Many analysts project that the Democratic Primary Debate on September 12, 2019, is going to feature the candidates’ views on abolishing the Electoral College.
Although each of the candidates will tell you what is wrong with the Electoral College, their arguments won’t adequately explain the most important question relating to how we select the President of the United States: Why was the Electoral College created in the first place?
The Purpose of Electing the President Indirectly
The language of the Constitution is vague with respect to the exact duties and qualities of the President. Besides defining the office as that which is vested with “Executive Power” and defining the President as the “Commander-in-Chief,” the Constitution provides little guidance as to the practices and powers of the highest office in the United States; most of the gaps have been filled solely by the trial-and-error process of tradition. Thanks for the help, Framers!
With the broad ambiguity of the President’s powers, the Framers recognized the necessity of intense deliberation in the selection of the President.
On Election Day, voting citizens cast ballots for electors who are supposed to make the choice as to their preferred Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates. Although electors are typically sworn to a political party, they are free to vote for whomever they decide after they are selected by voters in their state. This is because–at least in theory–electors have been selected for their position based not only upon their qualifications as experts in the subject of governmental affairs but also because of their ability to make sound political judgements.
In Federalist No. 68, Alexander Hamilton aptly explains that the Electoral College, by design, is intended both to empower the People’s voice and to temper this voice through sage sensibility:
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 [as to select the President]….[The Framers] have referred it in the first instance to be an immediate act of the people of America, to be exerted in the choice of persons for the temporary and sole purpose of making the appointment.
With the importance of the Presidential Office—not only in terms of its national and international clout but also with respect to its intentionally wide latitude of power—the Framers understood that choosing the President of the United States requires balancing an understanding of the delicate nuances of governance with the wisdom of character judgement—a task which is not easy during the vitriolic battles we call elections.
The Electoral College, thus, was intended to limit popular sovereignty only to the degree of preventing charismatic but ill-intentioned leaders from rising to political stardom, safeguarding the principles of freedom through indirect democracy.
The Real Numbers Game
If the argument for indirect election in general isn’t convincing enough, take a look at the numbers: According to Dr. John Van Til:
“The present population of the nation is about 320,000,000 people. Assume that half of them are eligible to vote—160,000,000. Probably only half of that number would actually vote (80 million). Then 40,000,001 people could elect the president. Stated another way, about 25 percent of eligible voters could elect the president. That would mean that only a few states with large populations—California (40 million), Texas (27 million), Florida (20 million), and New York (20 million) could elect the president. Specifically, California alone could elect the president.”
Because electors are awarded to each state based upon total representation in the House of Representatives and Congress, the Electoral College ensures that the popular vote of every state matters. If Democrats are serious about equitable franchise rights, then the system that ensures votes from Americans in every state of the Union seems like the clear choice.
But the numbers game in terms of Presidential Elections keeps increasing in complexity.
According to a Politico poll from March 2019, 72% of Democrat voters strongly support either repealing or by-passing the Electoral College completely–and 30% of Republican voters feel the same. From this data, only 34% of Americans favor keeping the Electoral College instead of developing a national popular vote system.
More alarming, however, is the fact that 43% of Americans support the National Popular Vote Compact—an interstate agreement to commit all of a state’s electoral votes to the nation’s popular vote. So far, this measure has been adopted by 16 jurisdictions with a combined total of 196 electoral votes.
In the most turbulent time in American politics since the late-Antebellum era, the rules of the presidential election game have already been drastically changed, with no telling how this will effect the 2020 election.
Words of Wisdom
In his Farewell Address, George Washington left the American people with numerous timeless warnings to bear in mind as the nation began to chart its course in a Post-Washington era. With the current and proposed changes regarding the election of the President, his words of wisdom ring deeply true:
“Towards the preservation of your government, it is requisite…that you resist with care the spirit of innovation upon its principles, however specious the pretexts. One method of assault may be to effect in the forms of the Constitution alterations which will impair the energies of the system thus to undermine what cannot be directly overthrown….Liberty will find in such a government, with powers properly distributed and adjusted, its surest guardian.”
Should we listen? Let’s vote on it.
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Gabrielle M. Etzel is a recent graduate of Grove City College with a B.A. in Political Science and a minor in Economics. She is a freelance Political Analyst, Writer, and Editor in Chief of the Unvarnished Blog<https://theunvarnishedblog.wordpress.com/>, direct email to firstname.lastname@example.org <mailto:email@example.com> |
She is also a contributor to the Yonkers Tribune and the radio program, Westchester On The Level. Although she plans to pursue graduate study in American Politics and Public Policy, Gabrielle’s primary career goal is to make quality social science content accessible to a variety of audiences. If you liked this piece, consider checking out The Unvarnished Blog <https://theunvarnishedblog.wordpress.com/>.