We have just completed the process of electing a new President of the USA, and, as occurs every four years, the Electoral College of the USA has again come under scrutiny.
As my friend Stuart Schnee has queried on FaceBook:
Is there a good reason to keep the electoral college now?
Like Stuart I am conservative about changing things in the political structure of a reasonably successful democracy (actually, a Republic – as James Madison says [“A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place” …] in Federalist No. 10 of “The Federalist Papers“).
However, I have been hearing about this and thinking about it for at least fifty years now (political awareness begins early in my family), so I have some thoughts to share on the topic.
It DOES seem to me that that there is no longer a rationale for keeping the US Electoral College (and I say this without any relation to the present Presidential elections, in which I understand that Hillary Clinton has actually won the popular vote, though having lost the Presidency – after all, four other Presidential elections have gone that way over the years as well).
Looking over the Federalist Papers, I see a host of explanations for having an Electoral College of which few, if any, seem to have any applicability today.
The electors aren’t even people whom we, the voters, know, anymore. We are much more likely to have in depth information about the candidates than to know anything about the electors (even their names) – the opposite of the situation which pertained when the US Constitution was written.
There is no reasonable, democratic way to guarantee that at least one of the houses of Congress be dominated by a different party than the President’s – which seems to me the best way to guarantee against “the tyranny of the majority” which so many of the USA’s Founding Fathers were fearful of – but, I assume that this why we also have the Judicial Branch of the USA Government.
Therefore, it seems to me that the Electoral College has “run its course” and should be abolished, and that the President might just as well be elected by direct popular vote – the other checks and balances of the American system should protect against the gross abuses that many feared, and wanted the Electoral College to protect against, in the late 18th century.
However, this change will only come to pass when enough of the USA electorate and legislators actually invest enough of their time on this issue to come to an informed opinion about it (and even then, there may be a majority who, nevertheless, want to remain with the traditional Electoral College), and I, personally, am not particularly concerned about this.
After all, the system is NOT UNFAIR to the CANDIDATES for President, since they all know how it operates and all plan their campaign strategies in order to win a majority of the electors – it is just silly, in the age of instantaneous electronic communication, to continue with a system constructed largely based upon the constraints of a period when one could not communicate between one end of the (much smaller) USA and the other in less than a few days of travel by horse or boat!
Since altering the Constitution is a serious matter the Founding Fathers made approving an amendment a rather involved process, though it is possible and has been done several times when enough public interest was raised on a topic.
Therefore, whenever there is enough popular pressure (from citizen actions groups, or whatever – if this ever actually occurs), the houses of Congress, or the legislatures of the states (each option is possible), can, by a two-thirds majority, cause the initiation of the process which can, if ratified by three-fourths of the states, alter the situation to something less silly.
Or maybe not enough people are really interested enough for this process to occur with regard to the Electoral College, and most people are willing to live with this silly institution even in this day and age?