It’s time in this series to move on to Article 2 - which covers the Executive Branch. That means that in the next few posts for this series we’re going to discuss the president and what his role is supposed to be in this country.
This week, we’re going to get started off with a bang by talking about the process we have for electing a president - otherwise known as the electoral college.
Since I have already written about the Electoral College twice before (here and here), I thought it would be good to get another perspective on the topic. So I sat down with Tara Ross to see what she could add to the discussion.
Over the last few decades, the Electoral College has become somewhat unpopular. During our talk, Tara perfectly summed up why it’s losing support in our world that is increasingly driven by soundbites:
“The Electoral College isn’t a bumper sticker. You have to sit down and think about it for a few minutes to see why it’s so important.”
And she’s right. The Electoral College doesn’t jump right out at you as a brilliant and effective method for choosing our presidents. You have to stop and think about all the challenges we face in a huge country like ours before you start to appreciate what an incredible system it is.
(As a side note, I highly recommend Tara’s book about the Electoral College called “Enlightened Democracy.” It’s very thorough, but it’s still an easy read for regular people like you and me.)
How Does The Electoral College Work, Anyway?
In order for the electoral college to make sense, the first thing you need to understand is that the American people do not directly elect the president.
Nor should they.
We’ve already talked about the fact that democracy is a terrible idea that always fails. A country as large as ours will not function properly unless it has strong characteristics of federalism in how it’s designed.
The electoral college is one of the indispensable parts of our government in Washington, D.C. that make it a federal government - and not a national one.
Because federalism works—and straight democracy doesn’t—it’s actually the States who elect our president. As Tara explains in this clip, when you go in to vote on election day you are actually voting for who you would like your state to support in the real presidential election:
Al Gore Didn’t Lose The 2000 Election Because of Florida. Wait, What?!
That brings up the question. “Why is it better for our president to be elected by the States?”
There are a variety of benefits to electing the president this way, but for today we’re going to focus on one.
We are a massive nation that covers a lot of different climates and a lot of different cultures and that has a diverse population with a lot of different concerns. We need to have a president who represents as many of those different regions of the country and as many of those different concerns as we possibly can.
The Electoral College helps us achieve that goal.
Because our presidents are elected on a state by state basis, they are forced to put together a broad coalition of voters in order to win. For example, a candidate that only appeals to southern states or northeastern states isn’t going to win.
When presidential candidates have to get their support from a broad spectrum of Americans, that gives more people a voice in the process.
The election in 2000 is a great example of that. A lot of people believe that Al Gore lost because of Florida - and there’s obviously an element of truth to that. But as Tara points out, perhaps the bigger issue was Gore’s failure to appeal to the coal miners of West Virginia:
There you can see one of the benefits of the Electoral College system - it gives people like the coal miners in West Virginia a voice in the process where they wouldn’t have one otherwise.
The bottom line here is that we can’t afford to have a president who only represents a narrow segment of our country. A president who gets elected by only appealing to one or two main constituencies is going to have a difficult time governing the country as a whole.
Fortunately, the Electoral College forces our presidents to get support from different types of people from all over this country.
The Myth That Only Swing States Matter
One of the main arguments that is made against the Electoral College is that only swing states matter at election time.
But as Tara explains in the next video, that isn’t true. The solid states already have their thumbs firmly on the scale and their voters are voicing their opinions loudly and clearly. The people of those States already feel that their interests are being represented by the candidate they are supporting.
If at any point they decide that a given presidential candidate doesn’t represent their values any more, the voters in that State can change their minds and make it a swing state again (as we saw in West Virginia in 2000). At that point, they’ll be rewarded with an endless barrage of campaign ads. Yay!!
Can an Electoral College That Was Created In 1787 Apply In 2015?
There’s no way around it: 1787 was an entirely different world than the one we live in in 2015. Can a method for electing a president that was designed for that world possibly be relevant today?
The answer to that is “Yes,” for the same reason the rest of the Constitution is still relevant: human nature.
We all know that it’s human nature for power to be a corrupting force. And when you concentrate a whole lot of power into one place, you’re just asking for trouble.
That’s why the Electoral College was designed with human nature in mind:
The Electoral College minimizes the impact of human nature by dividing up the responsibility for conducting our presidential elections into the hands of a variety of different people in each of the States across the country.
But if we were to ditch the Electoral College in favor of something like a national popular vote, there would have to one group of people who were ultimately responsible for counting and certifying the vote totals—and for making the rules for how the votes will be cast.
Concentrating that kind of power in the hands of one group of people creates an extraordinarily tempting invitation to corruption. Sooner or later, it’s inevitable that someone would take advantage of that invitation.
So yes, a lot might have changed over the last 200 years, but people today are every bit as likely to be corrupted by power today as they were back in 1787.
A Two-Word Argument for the Electoral College
Finding a president who can properly represent a country as huge as ours—and a population as diverse as our—requires a very unique approach. It requires an approach that gives as many people a voice as possible and an approach that limits the negative effects of human nature.
The Electoral College is that unique approach.
It is true that the Electoral College doesn’t offer bumper sticker solutions and it doesn’t lend itself to sexy headlines that create an emotional response in us.
But it can offer one benefit that none of the other methods of choosing a president can: it works.
Chad Kent is an author and speaker with a unique style that makes the Constitution simple and fun. Listen to Chad every Saturday during The Chris Salcedo Show on TheBlaze Radio, visit his web site at www.ChadKentSpeaks.com, and like his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/theconstitutionguy.
TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.