Peter Gemma: In Defense of the Electoral College

by Peter B. Gemma

Originally published at The Daily Caller

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The Electoral College should need no justification – the Founding Fathers were pretty smart when structuring our unique republic. They debated and tweaked the idea through 16 votes at the Constitutional Convention. However, every four years James Madison, principal author of the Constitution, has to come back and make the case against “democratic” presidential elections.

Bear in mind this sacred principle: that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.Madison followed Lord Acton’s advice: “The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority.”

Although the preamble to the Constitution begins with “We the people,” the word “democracy” is not mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights. Even the Pledge of Allegiance is “to the Republic for which it stands.”

The Electoral College reflects the fact that the President is elected as chief executive of a union of federated but sovereign states. The presidency is that of the United States, and certainly not the United Cities of America (according to the U.S. Census, cities are home to 62 percent of the U.S. population that comprise just 3.5 percent of land area.)

Here’s a practical example of why the Electoral College works well: Barack Obama received 3.3 million more votes than Mitt Romney in 2012, but he won 3.6 million more votes than the GOP nominee in just four cities – Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, and Los Angeles. If winning a simple majority was the Democrat’s campaign strategy four years ago, Air Force One would have only needed to land in less than a half dozen states.

Of course, the 2000 election showed once again that the imperfect Electoral College does make it possible for a candidate to win the popular vote and still not become president. But that has less to do with the Electoral College than it is the way states apportion their electors. A winner-take-all system is not federally mandated – states are free to decide how they allot electoral votes: they can award them by congressional district, or proportionately, or the winner of a national election could be allowed to sweep-up all of a state’s electoral votes.

The Electoral College system was drafted by the states to empower the states, so as to preserve u-s-constitution-art-ii-sec-1-cl-2regional identity and protect small states from the domination of large states. The system forces political parties to build coalitions in order to win elections – politicians must earn the support of various issue and geographical constituencies.

The idea of “all votes are equal” actually dilutes individual votes. George Wallace’s 1968 third party campaign won just 46 electoral votes, but the Republican Party was influenced (intimidated?) enough to execute a “Southern Strategy,” which changed the direction and success of the GOP in that region for five decades running. In a ballot box containing 73 million votes, Wallace’s 13 percent share would have had little leverage if the election was a popularity contest.

The Founders understood that democracy was important, but they knew that if it wasn’t tempered by a republican system, majority rule could lead to tyranny. Thomas Jefferson wisely admonished future generations of voters that, “Measures are too often decided, not according to the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an overbearing majority.”

Although the Framers guaranteed a “Republican form of government” to the states (Article 4, Section 4), the rights of states are under attack. Their jurisdiction in issues ranging from the death penalty to healthcare standards to the regulation of firearms have become subject to federal mandates. Presidents swear an oath to “preserve and protect the Constitution,” and that must include a firewall to shield our republic from the deception of “democratic” national elections.

 

31 thoughts on “Peter Gemma: In Defense of the Electoral College

  1. Shawn Levasseur

    Another benefit: Recount sanity.

    Imagine the 2000 election recounts in Florida, except it goes nationwide, with a full detailed recount. It would have been madness and litigation beyond imagining. And the popular vote was narrow enough to warrant a coast-to-coast recount if that was the method of electing the president.

    Close elections only require recounts in states where the vote for the electoral votes was close.

    This could be made even more compartmentalized if the states switch away from the “winner take all” method and follow Maine and Nebraska’s lead, and break it down to one vote for winning each congressional district (plus two for winning the state).

    This recount firewall also serves as quarantines for any voter/vote-counting fraud, limiting the damage any one region’s corruption can inflict on the race as a whole.

  2. Richard Winger

    The 2000 election would not have needed a recount. Al Gore beat George Bush by 560,000 votes, which is one-half of 1%. Political scientists have studied recounts in great detail, and it is virtually unheard of that a recount ever changed a result unless the two leading candidates were less than one-tenth of 1% apart.

    If the electoral college idea is so great, why does not state use it for electing its own Governor or its own US Senators? If it’s such great idea, why does no other nation use such a system to elect its head of government?

  3. Massimo

    “The rights of the States are under attack”???

    You could have said that in 1828, looking at Jackson’s answer to Calhoun’s South Carolina Exposition. You could have said that “they are in mortal danger” at Fort Sumter in 1861. You cannot say it anymore, for they died with the War between the States. Once the exit option was denied, the States rights were no more. What they have are “Concessions” from the federal Juggernaut, that can be taken away in any moment.

