Primer on Electoral College
The genius of the framers of the Constitution
The contenders for president are now pretty much identified. A hard fought race will be run and a victor emerge. Its worth noting, briefly, why and how that victor will take over or remain commander in chief without the intervention of the military.
During the Spring of the year 236 years ago colonial congressional delegates in Philadelphia began an earnest debate on dissolving political ties between the American colonies and Great Britain. No small debate; no small task.
Yet even before they voted in July to throw off King George’s yoke, many began asking the question: So we win, then what?
The establishment of self government was a daunting task. John Adams, in his “Thoughts on Government”, asked at the time, “How few of the human race have ever had an opportunity of choosing a system of government for themselves and their children?” Aside from Jehovah establishing Saul on the throne of ancient Israel (at the insistence of the people who wanted a king like the surrounding nations), there is scant evidence of such an opportunity in history.
By 1789 the Founding Fathers produced a blue print for self government that was, and remains, nothing less than magnificent. The Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights reflected their concern over unbridled power inherent in a pure democracy and a national government. Thus they established a federal republic.
This republic would consist of a house of representatives proportioned by population and elected directly by the people (democracy) and a senate proportioned by the number of states and elected by the state legislatures (republic) (later unfortunately changed). As ingenious as this part of the hard fought plan is, the real ingenuity lies in the election of the chief magistrate, the president, by a combination of the two known as the Electoral College.
Ever so often the drum beat begins to get rid of the Electoral College and elect the president by popular vote. After all, the proposers ask, isn’t this a democracy? No, it isn’t. This is a democracy within a republic.
The success of this arrangement evidences itself: our survival as a nation against a 2nd war with Great Britain, a test of wills between and among the states and the federal government, two world wars, a Great Depression and numerous other challenges that a democracy simply could not survived. And in spite of detractors both in and out of government, the United States of America remains the most successful financial and military nation on earth. And our people the most free.
The glue that held America together was the Electoral College. And this is so because the president is elected by a majority vote of the electors who comprise the Electoral College.
Briefly the Electoral College works this way: Each state is allotted two electoral votes since each state has two senators (republic). In addition, each state is allotted a number of electors equal to the number of congressional districts it has (democracy). Whoever carries that state gets the vote, except for Maine and Nebraska which allows allocation based on who carries each congressional district, a terrible, terrible idea. Pennsylvania took such a notion off the table last fall, mercifully.
Were the Electoral College abolished or allocations allowed as in Maine, presidential contenders need only campaign in heavily populated states and urban areas. The voice of the sparsely or lesser populated states would be lost, a fate seriously debated by the framers of the Constitution and rejected. They rightly believed that each state should have a say in the running of the federal government (the senate) as well as the people themselves (the house of representatives). The way to preserve this concept in the election of the president was the establishment of the Electoral College. Simply genius.
Come January, 2013, a president will be sworn in. He may be new, he may be the incumbent. Whether power is transferred or maintained, it will be done without tear gas in the streets, tanks rolling thru neighborhoods or suicide bombers self destructing in malls or police stations.
And this is so because the man taking the oath of office will have been elected by and through a process that made all the states important, a process where all the states and, hence, all the people had a voice.
No small debate; no small task.