Mazzuca: The Electoral College debate
James Bovard once wrote, “Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner.” While that statement may appear droll, it’s precisely the reason the United States is a constitutional republic and not a pure democracy, and why the Founding Fathers were adamantly against having a direct vote for the presidency.
The founders understood they had to avoid the perils of what James Madison referred to as, “the tyranny of the majority.” The majority rules in a pure democracy, which is all well and good for the majority. But what about minority interests?
At the time of the American Revolution, the new nation was expansive, diverse and comprised many different political and economic interests. Pennsylvania was nearly forty times larger than Rhode Island; Virginia had a population twenty times that of Georgia, and while fishing, textiles and shipbuilding drove the economies of the North, agriculture and lumber dominated in the South.
To fairly represent all constituencies and the numerous political and economic interests, the founders decided upon a bicameral structure for the legislative branch — a House of Representatives — where the number of members is proportional to each state’s population (a benefit to the more populous states), and a Senate, where every state has exactly two representatives (an arrangement to give a little extra power to the less-populated states to keep them from being steamrolled).
The founders also realized it was paramount for the winning presidential candidate to demonstrate sufficient popular support and sufficient geographical distribution of that support to effectively govern — the latter point being absolutely critical. They knew in order to be effective, a chief executive needed the backing from more than just the highly populated states or a given region of the country.
Their solution was to create the Electoral College, wherein each state is allotted electoral votes equal to the number of its representatives and senators in Congress. Is it a perfectly equitable arrangement? Probably not … but regardless of what is it, or what it isn’t; it’s immeasurably more representative than “two wolves and a lamb…”
At last count, there were 20 candidates in the 2020 presidential field. But without an Electoral College, it might expand to include anyone able to form a political coalition. A quick look around the world tells us why. By their very nature, direct elections provide incentives for a multitude of extreme or peripheral interests to form, resulting in a frayed system with numerous political parties.
Additionally, with no need to reach 270 electoral votes, the only thing necessary to be elected president would be a plurality. For a moment then, assume the winning candidate in a multi-candidate field won the presidential election with just 30% of the vote; now can you imagine a new president trying to govern with such limited countenance from the electorate? It would be virtually impossible.
Enter the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) that retains the Electoral College but directs each state’s electors to vote for the winner of the national popular vote.
The NPVIC is a clever way to emasculate the Electoral College without having to go through the onerous process of eliminating it by amending the Constitution. Awarding electoral votes to the national popular vote winner renders the same result as a direct vote — a process the founders rejected.
Much of the support for the NPVIC comes from an organization called Fairvote.org. On its website you’ll find court decisions, high-profile endorsements calling on us “to save America,” and bumper-sticker slogans such as, “one man, one vote.” But incredibly what you won’t find is a single reference to federalism, which happens to be our form of government.
Voting directly for the president would be appropriate if the United States was a pure democracy, but thanks to the wisdom of the founders it’s not. And regardless of how the proponents of the direct vote twist the logic, parse the words or try to disguise their political intent, a direct vote for the president in whatever form or by whatever means, will always favor the wolves.
There is a difference between a pure democracy and a constitutional republic operating with democratic traditions. And an honest discussion of the matter begins by making that distinction.
Quote of the day: “God has special providence for fools, drunks, and the United States of America.”— Otto von Bismarck
Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes biweekly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.