I do, but if you think you do, let’s see if you do for the same reason as mine. I share the Constitutional Convention’s appreciation for the Electoral College.
When our Constitution was up for debate, those who opposed its ratification, the Anti-Federalists, heaped upon it the greatest of 18th-century political insults: “It’s democratic.”
In the Constitution’s defense, the Federalists’ reply to such slanderous talk was to assure voters (the very small portion of the population with sufferage) not to worry. “The new Constitution is undemocratic,” they promised.
And it was. The people were then and remain today too ignorant and vain to be trusted with the direct power to elect most federal officeholders. Of the three branches of government, only half of one was to be subject to a popular vote: the House of Representatives. The people cannot be trusted to directly elect senators, judges, and yes, their president.
The debate of this founding era has been preserved in the form of the Federalist Papers. Writing under the pen name Publius, Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 68 that the electors will be: “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.”
They would choose the President of the United States. The only role voters would have would be electing the electors. Such men would be “most likely to have the information and discernment” to make a good choice and deny the election to anyone “not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”
Long before the National Popular Vote movement sought to eliminate the Electoral College, the Progressive Movement already had. A century ago, the emergent left-wing of American politics sought to transform this country from a republic to a democracy. Laws mandating electors only vote for the victorious candidate from their state’s popular vote were prominent among other bad ideas like broad suffrage, the direct election of senators, primary elections, and perhaps worst of all, ballot measures (the most insidious form of direct democracy). Called “Faithless Elector” laws, the original role of the Electoral College was neutered a long time ago.
So if you have been speaking out in defense of the Electoral College during this legislative session and loath Governor Kate Brown’s signing SB 870 into law on Wednesday, is it only because you think the national Republican Party gains some slight advantage from the uneven per capita distribution of Senate representation in the College? Or is it because, like me, you’d prefer a more republican form of government that would have denied the White House to an eloquent amateur like Barack Obama, giving it to Hillary Clinton in 2008 instead or, in 2016, spared America from the chaos of a populist clown by electing a real Republican like Jeb Bush?
That’s what the Electoral College was really about. Do you fully support it?
Eric Shierman lives in Salem and is the author of We were winning when I was there.