The genius of the Electoral College
From this perspective
During these past weeks, there has been much written and verbal loquaciousness over the Electoral College. In fact, there are those who are clamoring for its abolition … state by state. What is the rationale for the Electoral College in the first place? It is written that “The Electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President …” Amendment XII, ratified June 15, 1804.
Every four years in January, the Congress meets in joint session to count the electoral votes of the Electoral College. In the past, there have been calls for the reform or even the abolition of the Electoral College. Such calls are not new; there have been more constitutional amendments introduced in Congress for the alteration of the Electoral College than on any other subject. Each time the proposed amendment did NOT meet with the approval of the Congressional “statesmen” and “stateswomen.”
Regarding the Electoral College system … there are those who feel that their logic is irrefutable when they say: “should not the candidate who gets the most votes in the nation win?” And, further, if I am in a state which is heavily one-sided, my vote either counts or does not count at all; that makes no sense at all.” On the face of it, there is great logic when the Framers established a system of electors.
When the Constitution was drafted, America was an almost entirely rural society. There were no up-to-the-minute political news flashes, inside-the-Beltway talking-head TV programs and/or the Internet. It was sometimes weeks, before political news from other states arrived in one’s home state. In this atmosphere, the Founders were concerned that a popular regional candidate in a populous area may be able to garner enough votes to win the election. In other words, a regionally popular candidate may win who may not have at heart the interests of the entire number of states — that is, the entirety of nation itself.
Clearly then, if a candidate needed to win only the popular vote, it would be possible for that person to be elected President without winning a majority of the heart and soul of the nation. Therefore, that individual would not have been elected on the basis of any sort of consensus of the states, but simply on popularity in a particular state or in two or three heavily populated areas. And with our present system as it is now constituted, it forces a candidate to win a majority of the states’ electoral votes and thus obliges a candidate to appeal to the entire nation. In short, a wider portion of the population rather than simply a few densely populated cities or areas.
It is not sufficient for a candidate who is hugely popular, for example, in Philadelphia, New York City, Chicago or Los Angeles to win the election. But rather, that candidate must make a case more broadly in order to garner the necessary electors nationally to gain the Presidency. In fact, Article 2 of the Constitution and its 12th Amendment stipulates that electors, who are themselves chosen by the state, choose the president. And a state is allotted as many electors as it has representative in both houses of Congress. It would appear then, that the Electoral College is a bulwark of states’ rights yet, perhaps paradoxically, it also tend to foster the cohesiveness of the entire nation.
We are a nation … the United States of America … and not the united people of America, because it is a union of states, and not merely individuals. In other words, States directly elect presidents; individuals indirectly elect presidents. Thus, this protects the integrity of the various states in that it vests them with the authority to choose electors who will then choose the president. And thus, it fosters the cohesiveness of the entire nation and an examination of the issues nationally, and discourages candidates from concentrating on a few dispersed but highly concentrated populated areas and locally popular issues.
There are several important benefits produced by the current Electoral College system: Because a candidate must win at least 270 electoral votes from across the nation, a candidate cannot become president without a significant widespread voter base. Therefore, the Electoral College ensures a broad national consensus for a candidate that subsequently will allow that person to govern once in office. Think of the influence New York City has over New York state. When is the last time a governor or senator from New York has been from Western New York? Think of the impact this concentration of power has had on the rest of the State.
In conclusion, the Electoral College system prioritizes the most important factors and issues in selecting a president. It seems reasonable to believe, that any system of political representation, which decentralizes decision-making and increases the authority of local control, tends to support the concepts of representative democracy. And this is just what the Electoral College does.
This decentralization of political selection process and a more widely dispersed political participation in a nation conforms to the original intent of our founding fathers and as articulated in Article 2 of the Untied States Constitution and its 12th Amendment. And thus, the rights of States are safely preserved. It is true, the early Framers surely knew what they were doing and we will see their wisdom play out again on January 2021, when the Congressional “states-persons” meet to count the votes of the Electoral College.
And respectfully, that is the way it is in this republic of ours.
Dr. Robert L. Heichberger is a resident of Gowanda and Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at SUNY Fredonia.