Wednesday, November 16, 2016

On the U.S. Electoral College

Wikipedia explains things as follows:
The Constitutional Convention in 1787 used the Virginia Plan as the basis for discussions, as the Virginia delegation had proposed it first. The Virginia Plan called for the Congress to elect the president.[14] Delegates from a majority of states agreed to this mode of election.[15] However, a committee formed to work out various details including the mode of election of the president, recommended instead the election be by a group of people apportioned among the states in the same numbers as their representatives in Congress (the formula for which had been resolved in lengthy debates resulting in the Connecticut Compromise and Three-Fifths Compromise), but chosen by each state "in such manner as its Legislature may direct." Committee member Gouverneur Morris explained the reasons for the change; among others, there were fears of "intrigue" if the president were chosen by a small group of men who met together regularly, as well as concerns for the independence of the president if he was elected by the Congress.[16] Some delegates, including James Wilson and James Madison, preferred popular election of the executive. Madison acknowledged that while a popular vote would be ideal, it would be difficult to get consensus on the proposal given the prevalence of slavery in the South:
There was one difficulty however of a serious nature attending an immediate choice by the people. The right of suffrage was much more diffusive in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes. The substitution of electors obviated this difficulty and seemed on the whole to be liable to the fewest objections.[17]
The Convention approved the Committee's Electoral College proposal, with minor modifications, on September 6, 1787.[18] Delegates from the small states generally favored the Electoral College out of concern large states would otherwise control presidential elections.[19]
In The Federalist Papers, James Madison explained his views on the selection of the president and the Constitution. In Federalist No. 39, Madison argued the Constitution was designed to be a mixture of state-based and population-based government. Congress would have two houses: the state-based Senate and the population-based House of Representatives. Meanwhile, the president would be elected by a mixture of the two modes.[20] Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 68 laid out the key advantages to the Electoral College. The electors come directly from the people and them alone for that purpose only, and for that time only. This avoided a party-run legislature, or a permanent body that could be influenced by foreign interests before each election.[21]
Alexander Hamilton explained the election was to take place among all the states, so no corruption in any state could taint "the great body of the people" in their selection. The choice was to be made by a majority of the Electoral College, as majority rule is critical to the principles of republican government. Hamilton argued, electors meeting in the state capitals were able to have information unavailable to the general public. No one who is an elector can be a U.S. officeholder, so none of the electors would be immediately beholden to a given presidential candidate.[21]
Another consideration was the decision would be made without "tumult and disorder", as it would be a broad-based one made simultaneously in various locales where the decision-makers could deliberate reasonably, not in one place, where decision-makers could be threatened or intimidated. If the Electoral College did not achieve a decisive majority, then the House of Representatives were to choose the president, and the Senate the vice president, selecting among the top five candidates, ensuring selection of a presiding officer administering the laws would have both ability and good character.[21]
Additionally, in the Federalist No. 10, James Madison argued against "an interested and overbearing majority" and the "mischiefs of faction" in an electoral system. He defined a faction as "a number of citizens whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community." What was then called republican government (i.e., federalism, as opposed to direct democracy), with its varied distribution of voter rights and powers, would countervail against factions. Madison further postulated in the Federalist No. 10 that the greater the population and expanse of the Republic, the more difficulty factions would face in organizing due to such issues as sectionalism.[22]
Although the United States Constitution refers to "Electors" and "electors," neither the phrase "Electoral College" nor any other name is used to describe the electors collectively. It was not until the early 19th century the name "Electoral College" came into general usage as the collective designation for the electors selected to cast votes for president and vice president. The phrase was first written into federal law in 1845 and today the term appears in 3 U.S.C. § 4, in the section heading and in the text as "college of electors."[23]

Perhaps Germans don't like our electoral college and think they have a better hold of how best to vote (although they have an electoral college of their own).  In any case we have a system that has worked for us for a long time.   Would it be appropriate for the leader of one of the competing parties to declare, "I reject the Electoral College system and will declare myself president if I win the popular vote"?  Well, Tilden seems to have done that in a sense (see below), but Hillary never said anything like that.  She and her team strove to get at least 270 electoral college votes because she knew as everyone who has striven to be the American president has known that the popular vote by itself isn't going to get one elected president.  Usually the one who wins the electoral college vote also wins the popular vote but not always. 

There was a time when many of the original States behaved, some of the time, as though they were independent nations.  But the solution we decided upon  provided a system that would allow these independent states to "unite."    Although no provision was made to prevent any state from succeding until after the Northern States defeated the Southern in a Civil War.

This is the fifth time in American History that the winner of the electoral college vote did not win the popular vote.  Read about the other times here:

The election of 1876 contended by Hayes and Tilden was the most acrimonious -- even worse than the Bush/Gore controversy.   It is possible for the electors to declare Hillary the winner and over-rule the "popular" votes in the states that selected Trump as the winner.  A decision was made in 1876 to the effect that if the electoral college would declare Hayes the winner, the North would end reconstruction and pull its troops out of the South.  Tilden had plenty of support in objecting to this agreement:  "
While Hayes and the Republicans presumptively claimed rights to victory, Tilden proved to be a timid fighter and discouraged his party from challenging the commission’s decision. Instead, he spent more than a month preparing a report on the history of electoral counts—which, in the end, had no effect on the outcome.
“I can retire to public life with the consciousness that I shall receive from posterity the credit of having been elected to the highest position in the gift of the people,” Tilden said after his defeat, “without any of the cares and responsibilities of the office.”
His health did indeed fail him shortly after the election. He died in 1886 a wealthy man, leaving $3 million to the New York Public Library."

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