Saturday, December 24, 2016
Electoral College Prevents Total Power Being Controlled By Big Cities
The Electoral College Is Anything But Outdated
In a deeply divided nation, a candidate shouldn’t be able to win by appealing only to urban sophisticates.
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Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn on a grassroots movement to change how Presidents are
elected. Photo: Getty
LARRY P. ARNN
The outrage from Hillary Clinton supporters came immediately: Donald Trump might
have won the Electoral College, but he appears to have lost the popular vote. This
was said to be a violation of democracy, one that defied the principle of “one man,
one vote.” A Yale professor slandered the Founders by telling the website Vox that
the Electoral College was created to protect slavery.
We can think about this better if we understand two things: What does the Electoral
College do, and why does it do it?
On Dec. 19, the electors of every state and the District of Columbia will meet. Each
state has the same number of electors as it does U.S. senators and representatives
combined. The state legislature decides how the electors are selected.
The chosen electors are bound by custom everywhere and by law in many states to
support the presidential candidate who won their state’s popular vote. If they fail to
vote this way, they will be “faithless electors.” This has happened but rarely in the
history of the presidency.
Everything about this process is as the Constitution directs, with the exception of the
last bit. Nothing in the founding document requires electors to support the candidate
who wins the popular vote in their state. In America’s early years many states did not
even conduct popular presidential elections.
Instead electors were picked by state legislatures or by governors. The Framers had
the idea that the electors, in choosing a president, would vote their consciences after
deep discussion—and sometimes this happened. Often, however, electors were
selected because they had declared support for a particular candidate.
As the practice of holding a popular vote spread, it was natural that the electors
would follow those results. Still, the Electoral College continues to recognize that
Americans vote by state—in the same way that they elect the Senate and the House,
and the same way that they voted those many years ago to ratify the Constitution.
But now there is a national movement to require that electors support the presidential
candidate who wins the national popular vote. The proposal, called the National
Popular Vote Interstate Compact, has been passed by 10 states and the District of
Columbia. Implementing this practice would be a disaster.
Consider for a minute why the Electoral College was invented. Although it is odd,
it is also a plain expression of the Constitution, part of the structure that has made
America’s founding document the best and longest lived in history.
The Constitution reflects the paradox of human nature: First, that we alone among
earthly things may exercise our own volition; second, that sometimes we exercise
such power badly. This is why we require laws to protect our rights, as well as
restraints upon those who make and enforce those laws.
The Constitution is paradoxical most of all about power, which it grants and withholds,
bestows and limits, aggregates and divides, liberates and restrains. Elections are
staggered, so as to distribute them across time. The founding document also divides
power across space; the people grant a share of their natural authority to the federal
government, but another share to the states where they live.
This innovation is most directly responsible for the greatness of the United States.
Think what the Founders achieved: They invented a way of governing, and they
extended it without benefit of kings or colonies across a vast continent, bigger than
they could imagine, until they got to the other side 30 years later. The magnificent
Northwest Ordinance granted free government to the territories, then representative
and independent state government thereafter. Ruled from Washington, the nation
could never have settled this land in freedom nor made it so strong.
The practical political equality that the American people have achieved depends
entirely upon their ability to spread political authority across a vast area. In American
political life, it matters how many people are in favor of a given thing. It also matters
where they live.
Mr. Trump joins John Quincy Adams,Rutherford B. Hayes,Benjamin Harrison and
George W. Bush as the only presidents who won without the popular vote. After
2000, this is the second time in recent years—a product of the deep and wide division
in America between the urban and the rural, the sophisticated and the rustic, the
cosmopolitan and the local.
It is a shame that the winner this year, Mr. Trump, lost the popular vote by a whisker.
But it would be as much or more a shame if Mrs. Clinton had prevailed despite
massively losing the geographic vote, the vote across space, the vote that reflects
the different ways that Americans live.
We forget that it is a historical rarity to have an executive strong enough to do the
job but still responsible to the people he governs. The laws in the U.S. have worked
that miracle for longer than anywhere else. Remember that the Electoral College
helps establish the ground upon which the American people must talk with each
other, while ensuring that they are not ruled as colonies from a bunch of blue
capitals, nor from a bunch of red ones.