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The Founding Fathers' View of the 2000 Controversy
The United States, or more properly The Republic of the United States of America, is currently a country more diverse and more crowded than ever before. We are able today to read the entire transcript of a major presidential address or policy statement seemingly before it ends. News events play out before our eyes on TV daily. Reality based programming is all the rage in the entertainment industry, thus blurring the lines of fact & fiction and reality & entertainment. The ongoing controversy of the 2000 election provided the news divisions a chance to draw viewers and readers. Everyone scrambled to cover the crisis as it unfolded and again, in their haste to report, no one seemed to comprehend that there was no crisis.

Our entire system of government is outlined in a relatively small collection of documents. The government doesn't exist in reality so much as it exists in the collective interpretation of those documents. Our constitution is a masterpiece of understatement, merely providing a framework for our republic to grow. As stated above, it is my contention that no crisis,constitutional or otherwise, existed as the polls closed Nov 7,2000. Our election laws are unambiguous and unyielding and, with regards to the Electoral College, they are nothing if not fair.

It has been opined that our presidential election process and especially the electoral college is imperfect, in some instances unfair. While the founding fathers instinctively understood that any system of government would have its imperfections, the electoral college goes to great lengths to make sure that the will of the people is upheld.

As outlined in the Federalist Papers1, the purpose of the Electoral College was multi-faceted but based on the principle that a group of representative electors would be more able to put aside their own prejudices and put the needs of their country ahead of their own. A recurring theme of the Federalist Papers is the need for virtuous and meritorious people to lead the republic.

Almost as though they could see into the future, the framers of the Constitution expected people to gravitate towards like minded people and form "factions" . Factions, in their opinion, "divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good" (Federalist #10). While this view certainly sounds familiar to those who follow the US political scene, I feel that the framers envisioned a political environment with a multi-party debate, with several groups all pursuing their one issue agendas. The goal then became to regulate the factionalism whilst preserving the debate within the process of governing.

As the American political scene developed into a primarily 2 party system, the "debate" was assured but the need for regulation continued. Perhaps sensing amongst themselves that it lies within the humans' nature to form factions over the "most frivolous and fanciful distinctions" (Federalist #10), there was created a body of electors to populate the college. Citizens who would meet, cast their votes, and go home, would be less likely to succumb to petty personality conflicts and the like. The average citizen was therefore voting not for the candidate, but rather for a group of electors, entrusting the individual electors to represent their views and to vote accordingly.

Over the years, changes to the election laws have reflected the ability of the faction to interfere with the process of governing. The Vice President is no longer the runner-up in the college for the reason that, far too often, the runner-up was unable,for a variety of reasons to support the position of his victor.

The emergence of the 2 party system also seemingly has removed the prospect of an election being decided by Congress. The power of the electors to represent their fellow citizens has been eroded somewhat by the decisions of 27 states to require them to vote for their party's candidate. If the highly unlikely but still very possible occurrence of a candidate being rendered unfit, after the popular vote has taken place, yet before the Electoral College has cast their votes, a quite real crisis could develop with these electors unable to broker their votes and represent their citizen's interests for the nation's greater good.

However, these developments have NOT rendered the Electoral College unneeded. With the 2 party system, the ability of the college to ensure that one faction or party is unable to outnumber or oppress its opponent is more important than ever.

If a faction gains great popularity in one region on the basis of one primary issue, said faction might in terms of sheer numbers, become a powerful force in a locality but the electoral college exists again, to ensure that the localized party is not able to oppress its opponents on the basis of sheer numbers.

In this most recent election, we have seen a candidate win a majority of the popular vote, but his faction failed to kindle a nationwide base. The voting base for the party came from 21 of the 51 available states2. With the exception of New Mexico3, all of the states were highly urban with large populations. In terms of sheer numbers, these states possess the numbers to oppress the others in matters resolved by popular vote. Clearly our founding fathers set out to guard against just this type of majority rule, whether the issue is taxation, national defense, or the election of the chief executive, the rights of the smaller states must be protected. This protection, offered by a representative republic, has helped to ensure the strength and survival of our nation by reducing the amount of interstate conflict that marred the original Articles of Confederation.

The victorious faction in the 2000 election captured 30 available states. To decide the election purely on the basis of the popular vote would place many of these states at the mercy of the more populated urban areas, thus issues of a local importance would likely be ignored. In effect leading to "Taxation without Representation"

Let us not forget, that the rallying cry of our early country did not deal with democracy or a popular vote, it dealt with representation. The representation that our forefathers fought for, survives today in our system of government and in the Electoral College.


FOOTNOTES

  1. The Federalist Papers were a series of short works, authored by James Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton. Originally sent to newspapers to support the ratification of the Constitution and published under the name Publius, these 85 works outline in what, at the time, was a simpler everyday language, the basis for the decision to lead the young states to the republic style of government. I highly encourage anyone wishing to learn about constitutional issues and/or the Electoral College to read these papers. The insight into the politics of the time and their relation to current times is nothing short of remarkable.
  2. For the purposes of this writing, The District of Columbia, with its 3 electoral votes, is referred to as a state although it is still technically only a federal district.
  3. New Mexico seems to be a flaw in my theory until we recall that November 7 saw record snowfall and blizzard-type conditions across much of the state. If my urban faction theory holds, it is possible to conclude that the travel difficulties associated with the snow worked against the people in outlying less populated areas and those areas therefore had lower voter turnout numbers than the more densely populated areas. Given the fact that the margin of victory/defeat in this state was a mere 366 votes, it can be surmised that had the election fallen upon a less inclimate day, the results quite possibly could have been different.
Steve Venable is a small business owner in Knoxville TN and a political hobbyist. Email regarding this article is warmly welcomed

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