Saturday, December 10, 2016

Kill the Electoral College

"Some claim that the founding fathers chose the Electoral College over direct election in order to balance the interests of high-population and low-population states. But the deepest political divisions in America have always run not between big and small states, but between the north and the south, and between the coasts and the interior." —  Akhil Reed Amar, American legal scholar, an expert on constitutional law and criminal procedure

IT TAKES 3.6 votes in California and the same in the state of New York to equal one vote in Wyoming. I wish I were kidding. 

Democracy? Clearly not. It's time . . . actually way past time . . . to kill the Electoral College

The effect that racism had on the outcome of this past election is obvious, but at least as powerful in determining who takes the oath of office next month is our history as a slave-owning nation. 

Below are two articles, one from the Huffington Post and the other from Time Magazine. The first one explains the math I just described, the second one is a history lesson, a shocking one. 

Voters In Wyoming Have 3.6 Times The Voting Power That I Have. It’s Time To End The Electoral College.

By William Petrocelli

November 10, 2016

On Election Day in 1996, I wrote a guest editorial in the San Francisco Examiner, warning that the Electoral College system of electing presidents could cost Bill Clinton his re-election as president even if he won the popular vote. I was laughed at. Readers commented that the Electoral College hadn’t affected the outcome of an election for over 100 years. For anyone born in the 20th Century, the Electoral College seemed like a harmless anachronism - something like powdered wigs or spittoons. And, in fact, it didn’t affect the outcome in 1996. Bill Clinton went on to beat Bob Dole, winning both the popular vote and the electoral vote. I was wrong.

But I wasn’t wrong for long. Four years later, the Electoral College rose out of the historical dust to bite us. The final vote count in the 2000 election saw Al Gore beating George Bush by 547,398 votes, yet Bush went on to be inaugurated as President. And now, sixteen years later, it’s come back for another bite. Hillary Clinton is projected to win the popular vote, but she will still be forced to watch as Donald Trump is sworn in as the next president. That’s twice in the last five elections that the candidate with the most votes has been denied the presidency. That’s some anachronism. Where I come from, the name for this situation is minority rule. And it’s usually a disaster.

The Electoral College was slapped together by the drafters of the Constitutions in 1789 as a sop to the smaller states, giving them some incentive to ratify the document. But that was an era when there was no popular vote for the election of presidents. The idea that the Electoral College would evolve into a sort of a stand-in for the popular vote would have shocked James Madison and the other drafters. Among its other vices, the Electoral College has distorted political campaigns. Candidates practically camp out in “swing states” and ignore the voters in the other “safe states” entirely. And it affects the way that issues are raised in the campaign. In years when the electoral votes of Iowa are in play, you can practically see the candidates inhaling the Ethanol fumes.

But the biggest vice of the Electoral College is its blatant unfairness to voters in the bigger states. As a resident of the largest state, California, I look at the residents of the smallest state, Wyoming, with particular envy during election season. Each vote cast in Wyoming is worth 3.6 as much as the same vote cast in California. How can that be, you might ask? It’s easy to see, when you do the math. Although Wyoming had a population in the last census of only 563,767, it gets 3 votes in the Electoral College based on its two Senators and one Congressman. California has 55 electoral votes. That sounds like a lot more, but it isn’t when you consider the size of the state. The population of California in the last census was 37,254,503, and that means that the electoral votes per capita in California are a lot less. To put it another way, the three electors in Wyoming represent an average of 187,923 residents each. The 55 electors in California represent an average of 677,355 each, and that’s a disparity of 3.6 to 1.

This has to change. Each resident of the United States should have the same voting power. The simplest way to achieve this is to abolish the Electoral College and insist that everyone’s vote stand on its own. That would constitute true electoral reform. You can call our current anachronistic system many things, but you can’t call it a democracy.

In a democracy, the election is awarded to the person with the most votes.

The Troubling Reason the Electoral College Exists

The Founding Fathers had something particular in mind when they set up the U.S. presidential election system: slavery

By Akhil Reed Amar  

November 10  2016 

As Americans await the quadrennial running of the presidential obstacle course now known as the Electoral College, it’s worth remembering why we have this odd political contraption in the first place. After all, state governors in all 50 states are elected by popular vote; why not do the same for the governor of all states, a.k.a. the president? The quirks of the Electoral College system were exposed this week when Donald Trump secured the presidency with an Electoral College majority, even as Hillary Clinton took a narrow lead in the popular vote.

