December 22nd, 2016

The latest target chosen by the left: the Electoral College

Eliminating the Electoral College is the next goal of the left in its never-ending quest for political domination, although at the moment it’s still reeling from the shock of losing the presidency and just about everything else. Attacking the Electoral College seems to make perfect sense for the left. However, as with the use of the nuclear option in the Senate, it could end up backfiring on them.

The NY Times is leading the way in the fight (as it often does) with Monday’s editorial entitled, “Time to End the Electoral College”:

By overwhelming majorities, Americans would prefer to elect the president by direct popular vote, not filtered through the antiquated mechanism of the Electoral College. They understand, on a gut level, the basic fairness of awarding the nation’s highest office on the same basis as every other elected office — to the person who gets the most votes.

The Electoral College, which is written into the Constitution, is more than just a vestige of the founding era; it is a living symbol of America’s original sin. When slavery was the law of the land, a direct popular vote would have disadvantaged the Southern states, with their large disenfranchised populations. Counting those men and women as three-fifths of a white person, as the Constitution originally did, gave the slave states more electoral votes.

That’s not a new position for the Times, but it’s the current party line the left is pushing, and I’ve read it over and over again recently in other articles too. That narrative purposely leaves just about everything out—but hey, what’s a few distorted facts or omissions among friends?

The Electoral College is actually a reflection of the reality—a reality known to the Times editors but perhaps not to so very many of its readers (the Times editors hope, anyway)—that the US is a republic and not a democracy. The reason for its design as a republic was not race—race, the original sin that leftists use to explain nearly everything—but a distrust of democracies and their possible (even probable) excesses and vulnerabilities to tyranny.

So the Constitution set up an each-state-is-equal Senate that is even less democratic (small “d”) than the House. And it used to be so very undemocratic that its members weren’t even elected, although I doubt the majority of people are even aware of that history any more:

The framers of the Constitution created the United States Senate to protect the rights of individual states and safeguard minority opinion in a system of government designed to give greater power to the national government. They modeled the Senate on governors’ councils of the colonial era and on the state senates that had evolved since independence. The framers intended the Senate to be an independent body of responsible citizens who would share power with the president and the House of Representatives. James Madison, paraphrasing Edmund Randolph, explained in his notes that the Senate’s role was “first to protect the people against their rulers [and] secondly to protect the people against the transient impressions into which they themselves might be led.”

To balance power between the large and small states, the Constitution’s framers agreed that states would be represented equally in the Senate and in proportion to their populations in the House. Further preserving the authority of individual states, they provided that state legislatures would elect senators. To guarantee senators’ independence from short-term political pressures, the framers designed a six-year Senate term, three times as long as that of popularly elected members of the House of Representatives. Madison reasoned that longer terms would provide stability. “If it not be a firm body,” he concluded, “the other branch being more numerous, and coming immediately from the people, will overwhelm it.” Responding to fears that a six-year Senate term would produce an unreachable aristocracy in the Senate, the framers specified that one-third of the members’ terms would expire every two years, leaving two-thirds of the members in office. This combined the principles of continuity and rotation in office.

Both the Times and all the other articles I’ve read from the left calling for the end of the Electoral College (and I’ve read many) say that the EC is a legacy of slavery and the 3/5 compromise. But that compromise at the original drawing up of the Constitution was about representation in Congress, and it was a way to reduce the power of slave states (and minimize their population advantage) rather than increase it:

The Convention had unanimously accepted the principle that representation in the House of Representatives would be in proportion to the relative state populations. However, since slaves could not vote, white leaders in slave states would thus have the benefit of increased representation in the House and the Electoral College. Delegates opposed to slavery proposed that only free inhabitants of each state be counted for apportionment purposes, while delegates supportive of slavery, on the other hand, opposed the proposal, wanting slaves to count in their actual numbers. The compromise that was finally agreed upon—of counting “all other persons” as only three-fifths of their actual numbers—reduced the representation of the slave states relative to the original proposals, but improved it over the Northern position.

The history of the Electoral College is long and complex and had little to do with slavery. It involves an evolution from a situation in which electors were autonomous, although elected by voters to represent them, to electors being more of less bound by the popular vote on a state-by-state basis. If the Democrats wish to go back to the original structure of the Electoral College, they would be moving further and further away from the democracy they profess to champion, and towards a system in which a small number of elite representatives would hold all the power to choose a president.

But that’s not what Democrats want. What they want is for the extremely blue states of California and New York to decide the election, because that’s the way it would probably be if the Electoral College were to be eliminated. Before the 2016 election, you didn’t hear all that many calls from Democrats for the end of the EC, in part because the EC arrangement was seen to favor Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. Remember all the cries that Trump had no Electoral College “path” to victory? I certainly do.

