In the aftermath of any election, regardless of the winning party, people tend to ask the same question: Why do we have an Electoral College?
Several times in recent history the popular vote and Electoral vote have been dissimilar, so why keep it? Don’t we live in a a Democracy where the will of the people is supreme?
Before we dive too heavily into the topic, let us first observe that we do not live in a Democracy, but a Republic. In a Democracy the majority is all powerful, leaving the minority in the dust. In a Republic, the rights of all citizens are protected through laws and representative government.
With that out of the way, we’ll examine a few of the reasons for the creation of the Electoral College and why we should keep it.
Alexander Hamilton, one of the most prolific writers of the Founding period, was among the writers of The Federalist Papers. This volume, that often gathers dust on the self, was a collection of essays defending and explaining the various points of the Constitution after its creation.
In Federalist Paper No. 68, Hamilton defends and explains the purpose behind the creation of an Electoral College. He gives three explicit reasons:
“It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.”
Much like the process of selecting Representatives or Senators, the electors were to be a body of men known for their judgment and common sense. People who understood the times and what qualities were required to lead the Nation through them.
Absence of Tumult
“It was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder. This evil was not least to be dreaded in the election of a magistrate, who was to have so important an agency in the administration of the government as the President of the United States. But the precautions which have been so happily concerted in the system under consideration, promise an effectual security against this mischief. The choice of SEVERAL, to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of ONE who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes. And as the electors, chosen in each State, are to assemble and vote in the State in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation will expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people, than if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place.“
This is the mild form in which Hamilton refers to the fear of mob rule. A Democracy, in its true sense, is a system of Government ruled by popular opinion and fervor. To see examples of where this philosophy went wrong one needs look no farther than the French Revolution and the reign of Terror that followed it.
A system of Electors bypasses much of the passion the politics can cause when men are gathered together in one place. If your family quarrels over politics and religion seem bad over a dinner table, you cannot imagine the small wars that could erupt from differing opinions in communities. Hamilton and the Founders understood this element of human nature, far more than we do today. Passion, while useful, can cloud the judgement of men, and in the heat of the moment make decision regretted later. When deciding the course of a nation, it is sound judgement, not passion, that makes wise choices.
“Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption.“
“Their transient existence, and their detached situation, already taken notice of, afford a satisfactory prospect of their continuing so, to the conclusion of it. The business of corruption, when it is to embrace so considerable a number of men, requires time as well as means. Nor would it be found easy suddenly to embark them, dispersed as they would be over thirteen States, in any combinations founded upon motives, which though they could not properly be denominated corrupt, might yet be of a nature to mislead them from their duty.”
In the early days of our Nation, many worried that, after a long war against Britain, the young United States might fall under the influence of a foreign power. It was not beyond the interest of Europe to attempt to exploit and use the New World, a land full of opportunity. Thomas Jefferson was dogged by this fear his entire life.
A body of Electors selecting the President made it more unlikely for a foreign power to manipulate the Presidential election, especially as this wasn’t a public office like Senator.
It was also formed so that no one “holding a place of trust or profit under the United States” (Federalist No. 68) could be selected as an elector, preventing any other personal self-interest influencing decisions.
What Hamilton failed to mention was yet other strong argument: Several smaller states were horrified at the idea of being lost in the shuffle of larger states like Virginia. Based on population alone, the larger states could decide every National election held in the country. The Electoral College solved this difficulty by limiting the votes of each state to the number of Representatives in Congress and Senate, allowing the voice of smaller states and constituencies to be heard as loudly as any other.
Several people will argue, and have argued, that the concerns of the Founders over this issue are no longer relevant. The citizens of today are now better educated that in past generations, making every citizen capable of reasonably choosing the President. Our public has evolved. The United States is hardly in the same position as in its early days, we don’t need to fear the influence of foreign powers in a general election.
Those are the arguments. They are also incorrect.
Our citizens are more broadly educated, but not necessarily better. What we have is a lower level of general education, but more people generally educated. It’s the same as saying you’ve got more water by emptying one full glass into several others.
The public has not evolved, but has become more inclined to devolving. With the frequency of riots in the cities it’s surprising we don’t have more trouble in the Election season already.
The Issue Today
There seems to be less problems between larger and smaller states these days, after all, we are a more homogeneous country than we were before. Virginia and Delaware rarely have squabbles like they used to, but there is something to be said about the country, rural communities, and the urban cities.
There is a large disparity between the rural and urban, in population, culture, and values, such large disparities that it almost can feel traveling to a different country when visiting from one to the other.
Because of the large difference in population, we have found ourselves in a position where the voice of the urban can contradict and devalue the voice of the rural. Many states universally vote one way in the rural communities, only to be overridden by the decisions of the two or three large cities.
What we have is the same problem, but in a different context. The electoral college provides a shield to the less populated rural community as it did to less populated states. Because the Electoral College limits the amount of votes available to each state, it prevents California, New York, and other states with large urban populations to decide the fate of the Presidential Election, though they have a large voice, they cannot decide the election outright.
Tyranny of the many over the few is just as problematic as the tyranny of the few over the many. By removing the Electoral College, we would take away the limitations that give the rural communities a voice in our Presidential elections.
It is the mistake of modern society to believe ourselves evolved beyond human follies, and to assume that the Founding Father’s didn’t make a system relevant to our modern age. Many Founders noted that they were creating a system to last the test of time, protecting the rights of all citizens. As we face inevitable cultural clashes, between morals and values, urban and rural, we cannot overlook these lessons and protections given to us by the framers of the Constitution.