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Very early in the morning after election day (having stayed up all night to watch what was going on) I penned the following open letter aimed at two groups. The first was confused citizens I knew would be waking up and searching for information about the electoral college. The other was the press. I emailed this letter out to many outlets that morning knowing they probably wouldn't have anyone able or willing to make this arguments themselves. This letter was the turning point for the website, taking it from a fun but solitary hobby to a more serious and noticed reference site. It is reprinted here with only the email and website addresses changed to the current one.
As it becomes likely that we may have a President Elect who wins the electoral vote but loses the popular vote, the signs are already out there that the Electoral College is in danger. As one of the few supporters of the current system of electing the president, I'd like to address some of the things being discussed in the press from a point of view that isn't really being aired. Before I'm accused of partisanship, let me state that my motivation is not trying to justify a Bush win. My only motivation is the preservation of the Electoral College.
First of all, no matter what your view of the Electoral College, whoever wins it will be the President of the United States. This would not be a constitutional crisis; the Constitution is very clear about what would happen in this case.. Everyone knew the rules coming into this election, and everyone campaigned accordingly. The candidate who gets 270 electoral votes is the president. Even if you're against the Electoral College, I urge you to support the legitimacy of the President Elect. If you feel the need to change the system, you'll have to do it before the next election.
Second, the Electoral College is not an archaic, anachronistic relic that does nothing for American voters today. I don't have the time in this letter to give all the reasons why I support it or to go into the details of every point, but briefly here's a few of the most critical points.
- The Electoral College helps prevent a candidate from pandering to one region, or running up their votes in certain states. Sports fans understand this aspect very easily. In a baseball season you don't play 100 odd games, add up your total runs from all those games, and the teams with the most play in the World Series. Teams would just run up the score on weaker teams to balance the closer games against tougher opponents. In a direct election, Democrats would run up the vote totals in safe states like Massachusetts and Republicans would run up their votes in states like Nebraska. The Electoral College forces candidates to concede states their opponents are winning handily and contest the tight races.
- The Electoral College protects minority interests from a tyrannical majority. For example in a direct election, since African-Americans account for about 13% of the population, they could only account for 13% of the vote. In the Electoral College, African-Americans account for 25% of Alabama's 9 votes, 27% of Georgia's 13 votes, 31% of Louisiana's 9 votes, etc. Farmers, once a very influential constituency, now make up less than 4% of the population. Why would a candidate worry about this small group in a direct election? In the Electoral College system, farmers do make up sizable parts of several states, and thus their combined strength in a smaller pool of voters gives them more power. Because minority groups (be they African-Americans in the south, farmers in the midwest, etc) are usually concentrated in some states and not spread evenly throughout the country, their influence is greater.
- The Electoral College prevents candidates from ignoring smaller states in favor of big metropolitan areas. In a direct election, New York City would have about twice the electoral clout of the states of Alaska, Deleware, Montana, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming combined! Why even campaign in those six states when you can double your impact by spending more time and less money in one city. The needs and issues of small rural communities would be outweighed in the candidates' mind by those of large urban areas.
Something we seem to forget these days is that this is a country based on federalism. The county originally was supposed to be a sharing of power between the federal and state governments. It still is, but now the states have much less say in the federal government than they used to. In fact, as originally set up, only the House of Representatives was voted on by the people; the Senate was actually chosen by the state governments so the states had a direct say in what laws were passed. The 17th Amendment took the states out of the federal legislature and indirectly out of the federal judiciary (they had a vote in the Senate on judicial appointments). By getting rid of the Electoral College, the states would lose their power over the third branch of the government, the executive branch.
So before you listen to the alarmists who don't consider the dangers of direct election and people truly ignorant of the benefits of the Electoral College today, please think twice before you have a knee-jerk reaction to the results of this election if it turns out that one candidate wins the electoral vote and one candidate wins the popular vote.
Feel free to email me, James R Whitson, at email@example.com with any questions you may have. For more information about the Electoral College please visit these sites:
President Elect (my webpage on the history of presidential elections)
Pro-Electoral College testimony to
the House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary
The official homepage of the Electoral College
Math Against Tyranny (Discover magazine article; a must read with new arguments on why direct elections are much more dangerous than the Electoral College)