On Monday, the next procedure of our nation’s presidential selection process will take place. The Electoral College will gather in their respective meeting locations and submit their votes for the next president and vice president of the United States.
The Electoral College is an enigma to some, misunderstood by many and falsely maligned by those wishing to eliminate it. This column is not to debate the necessity of the Electoral College but to provide clarity to the pandemonium created because of the results of Nov. 8.
As with many things related to our nation’s history, far too many of our citizens are clueless on this topic. We are a country ignorant of our civic responsibilities in matters related to our form of government, which is one of many factors feeding our destructive civil discourse.
Worse still, some cherry-pick the truth, choosing to bend certain particulars to the truth the individual desires. A classical education teaches us a subject is best learned by first reading the factual text directly related to the topic, followed by a balanced reading by noted scholars on the topic. Eventually, this will lead to an intellectual conversation with rational people of differing views. Sitting in my home are the numerous volumes of the transcript of the conversations and debates at the Constitutional Convention. This is where I started on this topic decades ago.
Fact: The United States of America is not a democracy. If you do not believe me, open up the U.S. Constitution on a web browser. Click the “Find” option and type in “Democracy.” You will find no results. Re-click “Find” and type “Form of Government.” You will learn our country is a “Republican Form of Government (Article IV, section 4).” That is not to say there are not democratic tendencies in our form of government, whether by design or creep, but our Founding Fathers wisely set us on the path of a republic, defined and limited in power by our Constitution. In the words of in vogue Founding Father Alexander Hamilton: “We are now forming a Republican form of government. Real liberty is not found in the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments. If we incline too much to democracy, we shall soon shoot into a monarchy, or some other form of a dictatorship.” This is the first area where conversation about the Electoral College almost always goes astray.
When the “majority rules” in a direct democracy, unlimited power is granted to (or seized by) the majority, with no protection for an individual’s “inalienable rights” as guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence. A direct democracy would place the rights of minority groups at the mercy of the majority, or what historian Alexis de Tocqueville described as the “tyranny of the majority.” A Republic, on the other hand, ensures the majority’s power is limited by a written constitution, which safeguards the inalienable rights of minority groups and individuals.
Unlike today, our Founding Fathers never interchanged the phrases “Republic” and “Democracy.” Our Founding Fathers studied every form of government and were deliberate in making sure our country was not established as a pure (direct) democracy. The Electoral College is one product to safeguard our constitutionally-defined republic.
Fact: Some of our Founding Fathers were slave owners. There is no disputing this. However, there has been a gross misrepresentation by some to suggest the Electoral College was constructed to appease slave owning states. This is patently false. The Three-Fifths Compromise was a separate conversation. As distasteful as this conversation is to us today, the compromise was limited to discussion of congressional representation (the House and Senate). The conversation related to the selection of our president and vice president was held on separate terms. This is an area many Electoral College critics cherry pick quotes and blur the time line regarding the two distinctly separate conversations related to the Three-Fifths Compromise and Electoral College. By trying to falsely attach the Electoral College to slavery, it is the hope by some that they can exploit revulsion for slavery and fasten it to the Electoral College.
Fact: The Electoral College was established to protect the sovereignty of the individual states, to achieve balance between smaller and larger states. Our country is comprised of 50 “united” states. Each is unique, consisting of freely elected government bodies. A voter in New Hampshire has different concerns and sometimes different values than one in California. The national popular vote movement would consolidate an overwhelming percentage of votes to a handful of states, and more specifically, to larger cities in those states. There are so many twisted arguments related to this topic, some which will be used to counter this article, that it would require the entirety of this newspaper, plus more. The absolute certainty is there would be a mathematical advantage granted to voters in larger states in a “winner-take-all” election. The Electoral College is not perfect, but it does more at assisting in the creation of parity between the states than a pure democracy would.
False: The respective states have the power to circumvent the Electoral College. This is blatantly false and counter to the 12th Amendment of the Constitution, and the intent of Article IV, section 4. The only way to change the Electoral College to legally meet the misguided efforts by groups that support the national popular vote is to amend the Constitution. I would welcome that discussion.
This is not the first time we find ourselves in this debate, nor the last. Occasionally, a disgruntled group opposes the Electoral College, usually after their candidate is defeated. This group consists of individuals ignorant to our Constitution, or worse, nefarious in their intended design for an American democracy, moving us away from the Electoral College. This rush to change is more emotional than rational. To eliminate the Electoral College would move us to a democracy, the very “tyranny of the majority” de Tocqueville warned us about. This would lead to the pulling apart of our Republic, because we failed to heed the words of Ben Franklin regarding one possible fate of our country: “A republic, if you can keep it.”