In the continuing aftermath of the presidential election, alarmists have raised a harried cry for the abolition of the Electoral College. About half a million people have signed a MoveOn.org petition to abolish the Electoral College. Former Attorney General Eric Holder joined the call, as did 1988 presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, who said nationalizing presidential elections “should be at the top of the Democratic priority list.”
Even the vanquished candidate, Hillary Clinton, got in on the act. “We are a very different country than we were 200 years ago,” Clinton told the rolling network news cameras. “I believe strongly that … it’s time to do away with the Electoral College and move to the popular election of our president.”
Of course, Hillary Rodham Clinton made those comments in the year 2000 as a senator-elect — apparently unappreciative of the fact that the Founders’ concern for states’ rights led to the creation of both the Electoral College and the Senate.
Demanding the Electoral College be abolished is a quadrennial rite, comparable to the Olympics. The opponents of the constitutional system say the institution is an anachronism, an archaic holdover from colonial days that serves only to perpetuate our Founding Fathers’ elitism and thwart “the will of the people.” Relying on the popular vote, some aver, would better represent the national will of a diverse electorate. And, of course, it has been ritually denounced for furthering “white supremacy and sexism.”
However, its detractors fail to appreciate how the Electoral College promotes societal harmony, protects the rights of the underrepresented, and acts as a buffer between individual citizens and an ever-expanding federal government.
While a popular vote majority may appear to represent the vox populi, such a victory can be deceptively decisive. It is possible for a candidate to carry all of Alaska’s 501,515 registered voters, lose every other state by 10,000 votes, and still win the election. Could such a mandate be said to represent “the national will”? A popular vote would be the one case in which the whole is much less than the sum of its parts.
Our constitutional system requires the president to have broad-based support and build consensus. Under direct election, a candidate could woo large population centers — or worse yet, try to buy them off with pork-barrel spending — then ignore the rest of the nation. Indeed, the Founders had this in mind when Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist Paper No. 68, “Talents for low intrigue … may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require … a different kind of merit to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union.”
The Electoral College also prevents another kind of shared national experience: nationwide recounts. When victory hinges on state outcomes, recounts are limited to hotly contested states. Under a national popular vote, a close nationwide election would trigger a recount, exporting the Florida nightmare of 2000 — with hanging chads, dimpled chads, Democratic election officials manhandling ballots, etc. — from sea to shining sea.
Perhaps the greatest danger posed by eliminating the Electoral College is in eroding the Founding Fathers’ respect for states, the principle of federalism, and all layers of government standing in the way of a growing federal government. The Left has labored to eradicate intermediary institutions that stand between the individual citizen and the highest possible level of government — a form of reverse subsidiarity, if you wish. (This would be far from the only area in which the Left inverts Catholic morality.)
The Founders saw the states as a buffer between the people and the national government.Hamilton, that most Federalist of the Founders, once said the tension between national and state governments “forms a double security to the people. If one encroaches on their rights they will find a powerful protection in the other. Indeed, they will both be prevented from overpassing their constitutional limits by a certain rivalship, which will ever subsist between them.”
Abolishing the Electoral College — and the federalist order it embodies — eliminates the rivalry over individual liberty, pitting a lone voter against the full power and resources of the national government.
Ironically, a popular vote system would actually disenfranchise not only individuals, but large segments of the country. Were the Electoral College abolished, political battles would center on major metropolitan areas, giving them undue influence over the course of our nation.
As many people reside on one block of New York City as inhabit entire townships in Pennsylvania visited by the Trump family en route to electoral victory, or the small Ohio towns courted assiduously by winning and losing Republican campaigns for decades. Politicians who have no desire for a constituency’s votes will have less inducement to represent their interests in office, as well.
The Electoral College system also recognizes the fundamental truth that while we are all Americans, we are different kinds of Americans. This truth was expressed by Donald Trump — also in a previous presidential election. In his aborted 1999 run for the Reform Party’s nomination, Trump said that he had a different view of homosexuality, because “I mean, hey, I lived in New York City and Manhattan all my life. So, my views are a little bit different than if I lived in Iowa, perhaps.”
If direct election replaces our constitutional system, rural America — perhaps not coincidentally, a stronghold of small government and traditional values — will slip off the political radar. By preserving each state’s place at the table, our Founders assured that the interests of the entire country will be addressed.
While binding electors to a state’s popular vote — and punishing faithless electors — would be reasonable compromises that respects federalist principles and democratic participation, a national popular election would decimate these safeguards.
Hillary Clinton centered her latest — and we pray last — run for president on pitch that America is “stronger together,” campaigning that she wanted to be the president of all Americans. There is no better way for her to promote her professed principles than to cease her party’s attack on the one institution that requires national unity, consensus, and comity.
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Ben Johnson is U.S. Bureau Chief of LifeSiteNews.com, the former Managing Editor of FrontPageMag.com (2003-2010), and was a CPAC 2016 panelist. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter @therightswriter.