But since Trump somehow managed to blaze such a path, much to their intense astonishment (and somewhat to mine, I must say), they want the Electoral College gone. And because there is little chance of a constitutional amendment to that purpose passing (probably not enough states would support it), they’ve found a way around that little impediment:

There is an elegant solution: The Constitution establishes the existence of electors, but leaves it up to states to tell them how to vote. Eleven states and the District of Columbia, representing 165 electoral votes, have already passed legislation to have their electors vote for the winner of the national popular vote. The agreement, known as the National Popular Vote interstate compact, would take effect once states representing a majority of electoral votes, currently 270, signed on. This would ensure that the national popular-vote winner would become president.

I guess “elegant” is in the eye of the beholder.

However, I think the Times editors should be careful what they wish for; you know, unintended consequences and all that. If the Electoral College were to be eliminated, candidates will adjust by campaigning differently—concentrating all their resources on a couple of very populous states—and these are states the Democrats already almost totally dominate. I wonder if it has ever occurred to the left that perhaps the Democrats won’t dominate those areas so much any more when the Republicans start focusing on them, because in those states the Republicans pretty much have nowhere to go but up?

But there’s always cheating. If the popular vote becomes the only game in town, the Democrats—who control the apparatus in cities like New York—will have even more motivation to cheat than they did before. National recounts will become commonplace, extremely complex, and bitter. But the left probably figures that would be a small price to pay for the Democratic hegemony they believe will result.

[NOTE: See also this, on the same subject.]

24 Responses to “The latest target chosen by the left: the Electoral College”

  1. Paul in Boston Says:

    These people are stupid beyond belief. Suppose that the National Popular Interstate compact were in effect in 2004. California, New York, Massachusetts, and the other blue states would have cast their Electoral College votes for W. The screaming would be off scale. But, but, that’s not supposed to happen!

  2. Yancey Ward Says:

    The compact will never take effect and even if it did, the very first time a Democrat loses the popular vote nationwide but would have won the Electoral College under the old rules, the states that candidate won would break the agreement.

  3. Yancey Ward Says:

    Also, I have noted those same misunderstandings over and over the last month- the belief that the Electoral College is connected to the compromise on apportionment for slaves, and that the 3/5ths rule was implemented rather than counting a slave as a whole citizen to benefit the slave states of the South.

    I can sort of understand why opinion writers would lie about the first one- they are after all trying to undermine the Electoral College and lying isn’t beneath them, but the second of those just speaks to ignorance. Of course, ignorance may be the cause of both.

  4. M J R Says:

    “Counting those men and women as three-fifths of a white person, as the Constitution originally did, gave the slave states more electoral votes.” — Duh Noo Yawk Times

    Can someone well-versed in USA history help me with this?

    Slaves were mere property: *zero*-fifths of a white man. But slave states insisted on counting slaves as *five*-fifths of a white man for purposes of electoral representation; free states refused to play along with the hypocrisy. IF a slave was mere property, THEN a slave should be counted as *zero*-fifths of a white man. The result was a three-fifths compromise that in fact *de*creased the slave states’ representation from what they (the slave states) in fact wanted.

    But it was not universally held that people thought a slave was best approximated as three-fifths of a white (or free) man. Except for the slaveowner, who had some moral learning to do, people did generally think of a black slave as *five*-fifths of a white man. So goes my understanding.

    Verify or enlighten, s’il vous plait . . .

  5. Yancey Ward Says:

    MJR,

    It was a compromise- the states with few or no slaves wanted the slaves to count as zero for purposes of apportionment- the states with lots of slaves wanted them counted as equally to any non-slave person. To get get states like Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia to sign onto the Constitution, it was necessary for the New England and mid-Atlantic states to meet them a little more than half-way since Virginia was the biggest, most populous state at the time.

    What is frustrating from a historical view is that people who should know better seemingly always argue that it was the southern states that wanted to slaves to count as less than a whole person. It is ignorance.

  6. Oldflyer Says:

    I have commented here and there that so much of the argument about the electoral college vs a popular vote for President is made from sheer ignorance. Specifically, opinions that I have seen claiming that we are the only developed country that does not elect its Head of Government (HOG) by popular vote are patently false. Almost all true democracies are actually parliamentary systems, and the government is elected from, and by, the parliament. The HOG is invariably the Leader of the Majority Party; i.e. a long time politico (hack?) . Worse yet, if no party has a majority, they go into back room negotiations to cobble together a coalition government. How would the self-proclaimed purists like that? According to Wikipedia, there are at present 28 coalition governments in Europe, including many of the most admired social democracies. There are 12 in Asia, including India, Japan, and Israel (Wiki lumps in Asia.). Australia and New Zealand are governed by coalition governments. Canada’s system–which strangely is still called a Constitutional Monarchy–is essentially a parliamentary system, and subject to coalition government; although it is a rare occurence.

