Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

An electoral change that is long overdue

Posted

Since you will be receiving this two days before Christmas, it’s too late for many of the topics I could choose, such as eliminating consumerism from Christmas and your household; finding someone to celebrate Kwanza with; creating an atmosphere of calm, harmony and inner peace within yourself and everywhere you go; seven new uses for fruitcake; twelve believable reasons why you can’t make it to the relatives’ house this year. Anyway, you’re probably reading this in the car on your way to your Aunt Mildred’s. I’ll have to wait until next year or else write a “peace and plentitude” column in March, which isn’t a bad idea, for it can be a lot harder to develop an attitude of gratitude when winter won’t end, long-term relationships are faltering and grey skies, dirty snow and icy mud have everyone wondering why it was exactly that they thought it was a good idea to live in Northern Minnesota.

So, I guess I have to write about the electoral college, a topic that puzzles and angers me enough to do some research, hoping to discover enlightening information to pass on to you that will lift me above the status of ranter who has occasional access to a printing press. Twice in the last 16 years we have been saddled with presidents who lost the popular vote, so it seems to me we can do better. It has never made sense to me that, in a democracy with each eligible citizen getting a vote, there would be a mechanism beyond the popular vote to muck up the results.

However, others who were in charge of creating the Constitutional felt differently about it and I wasn’t around to set them straight. Many people have fought in wars, on the streets and through persistent efforts to establish the right of an equal vote for everyone...and many are asking now, “Why don’t we have it?”

One answer is the founding fathers didn’t trust the public to make a good or informed decision, perhaps scattering the vote among favorite sons who weren’t qualified. In verbal flourishes of obfuscation, Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers, “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. It was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder.” The deciders were afraid of direct elections and believed since the electors would only meet once, they would be less susceptible to outside influence or corruption.

Also, the smaller states felt they would be disregarded by the larger states, and many distrusted a central government, so to get their agreement, it was decided to award electoral votes in the same numbers as the senators and representatives.

Our country was a very young experiment in democracy, in which the founders really were inventing the wheel and not quite sure they could trust it not to wobble or to be sabotaged from forces inside or outside the country. Although it seems undemocratic to not trust the public, living in our times today, perhaps the doubt is understandable. Even given free public education, which didn’t exist then, and relatively easy access to information, citizens today often do not bother to get informed or involved or even vote. Only 57.9% of eligible voters cast a ballot, which means that 92-1/2 million people who could have voted, didn’t even bother. Many may feel their vote doesn’t count anyway, and in reality, some people’s votes count more than others: if you live in Wyoming, your vote counts 3.6 times as much as a Californian’s because of the distribution of the electoral votes.

The electors are chosen in each state in two steps: first, a slate of potential electors are chosen by each political party before the general election, either at the state convention or by the central committee, often honoring party leaders, elected state officials, or people who have a personal or political connection with the candidate. Electors can’t be senators, representatives or “a person holding a {federal} office of trust or profit.” Nor can they be state officials who have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States or given aid and comfort to its enemies.

On election day, the voters select their state’s electors by casting their ballots for president. This part was never evident to me, because in the states I have voted in, the electors’ names were not on the ballot, while in some states they are listed. I always thought I was voting directly for the presidential candidate of my choice, so this electoral college business always seemed like an unnecessary bit of ineffectual hooey that just hadn’t been eliminated. I learned differently.

In every state except two, the winner of the popular vote gets all the electoral votes, regardless of the distribution of the vote throughout the state, which distorts the structure of the campaigns and the final results. Since the electoral votes are not apportioned according to population, candidates focus on key states. In this election, two-thirds of the campaign was in six states; 94% of the campaign was in twelve states.

Nebraska and Maine do it differently: they have proportional distribution of the electors: the state winner receives two electors and the winner of each congressional district (who may be the same as the overall winner or a different candidate) receives one elector, so it is a more accurate reflection of the popular vote.

To make it even more baffling, there is no Constitutional provision or federal law that requires electors to vote according to the results of the popular vote in their states, but even though Republican electors were bombarded this year with pleas to change their vote, only two did, and on Dec. 19, Donald Trump was officially declared the president-elect. Nashville attorney Tom Lawless, who chose Marco Rubio in the primaries, described his vow to cast his electoral vote for Trump in blunt terms. “Hell will freeze and we will be skating on the lava before I change,” he said. Even others who have expressed serious concerns about Trump’s abilities to serve as president still feel they shouldn’t buck the system as set up in the Constitution.

Historically, only a few presidents have won in spite of losing the popular vote, including Rutherford B. Hayes and Benjamin Harrison. In the messy 2000 election, fraught with questions of election fraud, especially in Florida, Al Gore won 540,000 more votes than George W. Bush, but lost with only five fewer electoral votes. Never has the popular vote been so overwhelmingly in favor of the losing candidate; Hillary Clinton garnered 2.9 million votes more than Trump.

Only once in history did a candidate take office without winning either the popular vote or the electoral vote. In 1824, Andrew Jackson was the winner in both categories but didn’t reach the majority needed in the Electoral College, so the decision went to the House of Representatives, which voted John Quincy Adams into office.

Many people want the system changed and it could happen without amending the Constitution, which established the electoral college but left it up to the states to determine how the electors vote. The National Popular Vote bill would require that a state’s electors cast their votes with the country’s popular vote. It has been enacted into law in 11 states with 165 electoral votes (CA, DC, HI, IL, MA, MD, NJ, NY, RI, VT, WA) and will take effect when enacted by states with 105 more electoral votes.

President-elect Trump secured his Electoral College victory thanks to fewer than 80,000 votes across three states: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It is indeed time for change.

Comments

3 comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment
snowshoe2

As the years go bye without a change the popular vote could get much more different than the electoral vote. Time to change. Its not one man or One Women vote now as it stands. Some states that one vote counts for much more.

You still have Congress voted specifically by states.

I see the electoral college was created by the Southern slave states for their fear the northern states would control the president office otherwise.

Friday, December 23, 2016
Ben12

Is it that the current system is inherently flawed? Or is it that you're unhappy with the results that the current system yielded? Probably the latter.

The beauty of the electoral system is that it gives a voice to regions that would otherwise be insignificant to the general election. Geographically speaking, we live in a very large country with a very diverse population. Federal laws which may work well for high population costal states like CA, NY, FL, & TX may be completely wrong for states like IA, ND, WI, MT, KS etc. If you were to remove the electoral system and convert to a popular vote, you create a system where candidates become focused on urban areas and the more densely populated costal states while ignoring rural areas. At that point CA, NY FL & TX decide every election and the Midwest becomes irrelevant. The fact that MI, PA and WI were the states that decided this past election is a prime example of why the system is working as designed.

If you're frustrated with the results, blame your candidate for not spending enough time campaigning in those deciding states. But don't blame the system that gave the people in those states a voice.

Thursday, January 5, 2017
snowshoe2

results have nothing to do with it. We always talked about one man or women one vote. Some states that vote carries 50 % more weight. Either system is not perfect and yes you made some good points also.

Either way is much better than lot of countries.

Monday, January 16, 2017