Hands Off the Electoral College
December 27, 2004
The intense media focus on the divide between "red" and "blue" states in the wake of the presidential election has raised new questions regarding our federal voting system. One U.S. Senator has promised to introduce legislation to abolish the electoral college, claiming it is an anachronism that serves no good purpose in modern politics. Her stated goal is "simply to allow the popular will of the American people to be expressed every four years when we elect our president." Many Americans agree, arguing that the man receiving the most votes should win; anything else would be unfair. In other words, they believe the American political system should operate as a direct democracy.
The problem, of course, is that our country is not a democracy. Our nation was founded as a constitutionally limited republic, as any grammar school child knew just a few decades ago. Remember the Pledge of Allegiance: "and to the Republic for which it stands"? 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. Yet we have become obsessed with democracy, as though any government action would be permissible if a majority of voters simply approved of it. Democracy has become a sacred cow, a deity which no one dares question. Democracy, we are told, is always good. But the founders created a constitutionally limited republic precisely to protect fundamental liberties from the whims of the masses, to guard against the excesses of democracy. The electoral college likewise was created in the Constitution to guard against majority tyranny in federal elections. The President was to be elected by the states rather than the citizenry as a whole, with votes apportioned to states according to their representation in Congress. The will of the people was to be tempered by the wisdom of the electoral college.
By contrast, election of the President by pure popular vote totals would damage statehood. Populated areas on both coasts would have increasing influence on national elections, to the detriment of less populated southern and western states. A candidate receiving a large percentage of the popular vote in California and New York could win a national election with very little support in dozens of other states! A popular vote system simply would intensify the populist pandering which already dominates national campaigns.
Not surprisingly, calls to abolish the electoral college system are heard most loudly among left elites concentrated largely on the two coasts. Liberals favor a very strong centralized federal government, and have contempt for the concept of states' rights (a contempt now shared, unfortunately, by the Republican Party). They believe in federalizing virtually every area of law, leaving states powerless to challenge directives sent down from Washington. The electoral college system threatens liberals because it allows states to elect the president, and in many states the majority of voters still believe in limited government and the Constitution. Citizens in southern and western states in particular tend to value individual liberty, property rights, gun rights, and religious freedom, values which are abhorrent to the collectivist elites. The collectivists care about centralized power, not democracy. Their efforts to discredit the electoral college system are an attempt to limit the voting power of pro-liberty states.