Some claim that the founding fathers chose the Electoral College over direct election in order to balance the interests of high-population and low-population states. But the deepest political divisions in America have always run not between big and small states, but between the north and the south, and between the coasts and the interior.

One Founding-era argument for the Electoral College stemmed from the fact that ordinary Americans across a vast continent would lack sufficient information to choose directly and intelligently among leading presidential candidates.

This objection rang true in the 1780s, when life was far more local. But the early emergence of national presidential parties rendered the objection obsolete by linking presidential candidates to slates of local candidates and national platforms, which explained to voters who stood for what.

Although the Philadelphia framers did not anticipate the rise of a system of national presidential parties, the 12th Amendment—proposed in 1803 and ratified a year later— was framed with such a party system in mind, in the aftermath of the election of 1800-01. In that election, two rudimentary presidential parties—Federalists led by John Adams and Republicans led by Thomas Jefferson—took shape and squared off. Jefferson ultimately prevailed, but only after an extended crisis triggered by several glitches in the Framers’ electoral machinery. In particular, Republican electors had no formal way to designate that they wanted Jefferson for president and Aaron Burr for vice president rather than vice versa. Some politicians then tried to exploit the resulting confusion.

Enter the 12th Amendment, which allowed each party to designate one candidate for president and a separate candidate for vice president. The amendment’s modifications of the electoral process transformed the Framers’ framework, enabling future presidential elections to be openly populist and partisan affairs featuring two competing tickets. It is the 12th Amendment’s Electoral College system, not the Philadelphia Framers’, that remains in place today. If the general citizenry’s lack of knowledge had been the real reason for the Electoral College, this problem was largely solved by 1800. So why wasn’t the entire Electoral College contraption scrapped at that point?

Standard civics-class accounts of the Electoral College rarely mention the real demon dooming direct national election in 1787 and 1803: slavery.

At the Philadelphia convention, the visionary Pennsylvanian James Wilson proposed direct national election of the president. But the savvy Virginian James Madison responded that such a system would prove unacceptable to the South: “The right of suffrage was much more diffusive [i.e., extensive] in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes.” In other words, in a direct election system, the North would outnumber the South, whose many slaves (more than half a million in all) of course could not vote. But the Electoral College—a prototype of which Madison proposed in this same speech—instead let each southern state count its slaves, albeit with a two-fifths discount, in computing its share of the overall count.

Virginia emerged as the big winner—the California of the Founding era—with 12 out of a total of 91 electoral votes allocated by the Philadelphia Constitution, more than a quarter of the 46 needed to win an election in the first round. After the 1800 census, Wilson’s free state of Pennsylvania had 10% more free persons than Virginia, but got 20% fewer electoral votes. Perversely, the more slaves Virginia (or any other slave state) bought or bred, the more electoral votes it would receive. Were a slave state to free any blacks who then moved North, the state could actually lose electoral votes.

If the system’s pro-slavery tilt was not overwhelmingly obvious when the Constitution was ratified, it quickly became so. For 32 of the Constitution’s first 36 years, a white slaveholding Virginian occupied the presidency.

Southerner Thomas Jefferson, for example, won the election of 1800-01 against Northerner John Adams in a race where the slavery-skew of the electoral college was the decisive margin of victory: without the extra electoral college votes generated by slavery, the mostly southern states that supported Jefferson would not have sufficed to give him a majority. As pointed observers remarked at the time, Thomas Jefferson metaphorically rode into the executive mansion on the backs of slaves.

The 1796 contest between Adams and Jefferson had featured an even sharper division between northern states and southern states. Thus, at the time the Twelfth Amendment tinkered with the Electoral College system rather than tossing it, the system’s pro-slavery bias was hardly a secret. Indeed, in the floor debate over the amendment in late 1803, Massachusetts Congressman Samuel Thatcher complained that “The representation of slaves adds thirteen members to this House in the present Congress, and eighteen Electors of President and Vice President at the next election.” But Thatcher’s complaint went unredressed. Once again, the North caved to the South by refusing to insist on direct national election.

In light of this more complete (if less flattering) account of the electoral college in the late 18th and early 19th century, Americans should ask themselves whether we want to maintain this odd—dare I say peculiar?—institution in the 21st century.

1 comment:

  1. It is past time for it to go. Thank you for this. Both articles explain why it exist and why those states will fight like crazy to keep it.