Keep it the way it is
The electoral glue holds us together
November 14, 2000
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
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.