Sunday, February 4, 2018

Quora: 'Why is the electoral college outdated?'

I posted this answer, here edited and expanded for clarity:

It is not outdated, in my view. Far from it.

The Electoral College is part of the checks and balances put into place to prevent the rise of tyranny by preventing the concentration of political power—that is, the power of physical coercion—in any one branch or segment of government. The Founders not only feared Kings but also majoritarian or factional tyranny. The Founders studied history. One of the things they found was that democracies historically have given rise to factionalism, which inevitably leads to dominance by the most powerful electoral factions over weaker factions, manifested through elected legislatures or demagogic leaders, and ultimate conflict and collapse.

Electorates can be dominated by emotional, short-term, often irrational mob-like passions. The Founders understood that the extreme passions of the electorate must be taken into consideration, but also needed to be tamed. Consider Congress. State legislatures were assigned the task of selecting the Senators, who had six-year terms (since switched, unfortunately, to popular vote by the 17th Amendment) to give state governments ample voice in Federal legislation (which, because of the 17th Amendment, is no longer the case). They created the House of Representatives, selected by direct popular elections every two years, for the purpose of giving voice to populism.

The Electoral College must be considered within this context. Given the enormous power of the single person who is president, the Framers created the electoral college as a bulwark against the public passions in filling that post. Hence, the state legislatures are responsible for choosing the electors. (Remember that state legislatures are themselves elected. So the popular vote still ultimately counts with respect to the President, but only indirectly.)

The Founders did not create an absolute, or what I call a fundamentalist, democracy. They created a free republic in which democracy is a constitutionally limited part. This is consistent with the fundamental principle of America. Contrary to the distortions of the so-called Progressives, the fundamental principle of America is the primacy of liberty based on individual rights, not the primacy of the vote. (The term “democracy,” in fact, appears nowhere in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. That’s no accident.)

The electoral process was designed so as the give people control over their government but in a way that minimizes the threat to individual liberty rights. To suggest that the Electoral College is outdated is to suggest that the principle of checks and balances, and by extension the primacy of individual liberty rights, is outdated. That’s a scary thought. If anything, the Electoral College, which has worked very well, is even more relevant today. America has grown from 13 states to 50 states plus the District of Columbia. A simple, single national popular vote to decide the presidency would be utterly absurd in a country as big and uniquely diverse as the United States. Rather than a meaningless national popular vote, the Electoral College provides for 51 distinct popular vote contests, which acts both as a check on the power of the federal government over the states and on the undue dominance of large states over smaller states. Democracy only works when individual rights are inalienable and politics is kept closer to the people.

For more, see my comments here, here, and here.

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1 comment:

Mike Kevitt said...

The Electoral College is no more outdated than human life is. Checks and balances don't just make everything fair in law and government. They, along with the full documents themselves, keep the crooks out. In the modern age, since 1776, crooks are outdated and (should always be)ever receding toward oblivion.