The Electoral College Goes Back to School
Whether you are a Democrat or Republican, the one thing both should agree on is that our system for selecting the world’s most consequential person is irreparably broken. If you are a Democrat, you witnessed the election of—what you believed to be—a treasonous, amoral demagogue dredged up from the bowels of the deplorables. If you are a Republican, you witnessed the election of a man unfit for bingo night at Shady Acres. An unintelligible, stammering, demented geriatric whose qualifications boast of corruption, racism, and sexism. How could this once great country—one that elected George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison—have descended into an abject kakistocracy?
Everything that is wrong with this country can be traced back to its departure from the core Constitution—the income tax, direct election of senators, the administrative state, and in the case of selecting the president, the assault on the Electoral College. The awesome responsibility of picking a president was certainly not lost on our Founders who desired a system to ensure (all quotations, unless otherwise identified, are from The Federalist Papers):
moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union. It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue.
Ability? Virtue? The esteem and confidence of the whole Union? There’s failure, and then there’s catastrophic failure, the latter of which is personified by our current president.
The compelling, yet wholly spurious, argument that letting the people directly elect the president would be the obvious remedy to elevate the best person defies ages of accumulated experience. The majority rule of a pure democracy is anathema to our republican founding.
Image: The Founding Fathers by Andrea Widburg.
The Founders, prescient students of history, remind us of the fallacy of pure majority rule who inevitably suffer “the tyranny of their own passions.” The pure democracy of Athens is forever disgraced by the “indelible reproach of decreeing to the same citizen [Socrates] the hemlock on one day and statues on the next.” Madison warns, even “had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.” So ingrained in our culture is the wisdom of the majority, we fall blind to its manifest evils and deficiencies.
In the first place, the more numerous an assembly may be, of whatever characters composed, the greater is known to be the ascendency of passion over reason. In the next place, the larger the number, the greater will be the proportion of members of limited information and of weak capacities. Now, it is precisely on characters of this description that the eloquence and address of the few are known to act with all their force. In the ancient republics, where the whole body of the people assembled in person, a single orator, or an artful statesman, was generally seen to rule with as complete a sway as if a sceptre had been placed in his single hand. Ignorance will be the dupe of cunning, and passion the slave of sophistry and declamation. The people can never err more than in supposing that by multiplying their representatives beyond a certain limit, they strengthen the barrier against the government of a few … The machine will be enlarged, but the fewer, and often the more secret, will be the springs by which its motions are directed.
Clearly, for the crucial appointment of the country’s chief executive, the Founders were not going to allow the passions, ignorance, and the limited capacities of the masses to reign unchecked. And if you consider “ignorance” and “weak capacities” of the electorate a disparaging personal affront, may I remind you of the still palpable vision of Americans driving masked while alone in their cars, thus serving as a testament to Madison’s observation. Instead, the Founders envisioned a system where:
men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.
So important was the selection of a president, the Founders wanted a small body of our best minds, holding no “office of public trust or profit,” to research, debate, and make a selection, just as we’d have wanted the best minds to have worked on the Manhattan Project. Imagine the consequence of having sent Kamala Harris to Los Alamos instead of Robert Oppenheimer. Certainly, no such group left unfettered to pick the most qualified person in the country to be president would ever return with Joe Biden as their choice.
In keeping with republican principles, the selection of these best minds, the electors, was granted to the state legislatures “in such manner as [they] may direct.” Only two of the original thirteen states thought to allow direct election of a slate of electors, while most did as the Founders intended and appointed their best minds. But over time, with the perniciousness of party and faction, electors had become mindless automatons of the majority party who pledged away their independence for the privilege of carrying out a meaningless Constitutional anachronism.
The Founders were appalled. Hamilton proposed an amendment in 1802, but his tragic duel put both in the grave. In 1823, the Constitution’s chief architect, Madison, admitted the defect himself: “I agree entirely with you in thinking that the election of Presidential Electors by districts, is an amendment very proper to be brought forward. The present rule of voting for President … is so great a departure from the republican principle … and is so pregnant also with a mischievous tendency in practice, that an amendment of the Constitution on this point is justly called.”
This departure from republican principle meant that legislatures had almost universally adopted slates of electors pledged to one candidate, giving large states a dramatic advantage over the smaller states, as well as denying common interests in different states (e.g., rural vs city) any meaningful representation in the Electoral College.
The voting by district idea is in fact brilliant. It is undeniable that “the people are the only legitimate fountain of power,” and allowing the people to select their electors by congressional district returns to them this power while still guarding against their passions as well as securing the results from the divisive and debilitating appearance of election fraud that has torn this country apart.
The fate of America itself has literally been put in jeopardy through its divergence from the Founders’ original intent in selecting a president, given that, today, half the country claims the president is illegitimate and, if he is legitimate, he has set us on a course for economic and moral ruin: declaring a war on energy, the lifeblood of our economy, debasing our currency with historic inflation threatening America’s place as the world’s reserve currency, ignoring his constitutional responsibility to follow the law and secure our borders, unconstitutionally mandating experimental vaccines be administered as a precondition for work, granting office based upon race, and changing the definition of sex so men can compete with women and thereby destroy women’s sports. Most dangerous of all is his forever tarnishing the reputation of our military and national resolve with an egregious retreat from Afghanistan, inexplicably leaving billions of dollars in military equipment behind, and thereby emboldening our enemies to the point where we are now looking down the barrel of Putin’s nuclear arsenal on the cusp of WWIII.
It is inescapable that our process for selecting a chief executive is fatally broken, but our Founders have shown us the fix. It is not the National Popular Vote Compact; it is not a direct election. It is to restore the Electoral College to its rightful place by allowing the people to directly vote for their electors by district.
Huck Davenport is a pseudonym.