  4. George Phillies

    Electoral college.
    In fact, many countries with a parliamentary government and first past the post elections uses an electoral college scheme. The voters in each district choose their parliamentarian, and the parliamentarians by whatever rules they use choose the governmental leader. The national popular vote is often of no consequence. Canada comes immediately to mind.

    However, in many of these cases the electors are more active than in America, namely if there is no majority for one party there is haggling.

  5. George Phillies

    The electoral college, like representation in the Senate, is a fundamental part of the bargain that established our country.

  6. Don Wills

    Richard – The vote fraud issue is the most important reason why a first past the post national vote count for president is a horrible idea. Imagine the D machine in NY, PA, IL and CA controlling voter registration, vote counting and voting honesty. The possibility of the cheaters creating hundreds of thousands of fraudulent votes would be overwhelming, and would surely cause smaller states to revolt and not accept the results of an election. There are a variety of reasons why, IMO, one or more state independence movements will be successful this century (e.g. TX, CA, Alaska), hopefully without bloodshed. Adoption of the national popular vote plan by states representing 270+ electoral votes would be one of those trigger reasons.

  7. Richard Winger

    If this country can send machines into space to land on the moon, Mars, and a comet, surely we can come up with a national election administration that is competent and honest. I don’t believe there is any doubt that vote-counting in Canada and every country in western and central Europe counts their votes honestly and accurately.

    Ending the electoral college should also mean establishing a national election office. Like Canada’s and Great Britain’s national election office, it could also be responsible for drawing US House districts.

    George, those countries you mentioned do not elect their national head of government. Instead they elect local members of the national legislature, and they do that with direct votes. There is no such thing as a town or neighborhood “electoral vote” when Brits elect their member of Parliament. They do that with a direct popular vote for that member.

  8. Don Wills

    “surely we can come up with a national election administration that is competent and honest”

    LOL.

  9. Austin Cassidy

    The simplest and least destructive way to reform the Electoral College might be to expand it.

    What if we were to maintain the current 535 electors but add an additional 500 national electors that are proportioned by the national popular vote?

    Any candidate winning 0.20% of the vote receives an elector and all percentages are rounded down to the nearest 0.20% of the vote. So 0.52% qualifies a candidate for 2 electors, etc.

    After rounding, the final remainder of at-large electors are allocated to the national popular vote winner.

    There would be 1038 electors up for grabs and a candidate would need support from 520 electors to win. In a situation where no candidate has a majority, allow a second ballot and deal-making among the candidates. It could work similar to how most political party conventions operate.

    For fun, here is how the results might have looked for some recent elections…

    >>> 2012
    ===========
    (*)Obama – 51.01% ……… 332 state + 260 at-large = 592 ELECTORS
    Romney – 47.15% ……… 206 state + 235 at-large = 441 ELECTORS
    Johnson – 0.99% ……… 0 state + 4 at-large = 4 ELECTORS
    Stein – 0.36% ……… 0 state + 1 at-large = 1 ELECTOR
    ——————————————————–

    >>> 2000
    ===========
    Gore – 48.38% ……… 266 state + 245 at-large = 511 ELECTORS
    Bush – 47.87% ……… 271 state + 239 at-large = 510 ELECTORS
    Nader – 2.74% ……… 0 state + 13 at-large = 13 ELECTORS
    Buchanan – 0.43% ……… 0 state + 2 at-large = 2 ELECTORS
    Browne – 0.36% ……… 0 state + 1 at-large = 1 ELECTOR

    * One D.C. elector for Gore abstained from voting.

    ** No candidate has 520 electors, but Nader has the power to swing his votes to help a candidate reach first place.

    ——————————————————–

    >>> 1968
    ===========
    (*)Nixon – 43.42% ……… 301 state + 220 at-large = 521 ELECTORS
    Humphrey – 42.72% ……… 191 state + 213 at-large = 404 ELECTORS
    Wallace – 13.53% ……… 46 state + 67 at-large = 113 ELECTORS

    ——————————————————–

    >>> 1948
    ===========
    (*)Truman – 49.55% ……… 303 state + 250 at-large = 553 ELECTORS
    Dewey – 45.07% ……… 189 state + 225 at-large = 414 ELECTORS
    Thurmond – 2.41% ……… 39 state + 12 at-large = 51 ELECTORS
    Wallace – 2.37% ……… 0 state + 11 at-large = 11 ELECTORS
    Thomas – 0.29% ……… 0 state + 1 at-large = 1 ELECTOR
    Watson – 0.21% ……… 0 state + 1 at-large = 1 ELECTOR

    ——————————————————–

    The only one of these sample elections where the outcome might have been changed is 2000 — Nader likely would have thrown his votes to elect Gore. By awarding electoral votes based on popular vote, minor party candidates wouldn’t face so much of the “wasted vote” pressure. It also forces candidates to expand their campaigns beyond the traditional battleground states, to avoid popular vote blow-outs in places like Texas, California and New York.

