SELECTING THE PRESIDENT OF THE U.S.A.:
WHY THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE DECIDES
By Alan Caruba
That was precisely the way the Founding Fathers intended the election of a President should be. It is also pretty much a mystery to most voters who assume that whoever gets the most popular votes is the winner.
As U.S. Senator Mitch M. McConnell says in an interesting book on the subject, Securing Democracy: Why We Have an Electoral College, this unique instrument of the United States Constitution, was “the only thing that kept us from an even worse national nightmare.”
I recall thinking at the time how calmly Americans accepted the Supreme Court decision and the outcome of the election. The judges had read the U.S. Constitution!
What many Americans do not realize when they go to the polls is that presidential elections are “state-by-state battles to accumulate a majority in the Electoral College.” As McConnell explains it:
The Constitution is such a devilishly clever — nay, brilliant — instrument of government that I can’t blame the average citizen for a lack of understanding of it, but its essential principles are not difficult to understand. First, all power resides in the nation’s citizens. They in turn elect Electoral College and congressional representatives on the basis of population per state (updated by regularly scheduled census) to conduct the nation’s affairs.
Thus, several weeks after an election, those electors meet in their state capitals where they cast two ballots — one for President and one for Vice President. Those ballots are then sealed and sent to Congress to be opened and counted in January. In theory the electors are free to vote for whomever they want. In practice, they are party activists and loyal supporters of the presidential candidate in their state. All the votes are then counted in a joint session of Congress.
That’s how the President and Vice President are chosen! One candidate must receive a majority of the electoral votes cast to become President. These days, that number is 270, out of 538 total electoral votes. Failure to achieve that would throw the election into the U.S. House of Representatives, where each state's U.S. Representatives would vote as a state delegation, not as individuals.
It is ingenious and it reflects the fact that America is a federal republic composed of separate regional republics, the fifty semi-autonomous states, each of which has a constitution of its own. The U.S. Constitution delineates the specific powers of and limitations on the U.S. national government, while specifically stating in the Tenth Amendment:
The whole purpose of the U.S. Constitution is to defuse power so that neither the President, nor the Supreme Court, nor Congress could become a tyranny over the people. It deliberately made the process of passing legislation laborious in order to slow it down for adequate deliberation and for the people’s voices to be heard.
As Gary L. Gregg II, the editor of Securing Democracy points out:
Everything about the Constitution is about the republican form of government that is dependent on “the consent of the governed.” That implies, as it should, that citizens have a responsibility to be involved as voters and be responsive in terms of letting their elected representatives know what they wish their government to do.
As the Democratic Party met on Saturday, May 31, to figure out what to do with their horrid primary system that left Michigan and Florida hanging like so many chads, the argument that Senator Carl Levin of Michigan put forth was that two nearly all-white states, New Hampshire and Iowa, should not and do not have the right to go first on the primary calendar and thus force candidates to spend an inordinate amount of time and money in order to influence the other state primaries.
This is why the nomination process came down to the power of the Democratic Party’s super delegates. It is the Gore curse. Hillary Clinton may have the popular vote, but Barack Obama has the delegate votes. She could argue she is more “electable,” but he had worked within the system devised to secure the party’s presidential nomination.
In January 2009, the Electoral College will have the final vote as to who becomes the next President of the United States of America. This is precisely the outcome the Founding Fathers and the Constitution intended.
The American Political System:
Politics & Government in the U.S.A.
Alan Caruba is a veteran business and science writer, a Public Relations Counselor, and Founder of the National Anxiety Center, a clearinghouse for information about media-driven scare campaigns. Caruba writes a weekly commentary, "Warning Signs," posted on the Internet website of the National Anxiety Center, which is located at www.anxietycenter.com.
Caruba has a daily blog at http://factsnotfantasy.blogspot.com.
Caruba’s new book, Right Answers: Separating Fact from Fantasy, has been published by Merril Press.
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