stat counnnter

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Electoral College Under Attack Again

The 7/20/08 Detroit Free Press has its Sunday editorial section On Point mostly devoted to getting rid of the Electoral College. Its main editorial "Graduate the Electoral College" is mostly a plea for straight 'democracy,' the so-called one man,one vote idea. The editorial looks at the recent efforts of the NPV (National Popular Vote) movement where states would form co-ops and all their electoral votes would go to the popular vote leader. But it correctly points out:
"And it could mean that a candidate gets the votes of a state he or she didn't carry."
The paper's solution then is a plan of reapportionment.
"Apportioning electoral votes is a compromise between direct election and preserving the Electoral College. It would force candidates to pay more attention to every state and give voters on the short side of politically lopsided states a chance to have their ballots count for something."
I'm not an expert in Constitutional Law so I can't say if any of these apportionment plans are even feasible. My own guess is that such plans will get knocked down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.

The editorial is joined by an op-ed by Clyde Frazier, professor of political science at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C. who argues a justification for this side-stepping of the Constitution:
"State action has one enormous advantage over constitutional amendment; it is much more easily reversible. The most serious concern about any change in election procedures is the possibility of unintended consequences. If NPV does cause problems, individual states can withdraw from the compact at any time, except right before and after an election, forcing a return to the current system. We aren't locked into change, as we would be with an amendment."
Personally, I don't like the idea of a 'living constitution' of which this set up smacks. It also introduces pure democracy into the voting process. Eventually such democracy will spread to other voting issues and eventually our Constitutional Republic will be replaced by a full democracy. These always devolve into chaos or dictatorship.

Offering the contrary view is Robert Hardaway, professor of law at the University of Denver and the author of "The Electoral College and the Constitution: the Case for Preserving Federalism" who writes:
"In 1956, a Republican proposal to abolish the Electoral College was defeated after a vigorous defense by Sen. John F. Kennedy, who declared that "direct election would break down the federal system under which most states entered the union, which provides a system of checks and balances to ensure that no area or group shall obtain too much power.""
This idea of breaking down the federal system under which most states entered the union is the right argument and is elaborated upon by Jeff Jacoby in a July 16 Boston Globe op-ed. Mr. Jacoby says:
"Such concerns didn't trouble the framers of the Constitution, who did not believe that political contests should be decided by majority rule. They rejected "pure democracy," as James Madison explained in Federalist No. 10. They knew that with "nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party, or an obnoxious individual," blind majoritarianism can become as great a menace to liberty as any king or dictator. The term "tyranny of the majority" was coined for good reason."
And also points out:
"The Electoral College (like the Senate) was designed to preserve the role of the states in governing a nation whose name - the United States of America - reflects its fundamental federal nature. We are a nation of states, not of autonomous citizens, and those states have distinct identities and interests, which the framers were at pains to protect. Too many Americans today forget - or never learned - that the states created the central government; it wasn't the other way around. The federal principle is at least as important to American governance as the one-man-one-vote principle, and the Electoral College brilliantly marries them: Democratic elections take place within each state to determine that state's vote for president in the Electoral College."
I agree. To do away with the EC is to dissolve state borders and I think any politician who gives it a second thought would reject the idea. I urge reading all of Mr. Jacoby's article.

Update. Gus Van Horn comments on this subject here. Thanks Gus


Vigilis said...

Excellent presentation of a thorny issue! Let me explain just how thorny.

Should the dreaded day ever come when NPV overtakes the current electoral process, voters will certainly wish to determine the remuneration and benefits of national politicians by the same, popular method - direct voting. In fact, the two issues are unrelated and we can demand to do the latter right now.

Does that not have more appeal than the present system of allowing elected senators and representatives to determine their own salary increases? Do they really work for us? Just a thought.

Mike N said...

Thanks. Good point about direct voting for congressional pay. Sounds appealing but I'm afraid, as I think you'll agree, it will lead to the majority voting on what you and I make, or what our companies are allowed to pay us.