I know the elections are awhile away, but with all of this campaign coverage I think it is plausible to discuss a controversy during election time. Remember the Presidential Election of 2000? Yes, the one that led to the Supreme Court Case of Bush v. Gore. I’m talking about the dreaded Electoral College.
According to a Gallup Poll, 62% of Americans would favor Direct Popular Vote over the Electoral College (http://www.gallup.com/poll/150245/americans-swap-electoral-college-popular-vote.aspx). However, our current system of election isn’t all that bad…and it’s a lot better than the alternative. The Electoral College has performed its function for over 200 years and in over 50 presidential elections. It ensures that the President of the United States has both sufficient popular support to govern, and that his popular support is sufficiently distributed throughout the country to enable him to govern effectively.
The election of 1800 has been known as a peaceful revolution where an entire passage of power from one political party to another was accomplished without violence. This, in itself, is a rare event and a major implication that the Electoral College system would endure various strains that were placed upon it. The Electoral College has thrived for over 200 years, and for it to still remain in its place is an obvious sign of success. Proposals to abolish the Electoral College, though frequently put forward, have failed largely because the alternatives to it appear more problematic than the College itself.
In many of today’s political issues, we often look to the writer’s intent of the constitution, and asking ourselves what the Founding Fathers would have wanted. A direct democracy and majoritarianism was not the goal of the United States, rather, our founding fathers wanted to create a democratic republic, where emphasis is on law and rule of the people through elected representatives. The ‘republican principle’ pointed to by James Madison in Federalist 10 was not abstract majoritarianism, but consent as he made abundantly clear in that essay, and throughout his contributions to The Federalist and in the Declaration of Independence.
The E.C.’s refusal to follow simple majoritarianism reminds us that popular consent is not the end of government, but simply a means to assure that government respects the liberties of life and property that make us a free and prosperous people.
A direct popular vote system has serious potential problems. If there is a close popular election, we face a national recount, which is potentially more destabilizing than the local unpleasantness of 2000. One can look to Florida 2000; the Electoral College has the great merit of confining such election conflicts to one state. A close race in a single state is more likely than a close vote in a national popular election because of the smaller number of total votes.
Any difference in probability arguments is outweighed by the far more catastrophic effects that would occur if we were confronted by a Florida-type conflict in which the whole country was in need of a recount. A national recount would be extremely difficult to conduct, it would provide for an even greater fraudulent opportunity, and would be very costly and highly chaotic. The Electoral College system is better suited to handle recounts simply because it happens at a state level.
It is imperative to look at states’ rights, and the likely effects of direct popular election of the president. We would probably see elections dominated by the most populous regions of the country or by several large metropolitan areas. In the 2000 election, for example, Vice President Gore could have won by simply putting together a plurality in the Northeast, parts of the Midwest, and California. The victims in such elections would be those regions too sparsely populated to merit the attention of presidential candidates.
In the 2004 election, George Bush succeeded in the swing state of Ohio because of the support from not just metropolitan areas, but rural towns, as well. The Electoral College is a good antidote to the poison of regionalism because it forces presidential candidates to seek support throughout the nation. By making sure no state will be left behind, it provides a measure of coherence to our nation.
This issue has been reached Congress in the past, and has been struck down every time… for good reason. Not only is a Direct Popular Voting system unjust and shaky, the Electoral College has engrained itself into our political system for the preservation of our core democratic values.