Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Why Do We Need the Electoral College?

Activists seeking to eliminate the Electoral College in favor of a popular vote to elect the president boast that their movement is almost one-fifth the way to its goal.

Four states – Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland and New Jersey – which represent 50 of the 270 electoral votes needed to declare a presidential election winner, have committed to an agreement whereby they would grant their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, a move that – if adopted by enough states – would reduce the Electoral College to irrelevancy.

With most of the nation's states considering similar bills pending in their respective legislatures, activists are looking to 2016 as a possible death date for the Electoral College.

John Koza, chairman of National Popular Vote, a group leading the charge to eliminate the Electoral College, explains the agreement won't go into effect until states with a total of 270 electoral votes join in.

"We have 20 percent of the electoral votes we need," Koza told the Washington Times. "The whole idea of the bill is that no state can do this alone. It only goes into effect when we have 270 electoral votes."

Advocates of the change in national election policy argue that it would end the current practice of candidates focusing on "swing states," and compel them to address the nation at large. It would also prevent a situation, such as happened with George W. Bush in the 2000 election, where a candidate loses the popular vote but wins in the Electoral College.

Opponents of the change argue that turning the election over to the popular vote would result in candidates focusing only on major metropolitan areas and television campaigns, cutting out rural America altogether, and that it would overturn our Founding Fathers' vision of a republican form of government, replacing it with a pure democracy, where the majority has mob rule.

Koza explained his support of a popular vote system to the Times by arguing that two-thirds of the campaign dollars in the 2008 election were spent in six swing states and 90 percent was spent in only 15 states.

"When you're in a non-battleground state, which is two-thirds of the states, you tend to get ignored," Koza said. "People are figuring out that in most states, they don't count. If anything, this presidential election reminded them that they don't count."

The Times reports that nearly every state has introduced popular vote legislation this year, and seven states have passed it in one chamber. Colorado, where the Senate has passed the legislation twice before, may be the next state to approve it, since the House passed it for the first time last month.

"The winner-take-all system isn't only undemocratic, it's also dysfunctional," said Colorado state Sen. Andy Kerr, a Democrat who sponsored the Colorado legislation.

Opponents of electing a president by popular election, however, argue that the change would cause candidates to concentrate on major population centers, where votes can be scored in bunches, rather than traveling the country through states whose electoral votes are currently needed for victory. Transferring the campaign dollars from focusing on states to focusing on metropolitan population centers, they argue, isn't any more "fair" of a system.

"Those swing states can actually be quite diverse," said Colorado Sen. Shawn Mitchell, a Republican who opposes the popular-vote legislation. "It's a slam-dunk that the 10 battleground states are more representative of the broad national interest than the 10 biggest metropolitan areas."

As WND reported, an analysis of the issue by Wallbuilders, a Christian organization with expertise in historical and constitutional issues, also warned that the popular vote system would introduce its own dangers.

The analysis quoted Curtis Gans, of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, who said getting rid of the Electoral College would reduce political campaigns in the United States to "television advertising" and "tarmac."

"There would be virtually no incentive to try to mobilize constituencies, organize specific interests, or devote any resources to such things as voter registration and education," said Gans. "What we would have is a political system that combines the worst of network television with the worst of the modern campaign."

Wallbuilders also noted that – along with proposals to have Congress or the state legislatures choose a president – the idea of a national popular vote was discussed by the authors of the Constitution:

"This idea was rejected not because the framers distrusted the people but rather because the larger populous states would have much greater influence than the smaller states and therefore the interests of those smaller states could be disregarded or trampled," Wallbuilders said.

The hotly contested 2000 election illustrated how the Electoral College preserves the voice of the smaller states and more rural areas. Though candidate Al Gore won the popular vote – and therefore would have won the presidency under the proposed changes – his edge came largely from concentrated urban areas: Gore carried only 676 American counties, while Bush carried 2,436 counties.

Following the 2000 election, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, made the argument in a column called "A Republic, Not a Democracy" that the Electoral College is a necessary extension of the Founding Fathers' vision for our country:

"The Founding Fathers were concerned with liberty, not democracy. In fact, the word democracy does not appear in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. On the contrary, Article IV, section 4 of the Constitution is quite clear: 'The United States shall guarantee to every state in this Union a Republican Form of Government (emphasis added).' The emphasis on democracy in our modern political discourse has no historical or constitutional basis," wrote Paul.

"Our Founders instituted a republican system to protect individual rights and property rights from tyranny, regardless of whether the tyrant was a king, a monarchy, a congress, or an unelected mob," Paul continued. "They believed that a representative government, restrained by the Bill of Rights and divided into three power-sharing branches, would balance the competing interests of the population. They also knew that unbridled democracy would lead to the same kind of tyranny suffered by the colonies under King George. In other words, the Founders had no illusions about democracy. Democracy represented unlimited rule by an omnipotent majority, while a constitutionally limited republic was seen as the best system to preserve liberty. Inalienable individual liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights would be threatened by the 'excesses of democracy.'"

Paul's spokesperson, Jeff Deist, summarized the congressman's argument against purely democratic rule.

"Majority tyranny is just as bad as any other kind of tyranny," said Deist. "It makes no difference whether your liberty and property are taken by a king or a majority of individuals."

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