Because we’re gearing up (and interested?) for caucus season, and eventually election season, I thought it would be a good time to address this question, because I don’t think it’s very well understood by most people, and I get quite a few questions about it, actually. So, now is a good time to clarify
This College system is an undemocratic method of choosing a president that seemingly goes against our supposed “democratic” values. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT!?
At the end of the day, it’s true, it technically doesn’t matter if voters show up or not for the presidential election — it’s really just to make people feel powerful. But, in most states, it actually does matter, because electors must go with popular vote.
Confused? Continue reading … !
WHAT IS THIS THING!?
Per our rule book, the Constitution:
“The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two Persons, of whom one at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President …”
Blah, blah, blah. Flowery language, I know.
Here’s what you need to know: Each state gets a number of electoral votes (the amount of which is proportional to population). Then, people are elected to be the “electors,” by the state, who then cast presidential votes, and those are the people who decide who the president is.
So technically, you, as a person, don’t necessarily have any say in who the president will be.
When people vote, they’re voting for electoral voters who will vote a certain way. But, most states have laws that say electors must vote with the popular vote, and the College is more of a formality these days — but not all (Nebraska and Maine I believe don’t have to operate under the majority-vote principle).
— Thus the president-elect needs to have a majority of electoral votes (270+), not popular, in order to win office, and that popular vote is simply a measure of what a majority of citizens want to happen. And the College has, in fact, voted against majority vote in the past.
Here are the elections where electoral vote went against popular:
1824 where John Monroe won, 1876 when Rutherford Hayes won, 1888 when Benjamin Harrison won, and 2000 when George Bush won.
There were two occasions when electoral votes were tied; and in these cases, the House of Representatives decided (voted) who would be president:
1801 when Thomas Jefferson won, and 1825 when John Adams won.
Now the question, Why does this system even exist in a “democracy?”
Well, there are several reasons, actually. And the reasons go back to the “founders,” as they’re fondly remembered as. Also remember, the United States really isn’t a democracy, per se. Instead, it’s an amalgamation of democracy, republic, and dictatorship.
But, here are some of the main reasons why the College exists:
- The dudes who wrote the Constitution wanted the states to decide who the president would be.
- The founders didn’t think common people (the mob) were capable of responsibly choosing such an important decision.
- A majority of the founders were afraid of democracy.
There are a few other reasons you could probably pull out, but, mainly, I’m pretty sure it’s that the framers of the Constitution were skeptical that people would be responsible
…. go on …..
This election year is PERFECT for understanding why the electoral college exists. Look at our stellar lineup on the Republican side. The two “winning” candidates thus far are over-the-top, right-wing fanatics. While they may be crazy, they are, in fact, capturing a majority of attention from the American right … which is frightening.
Should Mr. Trump or Cruz ultimately win the nomination, and go to the presidential election against whomever, then it would be up to the electors to be the last line of defense against such ridiculously awful people gaining that power.
The main reason why democracy fails (and why we don’t really have a “direct” democracy at all), is that there exists a whole mess of people who prefer to be uneducated, make demands, offer little help in society, choose not to try and improve the human condition, and never examine the consequences of their decisions. Reckless people. Angry people. People who want Donald Trump to be president.
But, that segment of society also can have a powerful voice in a democratic society, which is why that has to be mediated.
For the Constitutional framers, a republic was chosen to mediate this voice (i.e. Senators and House representatives). This way, the “people” elect, but never have direct say in decisions — because, inevitably, when the mob takes over, the system degenerates into chaos; particularly in times when they’re under threat, because the first reaction is to go in guns swinging without any thought about repercussions.
Plato called this the “appetite” of society; Madison referred to it as threatening “factions.” Whatever you want to call it, there are impulses by “popular” decision that are flat-out bad. Look at “popular” music — 10 years from now, it’s going to sound horrible to everyone, but now, it’s all the rage (I’m thinking of you, Ricky Martin).Popular decisions have absolutely no staying power, and they’re always changing. Never constant (look at social media fads, people yell and cry, then they disappear in 3 days).
… Thus, the presidential position cannot be chosen by popular vote alone, and the electoral college is the last line of defense against horrible “popular” decisions.
All wrapped up in a nice little package, eh?
Oh ya, the framers wanted states to have more say in who the president is, so they devised the electoral system. … I’ll mention that as a footnote.
So, when you finally go vote for the president, know that you’re voting for a group of electors, and not an actual nominee.