In Defense of the Electoral College

Did you know that, according to the Constitution, the people do not elect the President?

As Yogi Berra said, “and you can look it up.”

The Constitution actually says that the State Legislatures, in whatever manner they choose, shall appoint electors to vote for President. The obvious intent of the Founders was to have the State Legislatures consider lists of fine, outstanding citizens, and have them go to Washington to hash out who should be the President.

The Founders were very conscious of the danger of “mob rule,” in which the President would be chosen by slogan-spouting, non-thinking mobs, egged on by partisan hacks.

You know–the system we have right now.

Unfortunately, the system rapidly evolved into one in which the population at large does vote for President, with the “winner” getting all the electoral votes for a particular state. This is the worst of all possible worlds, but it’s the world we’re stuck with.

The Founders viewed the sovereign states as just a little short of independent nations. In fact, they were independent nations that “acceded” to the union, on the condition that they would retain most of the sovereignty of a completely independent country. The Electoral College was one way in which the State Legislatures could maintain some of their power and influence.

When you vote for President, what you are really voting for is a slate of electors who are (more or less) pledged to vote for the candidate of your choice. From time to time, an elector or two will break the mold and vote his or her conscience, choosing not to follow the lead of the popular vote, but this has never swayed an election one way or the other.

I would suggest we go back to a system more like the Founders’ original vision, in which the State Legislatures choose the electors, and the electors choose the president.

This would certainly save us a lot of wasted time and effort–now spanning over half the four-year term of the current president–just getting a political machine together to win the popular vote. It would save us two years of Sean Hannity screeching his talking points. It would save billions in nauseating advertising campaigns.

Now, if you still think the population at large should choose the president, I suggest the electors at least be split proportionally. What is the logic of California’s fifty-five electoral votes going entirely to only one candidate? If Obama wins with fifty percent, and McCain gets forty percent, and other candidates split ten percent, why not give Obama approximately 28 electoral votes, McCain perhaps 22, and five split amongst the rest?

This way, incidentally, third parties would become more influential, as they would cut into the electoral vote total and could negotiate some concessions in exchange for their vote.

The magic 270 electoral votes, in this scenario, would be a little more difficult to reach. This way, instead of voting for the lesser of two evils, you could vote your conscience, knowing there would be a good chance of your elector(s) having some influence on the election.

In the current election, let’s say Obama, under proportional allocation of electors, gets 250 electoral votes. McCain, let’s say, gets 200. Bob Barr, the Libertarian, gets maybe fifty, and Ralph Nader gets thirty-five. Obama, in order to win, has to woo a few electoral votes away from the Barr and Nader camp in order to win. This would be a good thing.

Eventually, you might even see electoral vote totals split rather equally among four or five parties. The result would be that minority viewpoints would have some amount of influence, and could even become majority parties. People would no longer feel compelled to “pick the winner,” or “choose the lesser of two evils.” There would be no such thing as a “wasted vote.”

Trust me, folks: if you vote for Obama in Utah, as things now stand, you are “wasting your vote.” Your vote won’t mean a thing. You might as well not vote at all, under the current system.

If you vote for McCain in California, likewise.

But imagine if the electoral vote were split proportionally, as it should be. Those two Obama electors from Utah could prove very important and very influential in the final choice for President. Those three Libertarians and two Greens from California would also have some clout. They would actually (gasp!) REPRESENT THEIR CONSTITUENCIES! What a concept!

Advocates of representative democracy, far from calling for the abolition of the Electoral College, should insist on it becoming more in line with the Founders’ vision.