Well, the unthinkable has happened. Nobody thought this day would ever come. It is almost surreal that it has happened. But, the Chicago Cubs have won the World Series. I know many of you are just as shocked as I am. After 108 years, the Curse of the Billy Goat is finally laid to rest. Oh, yeah and Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States of America.
Like many of you, I think I may still be in a bit of shock. Just saying the words, “President Trump” seems so strange. Nonetheless, it is our reality. And despite the many polls and pundits that had already declared victory for Hilary Clinton in the days leading up to November 8th, Donald Trump managed to pull off a “Brexit for America, ” or so it has been called.
As typical, anytime there is an upset of this nature, pollsters, pundits and partisans are desperate for answers as to how such a sure thing could’ve happened. And even more typical, instead of evaluating the policy positions of the losing candidate (or in this case, the character of the losing candidate), people tend to blame external factors that worked to their disadvantage.
Enter: The Electoral College. Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution states, “[e]ach State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress[.]” It is this section that established what we know today to be the Electoral College.
The purpose of the Electoral College is often stated to have been installed to protect smaller states from the tyranny of the larger states. Others argue that it was the disdain of democracy itself that was the reason for its existence. Still others argue that the founders were afraid that the general public would be too easily persuaded by a smooth-talking would-be dictator and would eventually elect a tyrant.
Alexander Hamilton made that sentiment quite clear writing in Federalist Papers no. 68, “the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station and acting under the circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice.” Essentially, Hamilton was arguing that the people just simply cannot be trusted with such an important vote.
But questions arise from Hamilton’s logic here. The President lacked significant power and authority by design per the U.S. Constitution. It doesn’t seem to follow that a direct election of the President by the will of the masses would inherently install in a tyrant, specifically given the fact that this would-be dictator lacked a significant degree of authority, to begin with. Also, how does placing the vote in the hands of a few, appointed individuals be any bit of a check against the installment of a tyrant? It would be unreasonable to assume that these individuals don’t hold certain political biases given their appointment in the first place.
Hamilton attempts to answer one of these questions, stating, “They have not made the appointment of the President to depend on any preexisting bodies of men, who might be tampered with beforehand to prostitute their votes…[a]nd they have excluded from eligibility to this trust, all those who from situation might be suspected of too great devotion to the President in office.” To sum it up in a few words here, Hamilton was simply arguing that political biases and alliances would certainly be taken into account before the selection of any elector as to maintain the dignity of the specifically chosen position. That we need not worry about the motives of these electors as being impartial toward a specific candidate, despite the fact that these individuals are chosen by those who are impartial toward a specific candidate, seems to be Hamilton’s argument.
Now, you may be wondering, if the people vote for president, and the specifically chosen elector represents the majority will of the state, why have the elector at all? It seems wholly unnecessary, right?
Well, that wasn't how it started. In the early days of the Union, many states didn’t even allow for a vote for president at all. The original design of the Electoral College was very similar to the Parliamentary system in England. The only real difference was that these non-partisan electors appointed to the Electoral College would be choosing the president, not the elected legislators serving in Congress. But, the electoral process has changed quite a bit over the years, and now, every state seems to have adopted the same method, that being, the electoral votes would go to the candidate that won the popular vote in the state.
Perhaps the Electoral College was designed for something a bit more nefarious? According to Akhil Reed Amar, who is a professor of law and political science at Yale University, the Electoral College was installed specifically to protect slavery. It is his opinion that because the electors were decided based upon the census (see the Three-Fifths Compromise), not who was eligible to vote, that the southern states would stand to lose every election and thus a fairer system would be one much more like the parliamentary method.
Irrelevant of the potentially ill-intentions of the process, the question at large is whether or not it has any relevance today. Is it right that a candidate like Hilary Clinton can win the popular vote, yet lose the election? Is it fair that irrelevant of how you vote, the electors of your state will likely already be decided even before election day? My home state of California is a great example. It would be pointless for me to vote for any president that isn’t a Democrat in this state because, regardless, the majority of the people here will vote for the Democrat, thereby rendering my vote worthless.
The problems with the Electoral College are many. How many Republicans living in California who supported Trump didn’t vote because they knew that no matter what, California is a blue state? Conversely, how many Democrats living in a red state didn’t turn out for Clinton because they too knew that their vote was meaningless? Given the fact that there are only a handful of “swing” states in the U.S., I would argue there are a great many people who fit that description.
We commonly see the propaganda from both sides around election time trying to rally up the troops to get out and vote. But given the fact that the U.S. is among the least of the developed world when it comes to voter turnout, it seems to reason that something must change in the voting process.
So, should we abolish the Electoral College? Perhaps. I doubt much would change as a result, however. But, perhaps we are asking the wrong question entirely. Maybe we should be asking ourselves, why does the presidential election matter so much? Why do we grant such great power to a single person over our lives? Why are we not more concerned with what is going on in our local communities where we have a greater ability to make a positive change?
All across the country, there are riots and protests over the election of Donald Trump. These people are apparently so concerned that President Trump would have a tremendously terrible impact on their lives and feel the need to make their voices heard. It stands to reason that these same individuals would not be protesting had Hilary Clinton won the presidency, despite the fact that she would’ve had the same power and authority that Donald Trump will have. Think about that for a moment. The vast majority of these protesters were perfectly willing to give Clinton this authority, but are deathly afraid now that Trump will have it.
It’s time to put liberty into perspective. The power we grant to one of our choosing, we must be comfortable granting to someone not of our choosing just the same. For if we cannot trust the other with the power we bestow upon him or her, what makes us believe anybody could be trusted with that power?
I personally do not care if we abolish the Electoral College. Because abolishing it won’t bring us any closer to liberty, only closer to mob rule as opposed to the current elitist rule the Electoral College provides. Ask yourself this question, if the President had such little authority that the decisions he or she made would almost never have any real impact on your life, would you even care who was president, let alone how they were elected? Lord knows I wouldn’t.