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Norbert Bufka

Author  ·  Historian   ·  HiBufka Books

The Electoral College Must be Changed or Ended

The United States Constitution is an amazing document. We praise it and hold it in as high esteem as the Bible or Qu'ran or other sacred books.  But just as the sacred books are interpreted in many ways and misunderstood in the process, so is the Constitution. It was created by men for the purpose of uniting 13 colonies into one country.  The writers of the Constitution did not like democracy (rule directly by the people). They therefore created a representative democracy called a republic. They put in place several provisions which did not involve election by the people. One of these was the Electoral College to select our President.  The original purpose of the Electoral College has been subverted over the course of history and must be changed or ended.

The Electoral College

Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution says in part “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress.” States controlled whom they appointed electors and when they met , many times over a period of months. The first ten presidents were from Virginia or Massachusetts.

In 1788 James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay wrote a series of essays, called the Federalist papers, in defense of the newly created Constitution. In No. 68 Hamilton wrote that the meeting of the electoral college “affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications,” because they were independent men chosen expressly for this purpose. In 2016 many people urged the electors to vote against Trump based on the above essay by Hamilton..

how it worked

In 1824 there were four candidates for President. The independent electors could not agree on which one to elect so the decision went to the House of Representatives which chose John Quincy Adams.

Gradually over the course of the nineteenth century, political parties gained more and more control over the electoral process and states began to allow the people to vote for president. The debate over whether the people should elect the president or continue to use the Electoral College process began and continues to this day. Four elections resulted in the electoral college voting for a candidate who had fewer popular votes in 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, it was a widespread practice for political parties to choose the electors rather than the state legislature. The United States Supreme Court ruled in Ray v. Blair in 1952 that a political party can demand that its electors promise to vote for the candidate the party wants. In 29 states the electors are mandated by law to vote for the winner of the popular vote in their state. Not only are the electors no longer independent, the winner of a state gets all the electoral votes, except in Maine and Nebraska.

Conclusion

Prior to 1964 many states had a legislature modeled after the U. S. Congress: one house based on population and the other based on geographical areas. In 1964 the Supreme Court, applying the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, ruled in Reynolds v. Sims that both houses of state legislatures needed to be based on population, not geographical areas. This is often referred to as the “one man one vote” principle.

While the Electoral College is part of the Constitution, it clearly violates the "one man, one vote" principle established in Reynolds v. Sims. Because of the way electoral votes are assigned, popular votes are not equal around the country. In 2008 Wyoming had 3 electoral votes with a population of 532,668. This means each vote represented 177,556 people. On the other hand, California had a population of 36,756,666 with 55 electoral votes. Each vote represented 668,303 people. This means that Wyoming votes were worth nearly four times the votes in California.

The thirteen original states were made up of distinct groups of people for the most part and their sovereignty was recognized but today the sovereignty of the individual states is nearly irrelevant as migration constantly changes the population and traditions of states. While I was born and raised in Michigan and have lived most of my life here, I would be at home just as easily in most other states.

It is clearly time to accept the results of the popular vote.  This can be done through state legislation since states control the electoral college. Ten states and the District of Columbia have already passed legislation requiring their electors to vote for the winner of the national popular vote (The National Popular Vote plan). These states represent 165 electoral votes, 105 short of the 270 needed to win an election.  When states total 270 electoral votes the law will take effect. Urge your state Representative and Senators to support The National Popular Vote plan.  One alternatives to this plan is changing the “winner take all” to proportional allocation of electoral votes in each state. States can implement the latter. Please feel free to pass this column to others.

Another is to eliminate the electoral college and depend on the popular vote. This requires a Constitutional amendment. Interstingly, President-elect Trump said he supports this approach, even though he would have lost the election if it had been in effect in 2016. Newt Gingrich also supports the National Popular Vote Plan.

 

 

 

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