The musings of one Andrew Langer - defender of liberty, passionate protector of individual rights, foodie. (Note: Said Musings of Andrew Langer are his own, and the views represented herein are likewise his views, and not the views of any other people, entities, foodstuffs, etc [unless otherwise specifically and explicitly noted].)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Republic Explained: The Electoral College

I have been asked by the Queen Anne's County Republican Central Committee to pen a series of articles on American civics. I'm calling it, "The Republic Explained". The first was published last week in one of the local papers, and I'm working on the follow-up piece right now (Super Delegates). I'm thinking about going through the Bill of Rights, and a few selected amendments (the 17th, for instance), as well - and I'm also open to suggestions.

Here's the first one:

When envisioning the Republic, the Founding Fathers were mindful of a number of different things, balancing powers most especially. The founders were distrustful of centralized power, and recognized that competing interests would require that the demands of a majority group be weighed against the impact of those demands against the rights of a minority group (political or otherwise). Thus, we are not a pure democracy, but a representative republic—and, the American Electoral College was born out of those precepts.

One of the challenges to the Republic, the founders knew, would be the inherent conflict between the interests of rural Americans and those who lived in cities. Different things are important to people living in farming communities than to those who live within urban centers—there are different public policy priorities, at the very least, and possibly different sets of values and societal mores. But in a pure democracy, regions with the highest populations would drive the public policy agenda, potentially sacrificing the interests of those in rural or desolate regions on the altar of the regions with the most people.

When it comes to the Chief Executive, in charge of enforcing the laws passed by Congress, it becomes that much more important. The founders didn’t want the selection of the President to be by “urban center fiat”, so they devised a mechanism to level the playing field. It is akin to how the World Series is played: it isn’t decided in one single game, or which team scored the most runs in a series of different games. It is broken down into a “best of seven” contest, leveling the playing field by allowing each time numerous chances to score incremental victories.

As initially envisioned, each state gets a number of votes equal to the sum of the number of House members plus the number of Senators. That way, even the states with the smallest population have a minimum of three votes, and are thus equalized. Moreover, when combined, the electoral votes of these smaller or less populous states could challenge or overcome the electoral votes of larger and more populated ones. Thus, the common interests of more rural states could be effectively aggregated, and their rights protected.

Each state is allowed to select its electors in its own way. Generally, states assign electoral votes based upon who wins the popular vote in each state (I’ll leave the complexities of voting for individual electors, faithless electors, etc, for another time). In recent years, some states have considered changing their procedures, some opting for an approach which divides electoral votes based upon the percentage of the popular vote – so instead of a “winner take all” method, one candidate might get two thirds of the electoral votes, another candidate only one.

Because of the 2000 election, and the possibility that a candidate who wins the popular vote might still not win the presidency because he failed to attain the electoral college votes needed, some individuals (and their states) are pushing for comprehensive reform. Some want to move to a purely popular vote, and some, like Maryland, want to move to a system in which the state assigns their electoral votes to the person who attains victory in the popular vote on a nationwide level.

Both, however, would undo the protections laid out by the founding fathers, and ultimately harm, rather than protect, the citizenry. Maryland is but one state of fifty in the union, and like every other state is unique in its character, history, and citizenry. Our state has different priorities, even from its neighbors on each and every side. Sure, we have a great deal in common, but we have tremendous differences.

It is because of those differences that we might wish to place our votes differently than Virginia or Delaware or Pennsylvania, not to mention California, Utah, and Washington state. We ought to have a right to make our voices directly heard in the process, not simply caught up in the din of 100 million votes cast!

The fact is, in the 2000 election, the mechanism laid out by the founders worked precisely as they envisioned that it would. There was a stark contrast between the issues of import to urban Americans and the issues that were important to rural Americans, and their electoral choices can be seen on maps identifying county-by-county how Americans voted. Ultimately, the rights of those rural Americans were protected by the Electoral College

In Liberty,

Andrew Langer


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