Why the Electoral College

Al Jacobs

A provocative article appeared on the internet under the title “A minority government in America.” Its author, Sardul Singh Minhas, described as a business consultant and holder of a doctorate in engineering, criticizes the outcome of our recent presidential election. In doing so he castigates the Electoral College, established by our constitution, where appointed electors, not the general public, select our president.

In his article, Minhas states: “Beginning in January 2017, Americans will have a minority government, thanks to the greatly disproportionate power vested in small rural states and in rural voters by the Electoral College … The Electoral College, which prevents the direct election by the people, has distorted the political process … The U.S. Constitution lays out the process … gives an outsized benefit to smaller and less populous states” … thus “the same pernicious effect on our democracy as malapportionment.”

From these comments, we must conclude the men who fought to end British dominance over the colonists, and thereafter crafted our nation’s basic legal structure, cared little for true representative government, nor did they concern themselves with the pernicious effects of malapportionment.

Before we attempt to endorse or refute Minhas’ accusations, let’s take a close look at how and why, in the late 18th Century, the U.S. Constitution came into being. Following the War of Independence in 1783, the thirteen former British colonies functioned as a loose association under a compact known as the Articles of Confederation. Over the next several years it became evident the arrangement proved too weak for an effective government. There was no head of state, no executive agencies, no judiciary and no tax base.

The absence of a taxing authority meant no way to pay off debts from the war years except by requesting money from the former colonies – which seldom materialized. By 1787 it became clear, unless a government with more enforceable powers existed, the conglomeration of semi-autonomous states would soon cease to function as a unified group. Accordingly, on Feb. 21, 1787, the Confederation Congress called a convention of state delegates to propose a plan of government for the "sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation."

On May 25, 1787, A quorum of seven states met and began deliberations. Eventually 12 states were represented, generally convinced an effective central government with a wide range of enforceable powers must replace the weaker Congress established by the Articles of Confederation. Two plans for structuring the federal government arose at the convention's outset: (1) The Virginia Plan, which proposed a bicameral legislature with both chambers elected with apportionment based upon population. This naturally favored the highly populated states. (2) The New Jersey Plan, with a unicameral legislature consisting of one vote per state. This would, of course, give control to the less-populous states.

Over the next four months the representatives debated a multitude of issues. Though all agreed upon a republican form of government grounded in representing all the people fairly, the unique perplexities confronting each state nearly ended the possibility of forming a viable government. If not for a series of compromises, some of them admittedly makeshift, there’d be no agreement. But finally, on Sept. 17th, the final draft of a proposed constitutional agreement met with the approval of all 12 Convention delegations. On Sept. 13, 1788, the Continental Congress, still functioning at irregular intervals, passed a resolution putting the new Constitution into operation with eleven states; North Carolina and Rhode Island ratified by May 1790.

Included within Article II of this document is the provision: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress.” And presumably critics may, with 225 years of history to reflect upon, fault our founders for whatever imperfections they perceive. However, under the circumstances, our Constitution serves us well. The United States of America did not become the foremost nation in the world because it embraces unfairness and bigotry.

Brought down now to the present, do the workings of the Electoral College constitute, as Minhas contends, a distortion of the political process? More specifically, inasmuch as none of the candidates of the recent presidential race received a majority of the 135,699,077 votes cast, does the fact the winning candidate received a couple percentage points less than the principal losing candidate give evidence of a pernicious abuse of the electioneering process? If anything, the result of the current race drives home an important message, wherein the loser’s 4,269,978 vote margin over the winner’s in a single state – California – exceeded the winner’s vote margin in all other states plus the District of Columbia combined.

There’s no better example as to what the Constitution’s drafters envisioned when they rejected the Virginia Plan, a circumstance in which one or two populous states perpetually dominate all the others. Such an arrangement would insure nothing but a group of hostile and bickering entities unable to function together amicably as a unified nation.

Let’s now consider the practical effect of a pure democracy where, at any time, the will of the majority becomes the law of the land. Any long-time California resident must be aware of how our initiative process, formally adopted in October 1911, became used and misused over the years to enact laws no rationally constituted legislature would ever condone. The ability of demagogues to enact self-serving laws by plying on the credulity of uninformed voters is, very simply, a form of legalized criminality.

There can be little doubt the men who crafted the concept of the Electoral College, did so in an effort to place a restraining barrier between what they believed to be a fundamentally naive electorate and the selection of a chief executive possibly inclined to seize unwarranted powers. You may be sure George III remained fresh in their memory.

A final word: In a just society, the role of government must be to serve the general public. However, the general public isn’t particularly capable of acting effectively in its own best interests. It’s for this reason our republican form of government is preferable to a democracy. The individual is far better served when represented by honest and knowledgeable intermediaries than when simply regarded as a part of the multitude, which is then left to fend for itself.

Al Jacobs, a professional investor for nearly a half-century, distributes a monthly newsletter in which he shares his financial knowledge and experience. You may view it on www.roadwaytoprosperity.com/.




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