    In summary, although there may be one or two somewhere, I find no instance of a major democracy that elects its government by direct popular vote. Each uses a proportional vote based on some algorithm for parliamentary districting. I don’t think anyone would suggest that we overhaul our system to a parliamentary one. So, for our far flung Representative Republic, it is hard to imagine a more suitable system than the one we have–with one modification. To avoid confusion I would remove the human Electors, who really are archaic, and simply use the certified results from each Secretary of State to tally the electoral count.

  7. Yancey Ward Says:

    Also, MJR, the issue was rife with hypocrisy from the southern states for wanting representation based on the slave population at all.

  8. Yancey Ward Says:

    I believe that if this had been a popular vote election, Trump would have still won. Republicans in California, especially, had no reason to turn out for the most part. Few Congressional districts were even competitive, and there was no other significant race at the top of the ticket- the US Senate race had two Democrats squaring off. That is why Clinton won with such a large margin in the state. If Trump had contested California and votes for him mattered, he would not have lost it worse than Bush did in the elections earlier this century- by about a 1.2 million votes. Also, Trump could have easily won a lot more votes in New York if he wanted to contest it and it mattered.

  9. parker Says:

    Hmmm… the Constitution would have to be amended to abolish the EC. 3/4ths of the state legislatures would have to approve the amendment. I think humans will be growing cucumbers on Jupiter before that happens.

  10. expat Says:

    Oldflyer,
    Thanks for pointing out the difference between parliamentary systems and ours. It is absolutely amazing how many people live in their bubbles of ignorance. Most also don’t realize that when a coalition is formed, the larger party has to give a lot of power to ministers of the smaller parties. Of course a lot of things can be written into the coalition agreement (or formal compromise), but when something unforseen happens, you can run into trouble.

  11. charles Says:

    Neo: “What they want is for the extremely blue states of California and New York to decide the election.”

    Actually, I’d go even further, Neo, and say that they want the extremely blue CITIES, not just the states, to rule over the rest of us.

    After all, they believe that they know better than us so why should we have votes that mean anything?

  12. Kae Arby Says:

    Someone please refresh my memory, because I may be wrong about this. I think that one of the major parties, during their presidential primaries, followed a system similar to the electoral college but each state also had additional, and I might have the word wrong here, super delegates who could cast their official vote for the candidate of their choice. I also seem to recall this past primary season one candidate’s, of a two man race, nomination was a fiat accompli while the other candidate had no chance of getting the nomination and was basically a show pony to give the appearance that there was a contest. Sigh, what party was that?

    KRB

  13. Oldflyer Says:

    True, expat; and historically coalition governments have tended to be unstable governments. Italy, of course, was the poster child for a long time. Of course I was making the simple point that in many countries that are admired on the left, the government was actually formed in a smoke-filled room (rhetorical license) style negotiation.

    Unfortunately, it seems that the “big voices” have wrapped themselves in righteousness and are beating the drum very hard to abolish the Electoral College. Valid arguments oppose, the push but much of the ignorance is allowed to stand.

    Reading some of the comments, I am simply amazed that the old “born in slavery” legend persists. I do not accept that we were designed as Republic to accommodate slavery, Clearly, compromise became necessary to form the union, but debate in those early days about whether a slave counted for a whole vote, 3/5th of a vote, or no vote did not compromise the inherent legitimacy of the design. (It was a squabble over dividing power.) At any rate, that anachronism was long since resolved; and once resolved the structure of a brilliantly conceived system remained in place. The old story, if you cannot construct an argument, construct a straw man.

  14. Steve S Says:

    MJR,
    The three-fifths compromise was also the result of the challenge that the slave could not be both person and property. This must have created a quandary for the slave holding States: if the slave was a person, then that person must have the full rights of every other person. If the slave was property, then they should have no more right to vote than other livestock.

    And I doubt that the non-slave States would have allowed the slave to be purely property in any case; that they could never be a party to such an inhuman thing. Decreeing a populace as being less than human has been the underlying philosophy behind every genocide.

  15. Steve S Says:

    Oldflyer,
    States who do elect their leader by popular vote tend to be despotic tyrannies, where the leader typically scores nearly 100% of the popular vote.

