Listen To You Tell Me Texas Friday 4/22/16
Controversies surrounding how states choose delegates to the political conventions will segue inevitably into calls to abolish the Electoral College. The supporting arguments will be in equal measure seductive and naive.
Recent GOP candidate for president Dr. Ben Carson – who should know better – is quoted recently as saying the Electoral College disregards “the will of the people.” Dr. Carson joins those in saying that the President of the United States should be elected by a simple majority of American voters.
My respect for Dr. Carson aside, he couldn’t be more wrong.
The very creation of the United States was rooted in a profound skepticism toward centralized, concentrated government power. The American colonists rose up in rebellion against a king, one must remember.
It was Thomas Paine who said,
It is the duty of the patriot to protect its country from its government.”
So much did the founders distrust government that the fledgling country’s first attempt at forming one was a failure. The national government under the Articles of Confederation was so weak that the country couldn’t hold its own among other nations and in fact, couldn’t even pay its bills.
Thus delegates from the 13 states met in Philadelphia in 1787 to draft a new constitution. In that setting, the states were being asked to surrender a great deal of the sovereignty they enjoyed under the Articles of Confederation in return for a central government strong enough to function effectively.
The states didn’t acquiesce lightly. In return for what they gave up, the states retained the constitutional power to elect the president. The mechanism for that function is the Electoral College. The Electoral College imposes upon a presidential candidate the necessity of winning a majority of the states rather than a majority of the people.
Until 1824, electors in the Electoral College were appointed by state legislatures. Today – though state legislatures still retain that constitutional authority – all 50 states appoint electors to the Electoral College via popular vote.
The Electoral College is one of the most farsighted of all constitutional provisions. Who knows if the founders foresaw the nation one day spanning the North American continent. They nevertheless understood that in order to effectively govern, the president must enjoy more than just popular support. He must enjoy support across a majority of the country.
It is the Electoral College that keeps high population states from running over low population states. It ensures that every state has a voice in the national government.
Doing away with the Electoral College would amount to a gross and irreversible surrender of the state sovereignty that the founders were so careful to protect – an altogether bad idea.
At this moment in our history, states need to be reclaiming power from Washington. Getting government closer to home in the hands of state legislatures would result in a more modest, more thrifty and more accountable federal government. Exactly what the founders had in mind and exactly what we once had.
All of us would be better off and happier – including the misinformed Dr. Carson.