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Why, After More Than 200 Years, Is the Electoral College ‘Unfair’?

America Daily with Arleen Richards

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Since 1789, when the U.S. Constitution became active, the Electoral College has been the process for electing the president of the United States. But 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls are lobbying for a national popular vote, which could impact the smallest states in future presidential elections. Today, reporter Arleen Richards looks into the origins of the Electoral College and its importance to a fair and just election.

Basically, they [the Founding Fathers] hoped that the Electoral College would be a group of auspicious men from the states that would be able to select from the ranks of well-known people in the country someone with the requisite qualities to lead the country. — John York

Today’s Guest

John York, policy analyst in the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics at the Heritage Foundation. His writings have appeared in various publications, including National Review Online, The Federalist, and The Washington Times.

 

Why Did the Founders Create the Electoral College?

For our listeners who may not know, can you explain what the original Electoral College was and why it was established by the Founding Fathers?

You could break down the Electoral College into two pieces: how electors are selected and then what they do once they’re selected. Both have changed. How they’re selected used to be by state legislatures. So king caucus. That was before the 1820s. The Founders thought that they would be selected about that way, I think, but didn’t have parties in mind. But, basically, they hoped that the Electoral College would be a group of auspicious men from the states that would be able to select from the ranks of well-known people in the country someone with the requisite qualities to lead the country. They were meant to select the next George Washington. The Founders thought that, really, the best people to select this president would be people who had a personal knowledge of the character of the people who would be likely to serve.

The second thing is what were the Electoral College delegates meant to do once they were seated. Well, they were supposed to, in the past, use their judgement. That’s what the Founders thought, that they would come together and use their judgement. Now they’re pledged to a certain candidate. So they’re not bound by law to vote for the person that they’re paneled to vote for, but there’s only been a handful of what are called “faceless electors.” Almost always, Electoral College delegates vote for the person that was most popular and won the vote in their state. And that’s the system we have today.

 

 

How Does the Electoral College Process Work?

Cartoon by Barry Kronenfeld [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]
When we vote for a particular candidate through the Electoral College process, we are essentially voting for an elector who pledges to vote for the candidate that we choose, is that right?

That’s exactly what we’re doing. The Founders really wanted us to be voting for the elector. Now that the delegates are pledged, we’re thinking in our minds, surely, about their eventual vote, who that elector is eventually going to vote for. But you’re exactly right to say we’re voting for a slate of Electoral College delegates over another slate of Electoral College delegates. So let’s say you’re in Wyoming. You’re voting for three Electoral College delegates, all of which are Republicans; or three Electoral College delegates, all of which are selected by the Democrats.

And to allow a majority of the populace to govern for the entirety of the country, yeah, you’d have less populous states that were very much governed by–let’s say the coasts, the coasts and the smattering of very large cities…And we’ve seen throughout our history that these regional differences can be extraordinarily explosive. — John York

What Are the Dangers of Changing to a National Popular Vote?

For several years now, there have been attempts by various different groups to have the Electoral College abolished. More recently, since winning the popular vote 2016 but losing the presidency in the electoral college, Democratic presidential hopefuls are trying to end the Electoral College, and replace it with the national popular vote. They’ve even proposed that the voting age be lowered from age 18 to 16.

My understanding is that the idea behind a popular vote is the majority rules and so the smaller states would sort of be left out, right?

Yeah, that’s right. The idea behind a popular vote is very intuitive: the majority should rule. But, again, as you said, we’re a Republic, not a Democracy. And to allow a majority of the populace to govern for the entirety of the country, yeah, you’d have less populous states that were very much governed by–let’s say the coasts, the coasts and the smattering of very large cities. And the problem with that is those cities, and people living within them, have a great deal in common with one another, not a great deal in common with the people in “flyover country.” Well, how long would it take for the people in the great middle of the country, this huge expanse of land, to say, why are we allowing ourselves to be governed by people who have so little in common with us. And we’ve seen throughout our history that these regional differences can be extraordinarily explosive.

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