  10. Stuart Simms

    I would suggest that we can accomplish a number of what I believe to be positives, including what Austin suggests, by repealing the Reapportionment Act of 1929:
    “The Reapportionment Act of 1929 (ch. 28, 46 Stat. 21, 2 U.S.C. § 2a, enacted June 18, 1929) was a combined census and reapportionment bill passed by the United States Congress that established a permanent method for apportioning a constant 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives according to each census.”
    One of the rationales at the time was that Congress was literally running out of room. I would suggest with modern technology that this would no longer be a problem, they really don’t have to physically meet in DC. Currently each Congressman in the House represents ~750,000 people making each seat extremely valuable. Going to one Representative per 100,000 would several consequences. US would have somewhere near 3087 Representatives.
    I’m not sure of any real negatives but here are a few positives off the top of my head:
    1) To Austin’s point, the Electoral College would have 3187 votes
    2) The Electoral College would be more reflective of the population reducing the likelihood of a Popular Vote mismatch. For instance California has a (2010) population of ~37M and 55 EV while Idaho has a population (2010) of ~1,568,000 with 4 EV. Currently, California is ~24 times the population but only 13.25 times the EC representation when compared to Idaho. By comparison new EC would be 374EV to 17EV and California would have 22 times the EC strength of Idaho.
    3) Decennial reapportionment would almost always add representation and seats to every state, some would grow faster than others.
    4) It would be much less expensive to run for the House of Representatives.
    5) I argue that it would be far more difficult to influence and corrupt a much larger body.
    6) Each seat would have far less power and be more representative of the citizens vote.
    7) Less power, less money and less influence means more turnover, imho.
    8) States could use proportional representation. For instance instead of having 100,000 people per district you could have 1,000,000 per district and vote by party. Then the seats awarded by a percentage. This would also eliminate the need for primaries as you could vote for party and then select a candidate from the list of that party OR the parties could simply submit a list to the “Board of Elections” in advance and seats awarded top down from the party lists.
    9) Gerrymandering would probably still exist but I think would have far less impact.

    Enough for now have to go earn some money!

  11. Austin Cassidy

    Stuart,

    That’s interesting, but I can’t imagine how it would actually happen.

    Will they occasionally meet in a minor league baseball stadium? It also tilts the balance of the U.S. House. Vermont would go from 1 to 6 representatives (+600%) and New York would go from 27 to 198 representatives (+733%).

    Adding some number of at-large electors (I like 500) doesn’t require a massive overhaul of the legislative branch of government.

  12. paulie

    The original constitutional formula was one representative, and thus one elector, per 30,000 people, so we could take the plan one step further and go with that.

  13. Tony From Long Island

    Don Willis: Voter fraud does not exist. it is an infinitesimally small issue.

    Are you as angry as voter roll purges by republicans? Are you as upset at fewer polling places near colleges because, as one republican election official said (paraphrasing) ‘college students vote mostly democratic?”

    Are you as equally irked at so-called “voter ID” laws that, one republican member of the PA state house said would (paraphrasing) “help elect Mitt Romney” because it would reduce the number of black voters?

  14. Tony From Long Island

    I am very intrigued by IRV, but am not optimistic about its passage. it would also reduce “wasted vote” syndrome.

    In that system, my ballot would be:

    1. Johnson
    2. Clinton
    3. Stein
    999999. Trump.

  15. Be Rational

    Shawn Levasseur
    November 3, 2016 at 16:53

    Exactly. Very well stated.

    *

    Direct election of the national leader has lead to dictatorship in too many cases. Fraud would be out of control and recounts a nightmare. The number of votes cast in single party precincts, wards, towns and counties would frequently exceed the number of living eligible voters. Nationwide recounts would be a nightmare, and you can be sure there would be many.

    We can improve the EC system by working nationwide to adopt the Maine/Nebraska system in every state – of course that would have no effect in 3 electoral vote states. But, we can eliminate that problem by increasing the number of House members to a reasonable number – at least 600 – I’d prefer 800 – but perhaps as many as 1500. We would have to remodel the US Capitol, but it would be worth the trouble and cost.

    Additional related problems:
    DC should be stripped of its electoral votes. Instead, since the VA half was already returned to VA, the MD half (minus a tiny federal district for the White House, Capitol and Mall) should be returned to MD.

