A recent article by Charles Lane of the Washington Post (Keep the electoral college) makes a spirited though misguided defense of the Electoral College. Although Mr. Lane acknowledges that Electoral College is not the most democratic system (but then again, which is?), he none-the-less credits the Electoral College for producing political stability throughout our history by encouraging the creation of the two-party system and by forcing candidates to compete in all States and jurisdiction (and not just the most populated areas of the country).
Of course, the Electoral College is a product of our ‘Republican’ form of government, which respects States to be sovereign entities. However, what got lost from the original intend of the framers was that the runner-up of the presidential Electoral College election was to be the vice-president. Also no longer with us from that original grand compromise, the appointment of Senators by State governments in order to represent the State governments at the national level and further preserve the Republican nature of our nation. Therefore, the Electoral College was part of that triangular grand compromise between the people, the States and the Federal government.
One of the fundamental presumptions of the U.S. Constitution is this: when governmental power is consolidated and unlimited it is unresponsive to the needs of the governed. Therefore, the framers saw the Electoral College as both a way to preserved the sovereignty/integrity of the states (to be both independent and united), but also a mechanism that would produce tempered-inclusive-‘bipartisan’ (before there was bipartisan) executives. They gave the executive to the President, and endowed them with the power to veto legislation, but they also rejected popular election of the President and expected that the runner-up for the Presidency would become the Vice-President. The framers also divided legislation between a House that represents the people directly, and a Senate which represents the States equally.
All that because the framers originally sought to prevent the overreach of government by creating a system of governance that distributed power as widely as possible through a structured competition of natural self-interests.
Electoral College – Before the 12th Amendment
Until the 1800 election, members of the Electoral College could only vote for president; each elector could vote for two candidates, and the person who received the second largest number of votes during the balloting became vice-president. The framers intent was that the best man would become president, while the second-best would become his vice-president. After the first two elections, which saw Washington elected unopposed, the 1796 election worked as it was intended: Adams (a Federalist) was elected president with 71 votes (9 states) and the runner-up Jefferson (Democratic-Republican party) was vice-president with 68 votes (7 states).
To avoid this ‘split ticket’ outcome in the next election, the Democratic-Republicans had planned for one of their electors to abstain from casting his second vote for Aaron Burr (their second candidate in preference after Jefferson), which would have led to Jefferson receiving one electoral vote more than Burr. The plan, however, was bungled, resulting in a tied electoral vote between Jefferson and Burr, with 73 a peace (8 states). The Federalist had the same plan, only the executed it better: Adams 65, Pinckney 64 (7 states). The election was then put into the hands of the outgoing House of Representatives, which after 36 ballots and a lot of acrimony finally elected Jefferson as the President and Burr as the Vice-President (both from the same party).
As a result of this chicanery, the 12th Amendment in effect removed the “you only vote for president” stipulation, and in effect introduced the modern presidential tickets (distinct votes for president and vice-president). This development in effect ended any possibility of forming any bipartisan ‘national unity’ government, and pushed party politics to the forefront of presidential elections.
Reform Efforts – National Popular Vote Initiative and the Congressional District Method
The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) is an agreement among several U.S. states, stipulating that they will replace their current rules regarding the apportionment of presidential electors with rules guaranteeing the election of the presidential candidate with the most popular votes nationwide. The agreement is to go into effect only when the states which have joined the compact have an absolute majority in the Electoral College; they would then all vote for the national popular vote winner, who would as a result win the Electoral College and therefore the presidency. Until enough states join, all states will continue to award their electoral votes in their current manner. The compact is based on Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution, which gives each state legislature the right to decide how to appoint its own electors. As of today, the compact has been joined by eight states and the District of Columbia; their 132 combined electoral vote’s amount to 24.5% of the Electoral College and 49% of the 270 votes needed for the compact to go into effect.
Another alternative to the Electoral College would be to apply nationally the Congressional District Method for distributing electoral votes, currently in effect only in Maine and Nebraska. Under the Congressional District Method, the electoral votes are distributed based on the popular vote winner within each of the state’s congressional districts; the statewide popular vote winner receives two additional electoral votes. The Congressional District Method also only requires state legislation to be implemented, and will not need a constitutional amendment. However, the Congressional District Method has its downsides. For instance (similarly to the objections by Mr. Lane about a pure popular vote), candidates might only spend time in certain battleground districts instead of the entire state and cases of gerrymandering could become exacerbated as political parties attempt to draw as many safe districts as they can.
Americans Elect – Bipartisan Executive
The more radical (or is it original?) alternative to the current electoral college would be to return to the framers original intend of creating an ‘apolitical’ (bipartisan for our times) executive, where the winner of the Electoral College election becomes the president and the runner-up the vice-president. Apportionment and selection of electors remains the same, only each elector casts one vote: one vote for president.
Partisanship and party politics makes sense for congressional elections, leading to a Congress composed of two political parties locked in partisan politicking over the direction of the nation. That’s how it should be because it is in Congress where the big transformational decisions are made (go to war, raise taxes, universal healthcare). The Executive Government on the other hand should be technocratic and not ideological: bipartisan and inclusive of all opinions. The executive has to turn legislative direction into regulatory detail; it’s where the best and brightest (of all political and ideological persuasion) come together to execute the vision of Congress through innovative policy initiatives; as well as to protect the country from foreign enemies, domestic pollution, and consumer products that can be harmful to all of us (bipartisan problems).
Knowing how hard it would be to actually amend the constitution to allow for such a ‘unity government’ Americans Elect is offering us a tangible way to achieve the government who all deserve and need right now. Through its on-line convention where everyone can vote (popular election) it plans to nominate a presidential candidate (by the people and for all the people) who will have access to all 50 ballots come November. The catch: the winner will have to pick as a vice-presidential candidate someone from the opposite party.
A bipartisan ticket, just the way our framers intended, before politics got in the way and messed up the whole process. A bipartisan ticket, which will have a bipartisan cabinet, advance bipartisan policies, and nominate bipartisan judges!
How radical would that be!!!