The Electoral College

A famous urban legend is that in 1787, after the Constitutional Convention which created the US Constitution, Benjamin Franklin was approached on the streets of Philadelphia by a man who asked, "Well, Mr. Franklin, what kind of government did you give us?" Franklin supposedly replied, "A republic—if you can keep it." This year raises doubts of whether we can keep it.

That constitution did not provide for direct election of a president and vice president, but placed between the electorate and the Congress an electoral college comprising a number of independently selected electors. The reason the electoral college exists is because our forefathers foresaw exactly the situation that has arisen today: the election of an immoral demagogue without a trace of political know-how.

The electors have been bound by some states to vote for whomever was elected in their state. But which election? Trump won the indirect electoral college vote; Clinton is winning the direct popular vote by more than 1.3 million votes and still counting, according to CNN. The electoral college could follow the popular vote. That would be just as constitutionally legitimate as following the state-by-state vote.

4,545,820 Clinton supporters have signed a petition urging the Electoral College to ignore the state-by-state results of the election and instead cast their votes for Clinton, winner of the democratic vote.

The founding fathers of our nation foresaw Donald Trump and totally inexperienced people like him ascending to the presidency. They assumed rich, well-educated landowners would be selected for the electoral college and the would correct just such a popular error.

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. Why not December 19, 2016? Well, first of all, it hasn't occurred in the past four elections when the loser polled more popular votes than the winner (John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, and George W. Bush). Second, some states have made it a misdemeanor not to vote for the candidate that carried their state.

But beyond that, this year there will probably be 306 Republican and 232 Democratic electors (assuming Trump carries Michigan). Since the electoral college plays a major role in the Republican strategy of minority control of government (voter ID, reduction of voting days, targeted reduction of polling places and voting machines in Republican controlled states), they will not allow it. We would have a major backlash if the electoral college were to change its way of doing things this year.

Senator Barbara Boxer introduced a bill in the House to abolish the Electoral College. It will probably never be brought up for a vote.

There is, however, a way of eliminating the unfairness of the college without eliminating it. According to the Constitution the selection of the electoral college is decision left to the states. A bill is circulating among the states to the effect that the states instruct their electors to vote for the candidate with the most popular votes nationally. It has been passed already by 10 legislatures and the District of Columbia. One chamber in 12 more states have passed it, some Democrat controlled, some Republican. It seems to have bipartisan support.

As you can see, there is much interest in shifting the presidential election to a fairer, less controversial one person, one vote process.

(Sunbury Daily Item, December 18, 2016)
Share with   Tweet