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All You Ever Wanted To Know About the Electoral College

 

John Hamilton (writing about the Electoral College) commented on the response of those who were criticizing the Constitution that, “The mode of appointment of the Chief Magistrate of the United States is almost the only part of the system, of any consequence, which has escaped without severe censure or which has received the slightest mark of approbation from its opponents. (One of these) has even deigned to admit that the election of the President is pretty well guarded.”1

As I approach the subject of the Electoral College I feel like a person who is listening to me describe “the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen” and you are listening to me.  Trying to make someone else “see” what I’m seeing just isn’t the same as seeing it oneself.  Can you see the connection between the above and an article on the Electoral College?  But I will do my best to describe the beauty of this process created by our Founding Fathers!

Although our Founders lived long ago they were people, just like us, who had to interact with people much like us.  They were, however, head and shoulders above their contemporaries as those who knew them, both Americans and foreigners, as well as those who’ve later written about them, have said.  We will try to keep these ideas in mind as we study the Electoral College.  Why is this important?

Our Founders realized they were writing, not just for themselves or those who lived in America, but for men everywhere.  In fact, even for those who would come after them-you and me!  Their writings contain many references to this concern for people other than themselves.  That would certainly tend to make them careful, wouldn’t it?  And it did.

The Electoral College takes many factors into consideration. One of the most important was the difference in the size of the colonies.  They had had to deal with that problem in regard to representation earlier in the Convention.  Just as today so it was then there were big states and little states.  For example: big New York State and little Rhode Island.  And that little state did not want to be outvoted by New York.  Nor did New York want laws passed by the smaller states that weren’t beneficial to them.  How to do this?  You, of course, know that they solved that by giving the smaller states the same number of Senators as the bigger ones.  And, then, the big states got there representation by having House Members counted according to population!  Did they figure out a way to solve a similar problem with regard to the Electoral College?  We shall see.

But, first, I would like to discuss what would happen if those, who would like to change our method of electing the President to popular voting, got their wish.  Do they realize what would happen?  What do you think would happen?

While you’re waiting for me to talk about how the Electoral College solves this and a number of other problems, try this exercise: Add up the votes of all those which are from the smaller states and, then, those from the three largest states in our country.  Be sure to divide them between candidates one and two.  How many votes could “candidate 1” get from the small states?  How many for “candidate 2” from the large states?  Think about this scenario:

The total combined population of the 15 states of Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming is about 16 million.  The total combined population of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston is about 16 million.  The smallest of these states, Rhode Island, encompasses a little under 1500 square miles.  The combined area of the four largest cities is just 1500 square miles.  In a direct election, the people of just four cities would have the equivalent of the electoral clout of the people in 15 states.  Thus, in a direct election people in large cities would be given preferential treatment by the candidates because it would be less expensive and more efficient for them to spend their time there.2

That is, just four big cities in four states would gain more popular votes for the preferred candidate than the popular vote in all 15 of the smaller states in a direct/popular election.  The result?  The large cities of just four states could decide the election.  Can you imagine how those voters in the 15 small states would feel if an election were decided this way?  The popular votes in the big cities have over-powered the popular votes of 15 small states!  I’m sure that, if you lived in those states you’d be unhappy with the results.  You would say, “We think the election should have been conducted in a fairer manner.  Give us back the electoral system where we’d have an equal chance!”

In fact, that’s exactly what happened in the last election.  You may remember it!  If you have seen a map of our country with red for Bush and blue for Gore, you will notice that a lot of little states were represented.  Did this turn the tide for Bush?  It did.  That’s why Florida’s votes were so important to the Gore campaign.  Isn’t it great that just one state’s big vote wasn’t able to overturn the votes of all those little states?  (This is not a political comment!)

This is a real-life example of the above.  In our next installment of “The Electoral College” we will, hopefully, review how the The Electoral College actually works and why.  In subsequent essays we will examine the discussion of some of the arguments John Hamilton wrote about in the Federalist Papers.”  As they say, “Stay tuned.”


Footnotes:

1. Hamilton, John, “The Federalist Papers, No. 68.”

2. Grant, Dr. George, “The Electoral College,” Vision Forum Ministries, San Antonio, Texas, 2004, pp. 46-47.


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