Thursday, September 13, 2012
We Should Never Abandon The Electoral College
A Sacramento Bee editorial noted, “The way that the United States elects a president is broken, and has been for some time – actually, since the very beginning.”
The Bee further observed, “The American people do not directly elect their president. They vote for a slate of ‘electors’ (who are selected by the political parties) to an Electoral College, which then elects the president…it is long past time to elect the president the same way that we elect every other official from governor to senator to school board member – by direct popular vote.”
But, should the President of the United States be elected by popular vote?
In 1787, as the US Constitution was being drafted in Philadelphia, James Wilson of Pennsylvania proposed direct election of the president. But James Madison of Virginia worried that such a system would hurt the South which would have been outnumbered by the Northern population in a direct election system.
Thus the Electoral College was created. It was part of the deal the Southern states in computing their share of electoral votes, could count slaves (under the US Constitution, they were worth two-fifths of a vote), they of course were given none of the privileges of citizenship, (and could not vote....the slave owner voted for them). Virginia emerged as the big winner with more than a quarter of the electors needed to elect a President. A free state like Pennsylvania got fewer electoral votes even though it had approximately the same free population.
However, the Constitution had a pro-Southern bias. For 32 of the Constitution's first 36 years, a white slave-holding Virginian occupied the presidency. Thomas Jefferson for example won the election of 1800 against John Adams from Massachusetts in a race in which the slavery skew of the Electoral College was the decisive margin of victory.
The system's sex bias was also obvious. In a direct presidential election, any state that chose to enfranchise its women would have automatically doubled its clout. Under the Electoral College, however, a state had no special incentive to expand suffrage....each got a fixed number of electoral votes, regardless of how many citizens were allowed to vote.
After the civil war, the USA forgot about questioning the Electoral College system and continued its application in voting. The college favors a two-party system only and has no discretion for third or fourth political parties in an election.
So it seems that slavery or remnants of its philosophy is still with us today in the US elections.
I disagree. Not only is it not broken, but I submit that the election of our President is functioning exactly as the Founders envisioned it.
Reference: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Sunday, 12 November 2000, Section E, pages 1 & 4.
© 2012 Harris R. Sherline, All Rights Reserved
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