LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Searching for the excellence of the Electoral College

Way back yonder during the Constitutional Convention held in Philadelphia in 1787, the Forefathers were confronted with many issues dealing with the problem of unifying the states. One issue was how to elect a president, and another issue dealt with representation of the southern states in Congress.

On the issue of how to elect a president, there was one proposal that favored the majority population vote of all the states (13). It was rejected at that time because it presented the risk of having too many “favorite sons” as candidates from different states, making the selection of a president more difficult, and also, would favor the larger-populated states.

As an example of the latter above, consider that, of the first five presidents of the U.S., four were from Virginia: 1. Washington, 3. Jefferson, 4. Madison, 5. Monroe. Virginia then had 424,000 eligible male voters, which was more than Georgia, Delaware, South Carolina, Rhode Island and New Hampshire combined. Actually, of the first 12 presidents, eight were from Virginia, which earned her the slogan “The Mother of Presidents.”

Another opposed proposal was to let Congress select a president, much like an appointment. Although that was deemed undemocratic, there were some that believed members of Congress were more qualified to choose a president than the general public, which was more poorly education and poorly politically informed.

James Madison expressed his misgiving about the latter proposal in this partial quote: “The election of the Chief Magistrate would agitate and divide the Legislature so much that the public interest would materially suffer by it … .” Perhaps the greatest danger would have been for the president to become a pawn to Congress, which would have upset the checks and balances of a federal government.

To resolve that issue, a committee was formed of 11 members from 11 states. John Dickinson of Delaware was on it. One title it had given to it was, “The Committee of Eleven on Postponed Matters.” On Sept. 4, 1787, the Committee reported to the Constitutional Convention and recommended the Electoral College as a compromise in choosing a president. The general opinion of it then, and even now, was expressed by Alexander Hamilton: “ … if the matter of it be not perfect, it is at least excellent.” Exactly what Hamilton meant is left to speculation. Although he may have questioned the Electoral College’s perfection, he evidently saw in it something worthy of excellence.

Since the upset, to some a sickish upsetting, presidential election of 2016, many of the losers have critically pounced on the EC as being an unfair, problematic system in electing a president, and cryingly clamor for its abolishment. Although the EC has had its defenders, there seems to have been no attempt to search for any trace of excellence. Can any be specifically found?

Just maybe, there could be, in what the Electoral College has maintained since its adoption in 1787. Since its adoption, it has maintained at least three of the basic principles of government on which the United States of America was founded. Those principles are: being a democracy, being a republic and being a federation.

As being a democracy, does not the EC provide in every state the democratic principle for the will of the people of each state by the majority of popular votes to select the electors allotted to their respective state?

As being a republic, a representative form of government, does not the Electoral College provide that the electors chosen in each state by the majority of the popular votes will be the electors who will represent the people of each respective state when the EC electors meet in the capitol of their state in December to cast their electoral votes for a presidential candidate?

As being a federation, does not the Electoral College provide for the inclusion of all 50 states to select electors by popular vote who will represent each state in selecting a president? The states have an intricate role in the electoral college.

In regard to the Electoral College under federalism, both the national government and the state governments share in its function. By the Constitution, the national government is delegated to determine the times, places and manner of holding elections for members of Congress (Article I, Section 4, Clause 1) and determine the allotment of electors for each state and the time of their election and the place and time to cast their votes for a presidential candidate (Article II, Sections 2, 4). By the Constitution, the states are delegated to determine the manner by which the electors are elected (Article II, Section 1, Clause 2(a)), and the states are left with the responsibility of making the arrangements of how the elections are carried out.

The other issue mentioned before, about the representation of the southern slave states, was resolved by the Three-Fifths Compromise, which allowed the slave states to count three-fifths of their slaves as part of their population in determining their representation in Congress. As a consequence, this also affected how many electors of the Electoral College would be allotted each state.

As to the presidential election of 2016, there were certain facts pertaining to it that cannot be denied. For instance, it was an undeniable, truthful fact that the Democratic candidate received the majority of the overall popular vote. But it was also an undeniable, truthful fact that that vote came from only 20 states that the Democratic candidate won, and the majority of those states were concentrated among the New England states in the East and along the Pacific Coast in the West. Would such a geographical concentration of a majority popular vote be a true representation of all America? A direct national popular vote would not consider the geographical differences that exist among the 50 states that make up America.

By the indirect popular vote conducted by each of the 50 states as practiced by the Electoral College, there is a major consideration for the geographical differences of each of the 50 states. That is why the Republican candidate won the majority of the other 30 states.

Not only did the Republican candidate win the majority of states, but overwhelmingly won the vast majority of counties that make up the 50 states of America, and that is an undeniable, truthful fact. There are 3,142 counties in America. The Democratic candidate won in only 489 of them, while the Republican candidate won in a whopping 2.623 counties. Even in the state of New York, won by the Democratic candidate by a majority of 1.5-2 million popular votes, the Republican candidate won in 46 of New York’s 62 counties, while the Democratic candidate won in only 16.

According to one website (http://constitution.com), it was indicated that, had the Electoral College been dissolved and had the 2016 election been decided by a simple popular vote, it would have allowed only 15 percent of the country to control the remaining 85 percent. So, is the simple popular vote system as “democratic” as its claimants claim it to be?

The Electoral College may well be a major safeguard against tyranny. Now we might understand a little more of what Alexander Hamiton meant when he said of the Electoral College, “ … if the matter of it be not perfect, it is at least excellent.”

The Rev. Jack M. Beck
Retired Caesar Rodney High School teacher and a Southern Baptist minister

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