The Wise Purpose of the Electoral College

Freedom makes men unequal — not before the law, but in their talents and in their property.  The "depraved taste for equality" observed by Alexis de Tocqueville back in 1832 has today become a rising tide among many of our citizens, who have been convinced that it is more important to be equal than to be free.  This "depraved taste for equality" can be seen in calls to do away with the Electoral College and replace it with a popular vote.

One man, one vote.  Equality.  That is very appealing to some.  But it is also foolishly superficial, and Tocqueville rightly characterized the preference for equality over freedom as depraved.

The Electoral College system — especially the original system before it was altered by the 12th Amendment in 1804 — was part of a republican system of government designed by the founders to secure the liberty of the individual: "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed" (Declaration of Independence).  It was the design of the Founders to create a government that would "secure these rights" and thus preserve our liberty.  They recognized that a popular government — a democracy — would soon enough begin to subject freedom and rights to a popular vote: here a little, there a little; lie upon lie; pretext upon pretext.  With that, freedom would gradually be minimalized, eroded, discarded, and replaced by equality.  But it would a dreary, regulated equality of limitations, deprivations, and misery.  Ultimately, it would become a fearful tyranny.  That's why James Madison warned that the democracies of history "have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths" (Federalist #10).

"The soul cannot be coerced" (Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Infidel, pg. 208).  The human soul must be free if it is to be happy, if it is to prosper, to thrive, to mature, to rise to great things.  I am not one who prefers "equality in servitude to inequality in freedom."  I prefer a system of government that makes me free, not equal.

The legislative assault on the Electoral College has officially begun.  Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) has introduced a bill in the House for a constitutional amendment to eliminate the Electoral College.  Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) is introducing a package of election reforms that would include the abolishment of the Electoral College.  If we are to retain our republic, if we hope to preserve this land of liberty, we must know why the Founders created the Electoral College and understand why it deserves to be defended.

There are many today who argue that the Electoral College ought to be relegated to a museum with other quaint relics of the past.  They argue that it is anti-democratic and has no legitimate place in our government today.

In part, I agree.  It is anti-democratic.  That is what it was supposed to be.

The purpose of the Constitution, according to the Declaration of Independence, is to "secure" the unalienable rights of the people.  That is all our national government was supposed to do: protect and preserve us in our lives, our liberty, and our property.  To do this, the Founders gave us a republic, not a democracy.  They understood that in a democracy, eventually, the people can gradually be taught to accept the idea that it is perfectly legal — and therefore just — to put their neighbor's unalienable rights to a popular vote, and that this will incrementally erode and destroy our right to life, to liberty, and to property.  The Founders sought to guard against this as they debated the principles they would incorporate in the Constitution.  There was purpose in the design of the Electoral College.  It was created to be part of the bulwark they erected to protect our unalienable rights from direct democratic usurpation.  But this is precisely why it is held in such contempt by many.  Those who inveigh against the Electoral College usually argue that it is an impediment to pure principles of "one man, one vote."

And indeed, it is.

Progressives for more than 100 years have been working toward converting America from a republic to a democracy because they do not embrace or respect the principle of natural rights and wish to move us away from such benighted and inconvenient notions.  Though they are always ready to compromise your individual liberty, they will never admit that this is what they are doing

The Constitution is a system of checks and balances the sole purpose of which is to protect the unalienable rights of individuals from the ebb and flow of democratic sentiment.  Among the checks on democratic sentiment in our original constitutional system was that only the House of Representatives was elected on a one man–one vote democratic basis.  The Senate was not, the judiciary was not, and the president was not.  Think about that.

To do away with the Electoral College is to do away with national elections, and also to do away with presidential accountability to all Americans.  Why?  Because if the election of the president is based solely on popular vote, only the areas of highest concentration of population — i.e., the New York City area and the Los Angeles area, with a few other lesser but still highly populated areas sprinkled in, will control national elections.  That's where the greatest concentrations of population are.  The areas between the two coasts, already referred to derisively as flyover country, and the Americans who live there, will be effectively unrepresented in such elections.

The object of our constitutional republic is not to make everyone's voice exactly equal, but rather to make everyone's unalienable rights equally secure.  The legitimate concerns and even the rights of large segments of the citizens of our nation could easily be ignored and even trampled upon by the largest cities of the nation.  And don't think ambitious and unscrupulous politicians wouldn't play that situation like a fiddle.

Just in terms of principle, democracy versus a republic, consider a sports analogy.  Who wins a baseball game?  Answer: The team that scores the most runs.  Who wins the World Series?  Answer: The team that wins the most games.

In the 1960 World Series (which I well remember), the Yankees outscored the Pirates 55-27, including three blowout wins of 16-3, 10-0, and 12-0.  But the Pirates won four close games, 6-4, 3-2, 5-2, and 10-9.  The winner of the World Series is not, and has never been, determined by who scores the most runs.  The winner of the World Series is the team that wins four games.  The Pirates, who scored only half as many runs as the Yankees, won the World Series in 1960.  Similarly, the winner of the presidency in our American republic is not, and has never been, the individual with the most popular votes.  The winner in our presidential elections is the individual who wins the most states with a minimum of 270 electoral votes.  It's not about some ephemeral fairness; it's about a tested, true, and wise system of preserving the rights of all in a tumultuous and imperfect world.

"If America ever loses its liberty, the fault will surely lie with the omnipotence of the majority" (Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1832, Aurthur Goldhammer translation, pg. 209).

The American republic was designed to preserve our rights, but not equality of results.  A democracy will preserve equality of results, but not our rights.  We must preserve the Electoral College, or we will surely lose our republic.  We must preserve our republic, or we will surely lose our rights and our liberty.  America is the last, best hope for the freedom and prosperity of mankind on this earth.  Will we foolishly sell our birthright for a mess of pottage?

Image: Tom Arthur via Wikimedia Commons.