Electoral College

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Maryland became the first state to say that if enough other states do it too, they will give their electoral college votes to the winner of the national popular vote.

There are lots of ways to talk about this.

As many Democrats do, you could bring up Bush losing the "popular vote" in 2000, and one could counter by bringing up that a potential Kerry electoral college victory still would have handed the presidency to Bush under this new system.

And then you could talk about how all the numbers we look at to see who would have won in a given year are inherently flawed because we have never actually had a popular vote, where every voter bases his vote on a national outcome instead of a statewide outcome.

You could bring up how this would change the landscape, make it more or less fair for some voters. Or candidates.

You could talk about that is we as a country really want to choose the President by a national vote, shouldn't we modify the Constitution to say so instead of enforcing the view of a minority of states on everyone else?

And then there's the logistical nightmare of having national standards for voting machines and processes, resulting in potentially endless legal challenges.

But there's really only one reasonable way to talk about this, as far as I am concerned: should our President be chosen by the people of the nation, or by the states?

Federalist 68 lays out the case for an electoral college pretty well, and some of it is silly, some of it is elitist, and some of it is deprecated.

Much of 68 is devoted to saying why we need a special body to choose the President, rather than using the legislature; and why that body should be based essentially upon the will of the people. No one thinks Congress should choose the President (except for maybe the current Democrats in power ;-), and no one thinks the people should not be involved, so I won't address that further.

We also don't need to worry significantly about foreign influence, as we had to when the nation was new.

Then there's the idea of "tumult and disorder": that selection of a President should not uspet the nation (literally, rather than emotionally). The idea going that if you and I vote for some electors, that this will not be as tumultuous as if we were voting for a single President.

But since our elector system has become in practice just that -- voting for a single President -- the only way to use this defense of the Electoral College would be to favor morphing the existing system into something it currently is not, into a system where electors are chosen as individuals, not as faceless party representatives, and where we do not necessarily know to whom they are pledged. I could go for a system like that, perhaps, but it is not what we have now.

Anyway, we no longer believe, in this country, that there is such a thing as "men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station," and to do so reasonably and judiciously. As the Lost Dogs sang:

And when we took the torch into the night
We vowed to search the highways for an honest man
But when we looked into each other's eyes
We knew it would be best to make some other plan

We also no longer believe that the Electoral College provides a "moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications." Each of us can probably come up with people we believe became President without being so endowed. This certainty was based, however, on an 18th century media. Our mass media has shrunken the country, so that "talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice ... to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States."

However, all is not lost in the case for the Electoral College. First, a popular vote would not solve any of the unresolved problems listed above. Second, what Hamilton did not address directly but what was certainly implied by the context, is that the Chief Magistrate is not the President of the People of the United States, but the President of the United States. The current system still keeps the power to elect in the hands of the States themselves, as the States, not the people, are the entities that the President is bound to serve.

Many conservatives, including myself, think for similar reasons that popular election of Senators was a mistake. No longer are Senators trying to serve the best interests of the States, or the Union, but their individual constituents, the people on whom they dependent for continuance in office.

One may counter at this point that times have changed and we are more a nation now than we are individual states, but that doesn't mean it's a good thing, and it doesn't mean we should take this accelerative step in that (many believe) wrong direction.

And that is what this essentially boils down to: do you want States or a National government to determine the fate of the people? Would you prefer to call your state representatives when you have a problem, or your congressman in DC? Would you prefer to petition your governor, or your president?

A move to a popular vote will not change anything immediately. And certainly, it won't have this effect all by itself. But it is a piece to the puzzle, and a big piece. Personally, I prefer state governments to federal ones, and I have seen what effect direct voting for national officials has, and I am therefore necessarily opposed to a popular vote for the President. slashdot.org

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<pudge/*> (pronounced "PudgeGlob") is thousands of posts over many years by Pudge.

"It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt."

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