  16. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    There was a great and long argument over slavery in the Continental Congress. Finally, John Randolph a delegate from Virginia pointed out that, “Gentlemen, the issue is not whether there will be slavery, the issue is whether there will be union…”

    That clarified the issue and the 3/5 compromise was adopted. It was the best each side could get of what they wanted.

  17. Mr. Frank Says:

    Another advantage of our electoral college system is it preserves the two party system which avoids small parties and unstable governments.

  18. neo-neocon Says:

    parker:

    But that “elegant solution” mentioned in the post wouldn’t require abolishing the EC. It would co-opt it.

  19. neo-neocon Says:

    Yancey Ward:

    I agree that the blue states that voted for the pact would never abide by it if a Republican had won the popular vote. But at least theoretically, it’s a way to undermine the EC.

  20. M J R Says:

    Yancey Ward, 4:42 pm — “To get get states like Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia to sign onto the Constitution, it was necessary for the New England and mid-Atlantic states to meet them a little more than half-way since Virginia was the biggest, most populous state at the time.”

    Yes, that explains one aspect of the situation.

    “What is frustrating from a historical view is that people who should know better seemingly always argue that it was the southern states that wanted to slaves to count as less than a whole person.”

    That’s the standard view, and it constituted the leading reason for my request for enlightenment.

    “It is ignorance.”

    S. O. P.

    Yancey Ward, 4:46 pm — “[T]he issue was rife with hypocrisy from the southern states for wanting representation based on the slave population at all.”

    Unfortunately, (speaking of S. O. P.), hypocrisy tends to be S. O. P. in worldly affairs.

    Steve S, 6:37 pm — “If the slave was property, then they should have no more right to vote than other livestock.”

    And M J R notes without comment that women did not get to vote until 1920 or something.

    “And I doubt that the non-slave States would have allowed the slave to be purely property in any case; that they could never be a party to such an inhuman thing. Decreeing a populace as being less than human has been the underlying philosophy behind every genocide.”

    Just so. And to a steadily increasing extent, left-leaners (slash) so-called progressives view the right-leaning populace more and more as being somewhat less than human.

    Geoffrey Britain, 8:37 pm — “Gentlemen, the issue is not whether there will be slavery, the issue is whether there will be union…”

    I’m not sure why preserving the union was such a major deal. (Thinking out loud,) I think there were major economic factors, and the north needed what the south offered somewhat more than the other way around.

    “That clarified the issue and the 3/5 compromise was adopted. It was the best each side could get of what they wanted.”

    Yep; sausage being made.

  21. A_Nonny_Mouse Says:

    Neo says, “Eliminating the Electoral College is the next goal of the left in its never-ending quest for political domination …”
    =========

    It’s becoming obvious that NO, The Other Party does not intend to EVER stop dismantling the foundations of our country.

    They intend to have ABSOLUTE control or ABSOLUTE destruction.

  22. Christohper B Says:

    One major problem with ‘elegant solution’ is that, as demonstrated on Monday last, laws purporting to bind electors to casting ballots per the dictates of the state legislature have never been tested, and some authorities question the constitutionality of such laws. Once again, the Democrats want to have it both ways .. an EC that can elect anybody it choses (when the Democrat isn’t winning) and an EC bound to vote as directed (when the Democrat is).

  23. parker Says:

    Neo,

    It would require state legeslatures to co-opt it. Ain’t going to happen.

  24. neo-neocon Says:

    parker:

    See this:

    Proposed in the form of an interstate compact, the agreement would go into effect among the participating states in the compact only after they collectively represent an absolute majority of votes (currently at least 270) in the Electoral College. In the next presidential election after adoption by the requisite number of states, the participating states would award all of their electoral votes to presidential electors associated with the candidate who wins the overall popular vote in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. As a result, the winner of the national popular vote would always win the presidency by always securing a majority of votes in the Electoral College. Until the compact’s conditions are met, all states award electoral votes in their current manner.

    The compact would modify the way participating states implement Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution, which requires each state legislature to define a method to appoint its electors to vote in the Electoral College. The Constitution does not mandate any particular legislative scheme for selecting electors, and instead vests state legislatures with the exclusive power to choose how to allocate its own electors. States have chosen various methods of allocation over the years, with regular changes in the nation’s early decades. Today, all but two states (Maine and Nebraska) award all their electoral votes to the candidate with the most votes statewide.

    See also this and this. The states that have adopted this pact have already done so by the vote of their state legislators.

    Personally, I think that it won’t be adopted by enough purple or red states to be viable.

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