the Executive Branch, the President, each State gets to have a number of Electors, or votes, equal to its number of Senators and Representatives in the U.S. Congress: these are the Electors that Article II, section 1 of the Constitution, as amended, charges with electing the President. You and me are not and were not meant to be the Electors!

The Electoral system and the ideals that it embodies constitute the very glue that holds together our Federal compact. It provides a delicate balance between the two fundamental requirements of our federal form of government: first, in our system, the States of the Union are equal regardless of size or population, and, second, in the representative form of government the size of population matters. Therefore, under the Constitution, in the Congress, every State has two Senators, read two votes, and every State has a number of Representatives, or votes, determined by its population count. The same principles of equality of States and popular representation combine to govern the election of the President by the Electors.

Abolish the Electoral system and the Federal system, as we know it, will unravel at its seams. It will do so in two major ways. To begin with, a Presidential electoral system based on direct popular vote will render irrelevant and marginalize the less populated States. Last time a group of States felt left out or browbeaten by others, they decided to secede from the Union. The neglected ones will be right again to ask about the benefit of their membership in the Union. Those who wish to gut the Electoral system should have a better answer for these States than platitudes and threat of force to keep them in line.

A Presidential election determined by a national popular vote count will also be the death knell of our so-called two-party system, as we know it, because the majority party, presently the Democratic Party, will be assured to a greater extent of repeated captures of the White House. There are simply more of them, registered and breeding. To get elected, a minority party candidate, who could be a Democrat one day, would have to rely increasingly on horse-trading with other parties and constituencies, engage in all the more vicious and incivil attacks on his rivals, engage in election fraud and predatory practices, and define herself in terms indistinguishable from the opponent. None of this will advance the cause of giving the voters a clear cut choice, which is what got us into the present deadlock to begin with.

Moreover, to replace the present system with a direct-vote system will require, for election purposes, the States to give up their sovereignty and be counted as the mere provinces of the central government, under one central authority, with national voter identification numbers, stricter residency requirements, greater frequency of census, and a Federal super-bureaucarcy. Any of this is quintessentially un-Amercian.

The Founder's were wise enough to recognize that the human kind is not given to evlutionary forms of intelligent, becasue the education of the citizen begins all anew with every birth. To save the Constitution from the ravages of momentary mass hysteria, they devised an amendment process by which in order to amend the Electoral system there will have to be concurrence by two thirds of the Senate and the House of Representatives, and three-fourths of the State legislatures. The prospect for that is from nil to zero.

The suggestion that the Electoral system should be abolished is therefore a short-sighted, half-baked, knee-jerk, and ill-informed pursuit. Almost always, the winner of the Electoral votes is the same person who wins the "popular vote." When not, the country has and still will have a President in some manner. On the other hand, to prevent the recurrence of electoral/popular vote anomalies may require more voter education and participation, better ballot counting systems and procedures, and a review of the "winner-take-all" rule. There is no need for a wholesale assault on the Constitution itself.


Guive Mirfendereski is a professorial lecturer in international relations and law and practices law in Massachusetts.

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