Shelton, WA (10-16-18) — A number of silver haired ladies showed up at Shelton’s Olympic College campus for the League of Women Voters meeting–a nominally nonpartisan nonprofit organization concealing the nature of its politically ferocious, when motivated, grandmothers. The politics and demographics of Mason county are conservative and independent by nature. Not so its chapter of the League of Women voters, a far more hierarchal national organization than might be suspected. A membership is $60/yr. Of that, the State and National wings take all but $9. And weak excuses for considering topical presentations using vetting by the hierarchy were offered.
Much of the meeting was consumed with organizational minutiae. A single white guest male sat at the table flanked by a room full of venerable white grandmothers to be reckoned with and 2 local journalists: Gordon Weeks (for the Journal) and Dedrick Allen (for the Mason Web TV). The meat and potatoes was a 20 minute Powerpoint presentation by Amy Davis of the League’s current darling political sop: Abolishing the Constitutionally mandated electoral college system for U.S. Presidential elections…a controversial position indeed for an organization thought of as apolitical. As the meeting wore on, it felt more like an extension of the Democratic party headquarters.
Amy’s presentation was followed by a more demure (and possibly more important) demonstration of how to access Washington State’s Public Disclosure Commission database listing campaign contributions, contributors, and expenditures,
Amy began with a brief, sometimes tortured, account of the electoral college’s history and purpose. She accurately acknowledged it was a compromise without which the Constitution would never have been ratified by the delegates from the erstwhile colonies, now sovereign countries. She characterized it as a nod to the slave holding states, glossing over the well known fact Washington and Jefferson themselves were slave holders…or that this issue was eliminated at Appomattox. The electoral college survived the Civil War and remains a mandate today.
Amy went on to argue the electoral college was conceived to compensate for the vast distances, inadequate transportation infrastructure, and glacially slow communications at the time rathe than an effort to preserve stability for a new nation conceived in a bid for liberty and inalienable rights. The framers were well educated erudite men painfully aware of the history of governments and the wars triggered by internal struggles for power dating back to the dawn of civilization.
Hence, Franklin responded to a woman demanding to know what form of government the delegates had settled on for our new nation, “Mr. Franklin, what have you brought us?” she asked.
“A republic. madam,” he said, “if you can keep it.”
Mr. Franklin and this quote often remains poorly understood today. He wasn’t fretting so much about whether the new government could remain uncorrupted within the context of the new Constitution, but whether it could survive the corruption of its own people. That concern, as we can divine from the thinly veiled partisanship of the League of Women Voters, remains valid and with us today. The framers conceived of a strategy embodied within the 4 corners of the Constitution intended to attenuate said corruption.
“There’s lies, damn lies, and…statistics!” Amy proceeded to analyze supposed disparities in the electoral college system as ‘undemocratic’. She used charts, graphs and circular reasoning to persuade. She deprecated the notion the framers intended to require the President receive broad support from across the new nation, including its heartland, not just primarily the metropolitan population centers. Then she argued that such concerns were obsolete in today’s America.
Recognizing the unlikelihood 3/4ths of the states (plus 2/3rds of each house od Congress) would ever support eliminating the electoral college Constitutional mandate, Amy next promoted the League’s proposal to do an end run around the constitution: An interstate compact between signatories agreeing to pledge all their designated electoral college delegates en masse to the winner of the popular (across the nation/50 states) vote, reasoning that if those signatories controlled a total of 270 (or more) electoral college votes, it would moot or emasculate the existing Constitutional mandate for the President to be elected in the currently prescribed manner.
All this lawyerly sophistry gives scant recognition to the spirit and intent of the framers for the good of the nation. “It all depends on what the meaning of is is.” -B. Clinton-
Neither does in make any attempt to interpret the Constitution as a harmonious whole. Rather, it attempts to find loopholes…end runs around the meaning and intent of the Constitution–again, all in the name of ‘democracy’.
At the close of Amy’s presentation, the chairwoman asked those present if any didn’t agree the electoral college system should be abolished. One lone white male patriarchal hand shot in the air.
“So you weren’t convinced?” Amy asked.
