Majority rules? Not when the Electoral College intervenes. So argues the New Jersey Star-Ledger:
In the pantheon of American politics no one is more revered than the Founding Fathers. Over the decades we've celebrated their lives and sung their praises without much reservation. We count ourselves lucky to have had them.
But why did they leave us such a bizarre system for picking a president?
When we are kids, we are taught to resolve disputes with a simple call to fairness: Majority rules.
But Hillary Clinton just won about 2 million more votes than Donald Trump.
This, the Star-Ledger says, is unfair. Acknowledging that a Constitutional Amendment to eliminate the Electoral College is not politically realistic, the Star-Ledger continues:
But there is a movement afoot to do and [sic] end run around this through a political agreement among the states. It’s called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.
The compact obliges the states that commit to it to withhold their Electoral College votes until a national popular vote winner has been decided, then give all the state’s votes to that winner. The compact does not become effective until enough states with 270 Electoral College votes have signed on.
Majority rules? The greatness of America lies in the fact that it has no rulers. Every individual is free to direct the course of his own life, not have the government—even an elected one—run it. We are not ruled by any King, Cleric, dictator, or majority. Of course, majority rule is exactly what democracy is all about. But, as Timothy Sandefur explains in in the chapter “Democracy and Freedom” of his book The Conscience of the Constitution, “[T]he most basic principle of our Constitution is . . . that each person deserves to be free, [not] that we all have a right, collectively, to govern each other.”
Democracy, properly understood, is statism. It is the majority (or influential plurality), not the individual, that rules, with elected politicians—or those, such as the regulatory agencies, that they appoint—acting as agent of the dominant popular electoral faction.
I left these comments, edited for clarity:
I have disagreements with the Founding Fathers. But the Electoral College is not one of them. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is technically consistent with the Constitution. But is it a good idea to count so much on the national popular vote? I argue no. The Compact violates the spirit of the Electoral College.
The United States is a constitutionally limited democracy—a republic—not an absolute democracy. There is nothing inherently fair about “majority rules.” It depends on the context. Is it fair to execute individuals for expressing ideas that the majority doesn’t like? They did it in ancient Greece under their pure democracy. This may suit democracy fundamentalists just fine. But it is contrary to a free society. The constitution was designed to protect fundamental individual rights through a system of checks and balances, to prevent the concentration of political power (The right to vote is not one of these fundamental rights, which precede government. The vote is a secondary, civil right). The Electoral College is part of the checks and balances.
That said, the Electoral College does not sidestep “the will of the people,” to use that ridiculous catchphrase (what “will” of which “people?”). The popular vote does count. Majority rule does have a place. But there is nothing sacred about a national popular vote—not in a constitutional republic based on rule of law and a government whose powers are limited to protecting individual rights. The national popular vote is irrelevant, given the wide diversity among the people in the states. There are other, better ways to measure the popular vote—like, on the state level. That’s what the Electoral College system measures.
First of all, the state legislators that are constitutionally authorized to choose the Electors are themselves chosen by popular vote. Second, as determined by all of the states, every elector is backed by popular vote. In other words, Trump did win the popular vote—30 times; that is, in 30 states totalling 306 electoral votes. Clinton won 21 times (including the District of Columbia).
Yes, there is a fairness aspect to this. California went for Clinton by a 3.4 million vote margin. That’s a lopsided 62-33%, way out of touch with the national electoral mainstream but enough to swing the national popular vote totals to Clinton by 1.9 million votes. If you take out California, by far the biggest state, Trump won the broad popular vote in the other 49 states by 1.5 million.
America is a big and diverse nation of 50 states. What concerns citizens in one state may be different from other states. States vary widely culturally and economically. Is it fair that the economic, cultural, and issue concerns of just one big state should decide what “the will of the people” is, and trample all of the rest? I say no, it is not; not in a nation as big and diverse as America; not when California already has an outsized advantage in Electoral votes. (The same fairness premise works in reverse. Can anyone see California giving all of its Electoral Votes to Trump if he had won the national popular vote by 1%? Would that be fair to California voters?)
Keep the current setup for choosing Electors. Majority rule is precisely what the Founding Fathers feared, understanding the an elected legislature in an unconstrained democracy can violate a person’s rights as easily as a King can. The Electoral College is fair and consistent with a diverse constitutional republic based on the primacy of the unalienable individual rights to life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness called the United States of America.
The Conscience of the Constitution—Timothy Sandefur
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