    Puerto Rico should choose between independence and statehood, if they so choose, PR should be admitted as a state.

  16. Be Rational

    Don Wills: “Voter fraud does not exist. it is an infinitesimally small issue.” – Tony

    *

    Voter fraud is small. Electoral fraud is huge in the US. My estimate is that it amounts to hundreds of thousands of votes nationwide. There are many precincts, wards etc. where one party controls so completely that the poll watchers that represent the two parties are actually comprised of:
    1) members of the dominant party representing that party and
    2) members of the dominant party who have registered in the other party in order to fill the ranks of poll watcher for that insignificant second party.

    In these precincts, wards, towns and whole counties, massive ballot box stuffing by the officials in charge is a regular practice amounting to a significant percentage of the vote.

  17. Rebel Alliance

    I’ve heard the baseball analogy used for the Electoral College, to show that it ensures a candidate has the most consistency of support, rather than raw numbers of support.

    The World Series consists of 7 games. One team might whomp the other with lopsided scores in two or three games, but if they aren’t consistent enough to win a majority of the games, they lose the series. The World Series is decided by the number of games won, not the total number of runs. It’s possible for one team to score more runs than the other team and still lose the championship.

    Nobody complains about this method in baseball, but people get all worked up over the Electoral College which functions the same way. I’m wary of tampering with the structures set up by the Founders, especially after what happened when the 17th Amendment was enacted. There would probably be unforseen consequences.

  18. Tony From Long Island

    Rational: ” . . . . In these precincts, wards, towns and whole counties, massive ballot box stuffing by the officials in charge is a regular practice amounting to a significant percentage of the vote. . . . . ”

    And how is this accomplished?

  19. Be Rational

    “And how is this accomplished?” – Tony

    Take some blank ballots and mark them or go into a voting booth and pull the levers. Mark off some people on the voter list who didn’t vote as having voted. Repeat.

    In Maine for over two decades a similar proceedure was used in Augusta by the Democratic Party in close elections. The Speaker had his two henchmen stuff the ballot boxes before every recount so that the Dems won every time – until that very last time when they were finally discovered. But that just means they’ve moved on to other people and other methods since then.

  20. Tony From Long Island

    You do realize that people have to use a signature to vote? My signature has changed over time and it was once questioned when I went to vote.

    Can you show me a link to a story about your Maine ballot thing? And not from redstate or breitbart.

  21. Stuart Simms

    Austin,
    I think we are on the same track just looking at it differently. I prefer what I suggest because it is more in line with the Founders intent, but your suggestion would be an improvement over what we have for EC now.
    My idea is a fix for multiple problems that were caused by a law that at the least was ill conceived or at the worst was designed to help coalesce power in DC and away from the states and individuals.
    I would suggest that the various Congress men and women would meet in their state capitals and do work virtually. Each state could send a symbolic rotating representative delegation to DC.
    Also I wouldn’t think of one time percentage increases but rather the ratios. New York had a 31:1 population ratio to Vermont in 2010 which would be the approximate ratio of House delegations.

  22. Stuart Simms

    Rebel Alliance,

    I agree on the 17th Amendment but fail to see how increasing the size of the House in a way that the Founders intended would cause a problem. This is the Original First Amendment that was not ratified:

    “After the first enumeration required by the first article of the Constitution, there shall be one representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than one hundred representatives, nor less than one representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of representatives shall amount to two hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred representatives, nor more than one representative for every fifty thousand.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congressional_Apportionment_Amendment

    My idea is not original but rather in line with the Founders’ thinking on this subject.

    Baseball or Politics, the loser always thinks they were robbed!

  23. Richard Winger

    Rebel Alliance, again I ask, if the electoral college is such a great idea, why doesn’t any state use a state electoral college to elect its Governor?

    And to all those people who think it is so easy for one individual to cast multiple ballots in the same election, why don’t you do it? It’s like the drug laws. People say if illegal drugs were legalized, then lots of people would take illegal drugs. But if one asks that person, “Would you take heroin if it were legal?” they say, “No!”.

  24. Don Wills

    BR wrote “Voter fraud is small. Electoral fraud is huge…”

    Huh? It doesn’t matter what you call it. In some locations, typically in big cities, the voting/election process is totally fraudulent. The number of fraudulent votes is large, possibly exceeding the vote totals of all of the votes in smaller states.

    Here’s one case that was exposed – http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2016/11/03/voter-fraud-california-man-finds-dozens-ballots-stacked-outside-home.html

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