The false premise of those arguing for abolishing the electoral college system for the U.S. presidency is that the founders gave us a ‘democracy’. Not so. “A republic, madam….if you can keep it,” Franklin said. There was suspicion as to the ability of the illiterate great unwashed to govern themselves (“Why would I want to trade 1 tyrant 3,000 miles way for 3,000 tyrants 1 mile away?” said one Virginia delegate.) that remains a valid point of debate and continues to this day. Case in point.
Nevertheless, the framers wanted to create a STABLE government/union of the states, each of which was its own sovereign at the time and remain so in many respects to this day. While egregious errors (women’s vote, slavery) were made, election of the President by the states as apportioned in the terms of the Constitution wasn’t one of them…and the tired invocation of its insertion as a nod to slave holding states is a red herring. That point was settled at Appomattox.
The insistent call to ‘democracy’ misses the real point entirely. Some decisions are too important to be determined by a simple flip of the coin sentiment du jour. e.g. 12 jurors most convict a criminal defendant, not 11 for punishment to ensue and liberty extinguished. 2/3rds of both houses and 3/4ths of the states must ratify a Constitutional amendment. It requires 60 (once 66) for a cloture vote in the U.S. senate. It requires a super majority vote to impose new/increased taxes in many statehouses.
As to 1 man: one vote? Hah! Being a U.S. citizen is insufficient to vote for/against a U.S. President candidate. One must be domiciled in a state, not a U.S. territory. It is the states (through the electoral college system as prescribed by the Constitution) that selects the U.S. President after the state ballots are counted…NOT the ‘federal’ ballots, but the STATE ballots. Each state counts its own ballots and has its own procedure for doing so. Each state has its own laws and rules for what candidate’s name can even appear on the ballot. Some candidates for President fail to get their names on the ballots of all 50 states. Others aren’t awarded any claim to an electoral college delegate unless they exceed a given threshold of the vote and are denied a place on the final ballot unless they exceed a given threshold in the primary. i.e. There is a plethora of voters whose ballots (if they even get one) are effectively ignored in elections for the President.
Were the current electoral college system abolished, it would exacerbate the polarization and alienation of Americans awash in the strains of identity politics. The stability of the nation, which the framers envisioned and over which Lincoln fretted in his Gettysburg Address, would suffer. Moreover, it’s not going to happen because 3/4ths of the states do not perceive such a change to be in their interest. Had they, the Constitution would have been amended to abolish the electoral college long ago. Nor is the end run around the Constitution via interstate compacts going to succeed. If it ever became a threat to the prescribed electoral college, the Supreme Court would strike it down–which, interestingly is another example in our system of government of an ‘undemocratic’ formula. We don’t get to vote for our Supreme Court justices either! They’re nominated (by the President) and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, just as the Constitution prescribes.
So long as the United States remains one nation (a federation of sovereign states) and the Constitution does not become a dead letter, the electoral college will remain. Interstate compacts will not be allowed to emasculate it or to force the ballot to become a federal exercise in all but name only. In America, we have NO federal ballots. We have elected federal positions as determined by the states! May it ever be so.
Each state gets two U.S. senators (a very powerful position) regardless of their population. The whiners challenging the wisdom of the founders might well argue this provides too much influence in the confirmation process of Supreme Court nominees by the least populous states…not to mention the complete lack of influence from U.S. territories that are not states. Undemocratic? Yes. Constitutionally mandated? Absolutely. Lifetime appointments? That was to insure the independence of the federal judiciary from the politics of the day.
The framers were educated erudite men well versed in the history of governments and ensuing wars over power. They knew what they were doing when they prescribed 2 years for a House term, but 6 for the Senate. They chose many buffers to insulate the fate of the nation from the hot passions of popular contemporary vicissitudes. Anyone recall Saddam’s mass weapons of destruction he supposedly possessed? How about ‘Remember the Maine’? Sacco & Vanzetti?
JFK fell short of Nixon’s Ballot count. The pendulum swings with every election cycle along with whose electoral college ox gets gored–one more reason why it isn’t going away. The electoral college is here to stay.