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Electoral College Thoughts

November 13, 2016

Disclaimer: I voted for neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton

I suppose it was inevitable. Trump’s Electoral College win, while perfectly consistent with our Constitution, was bound to leave some of Clinton’s supporters convinced the election had been “stolen” from her by an antiquated system that is inconsistent with democracy. There are, of course, more than a few problems with such a view. All but one of them, I submit, are based upon a profound misunderstanding of the nature of our republic and Constitution. First, to the one that’s not related to this misunderstanding.

Hillary Clinton ran for President, knowing fully the rules by which one must win the office. That is, she knew she had to win at least 270 electoral votes. As a result, she and her campaign focused on those states deemed most likely to provide that total. While it might be tempting to say “well, she had not choice if she wanted to win,” that overlooks her obvious history. Her supporters, who speak in such glowing terms of her knowledge, experience and decades of public service, have, to the best of my knowledge, yet to provide a single instance in which she has ever objected to the Electoral College and its role in how we select our President. This is important, because it leads to one of three conclusions.

  1. She has no issues with the Electoral College. If this is the case, it might suggest her devotion to “real democracy” is less absolute than they might imagine.
    1. Of course, it might also suggest she thinks the whole debate is a tempest in a teapot.
  2. She was unaware of the extent to which the Electoral College supposedly promotes both racism and sexism (note: I think this suggestion regarding the electoral college is, well, goofy, but since this sort of social commentary seems to be what passes for insightful analysis from many on the left, it seemed appropriate to include it). This, of course, presents its own problems for her supporters. To wit, that they had chosen to support a candidate, lauded as a champion of rights and fair treatment for the often disenfranchised, who was ignorant of the fact the very method to which she had to turn in hopes of winning (e.g. garnering enough electoral votes) was designed to oppress minorities. I’m curious as to how such a profound ignorance would be acceptable to the left, a political philosophy which so often suggests others simply “don’t know the facts.”
  3. She was (and is) completely aware of just how unfair the Electoral College is and simply did not care. In other words, she wanted to be elected so badly she was willing to participate, freely and enthusiastically, in a fundamentally corrupt system.

I’ll be honest. As much as I did not want Hillary Clinton to be President, I suspect her view is much like that of the vast and overwhelming majority of candidates for our nation’s highest office – she had no problem with the Electoral College and likely finds the whole debate silly.

The other problems with the current round of attacks on the Electoral College seem based on a failure to grasp some fundamental concepts regarding the nature of the Electoral College, the United States and our Constitution.

  • The United States was never intended to be a true democracy. While, especially according to modern definitions, there are strong democratic principles contained within and protected by the Constitution, the nation was deliberately designed as a republic, specifically a constitutional republic.
  • The Electoral College serves to protect us from what some have termed “the tyranny of the majority.” Both de Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill wrote about this concept, Mill taking it even to the point of social tyranny (I highly recommend reading the entirety of Mill’s essay “On Liberty“). Even Slate, hardly a bastion of libertarian or conservative thought, published an article listing the advantages of the electoral college. In it, the author lists 5 reasons to retain the institution.
    • Certainty of outcome. While there may be a dispute regarding the number of electoral votes a candidate receives, the likelihood of such a dispute is much less than that of a dispute regarding the number of popular votes.
    • Everyone’s President. The Electoral College requires a candidate to appeal to more than a single region, to have any hope of winning.
    • Swing states. If you want to be President, you must appeal to more than just your “sure bet” states.
    • A balance between the influence of big and small states. The author only focuses on the advantage enjoyed by bigger (more populous) states, reflecting a bit of his perhaps left leaning perspective. Still, it is important
    • Avoiding run-off elections. In the absence of a majority, what is the alternative? Shall we elect a person who could not even muster the support of 1/2 of the citizens – citizens who knew their vote would directly determine who became President?

Bayou Renaissance Man‘s recent blog post contains links to a number of calls for either the elimination of  the Electoral College or changes to how a state’s electoral votes are cast. As seems typical of many suggestions from the left, the “National Popular Vote Interstate Compact” would serve to further reduce the sovereignty of the states. Surely that is an unintended consequence, yes? Meridian Magazine, which Bayou Renaissance Man’s blog post references published a 3 part series which listed advantages to the Electoral College. Those are:

  1. A Check on Socialism
  2. Protecting Minority Rights
  3. When a Majority Doesn’t Work

I highly encourage a reading of each of the three articles.

I’ll be honest. I see nothing good to be gained by abandoning the Electoral College. I do, however, see it as an almost guaranteed path to the loss of more liberty.

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