End of the Republic

The American Republic is in decline. The decline is self-inflicted, a sort of suicide by choice. Why are people deciding to follow the "Road to Serfdom" over the "Road to Freedom"?

Location: Chesapeake Beach, MARYLAND, United States

Saturday, November 13, 2004

On the electoral college

Americans paid a lot of attention to the electoral process after the 2000 election and during the build up to Mr. Bush's victory two weeks ago. The general ignorace about the system should offer us a wake up call. People have been duped into believing that this country is a democracy. I think that many were shocked to hear that the results of the popular vote did not matter in 2000 - it was only the electoral college vote that counted.

While there was great outrage (especially on behalf of the statists-collectivists), there was little discussion about the electoral college process itself. I was surprised to find last week that few Americans knew about the origins of the electoral college system, why such a system was favored over direct elections, or even how the members of the electoral college are picked and who they are.

When people went to the polls on November 2 they were not actually voting for Kerry or Bush. They were actually choosing which elector will be sent to their state capitals the Monday following the second Wednesday in December (leaving time enough for a Gore-Bush recount). Their votes are sealed and sent to the Vice-President who opens them before Congress on January 6.

Each state has the same number of electors as it does representatives in both houses of Congress. As a result, each state will have 3 electors at a minimum (two based on its constitutional allotment of senators and at least one based on population). Presently, the electoral college (like both houses of Congress) has 538 members (535 for the states and 3 awarded to Washington DC).

Why would our founding fathers choose this system over a that of a direct democracy? To be fair, some of their reasons are out-dated. For instance, they were worried that citizens around the country would not have access to sufficient information about all the candidates. Travel and communication were slow in the late 1700's and there was concern that people would only vote for their "regional" or "local" candidates. If that occured, no Presidential candidate would have had a majority sufficient enough to have run the country. They feared that frequent challanges would destroy the system. The founding fathers thought it best to have a few people with access to all the information required represent the interests of their state. At the time, the Electoral College was insurance that the President would have a wider geographic appeal.

Technology has brought this country together. We now travel all over and communicate with people on opposite coasts. The parties put their best candidates forward to discuss the issues and we can all watch the "debates". The Electoral College is no longer needed to deal with "geographic isolationism".

However, the Presidential election should not be turned into a "winner-takes-all" election just yet. The Electoral College still serves an essential function - its primary purpose. Our founding fathers were able to grasp the concept that a numerical majority can just as easily create tyrrany as a single dictator. For instance, a majority could vote to enslave a minority group. The majority in Athens put Socrates to death (so much for the right to life!). The majority of the German Parliament gave power to Hitler. The majority of the voting citizens in Washington Grove decided that they did not want to respect the 1st Amendment.

What were the battle-ground states in the 2004 election? Florida, Ohio, Iowa, New Mexico, New Hampshire... Some of them were populous and some were not. Why did the politicians spend little time fighting for the votes in the most populous states like California, New York, or Texas? Under a direct, winner-takes-all election - the candidates would only focus their attention on states like California, New York, and Texas. Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio would get some attention as well - but Iowa, New Mexico, Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Missouri would be ignored - as would any other small state. The issues concerning the citizens of Manhattan, Malibu, and West Palm Beach would become paramount. The issues of the people in Des Moines, Concord, or Kansas City would become overlooked.

Of course, the majority cannot be ignored (a candidate required the majority to win - in most cases). Their issues are heard and discussed and debated in the national events. The Electoral College acts to ensure that other voices are heard as well.

J. Thyme Matz


Anonymous Anonymous said...

On a related topic of electoral reform, what are your thoughts on alternate voting such as Instant Runoff?

November 13, 2004 at 11:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On a related topic of electoral reform, what are your thoughts on alternate voting methods such as Instant Runoff?

November 13, 2004 at 11:22 PM  

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