US elec­tions – is the Elec­toral Col­lege vote still rel­e­vant?

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

THE EDI­TOR, Sir:

“VOTE, NOUN: “The in­stru­ment and sym­bol of a free man’s power to make a fool of him­self and a wreck of his coun­try” Am­brose Bierce, The Devil’s Dic­tionary, 1906

Since last week’s US elec­tions, there have been demon­stra­tions in ma­jor cities and uni­ver­si­ties all over Amer­ica. One rea­son for these demon­stra­tions is that the los­ing can­di­date – Hil­lary Clin­ton – has earned sig­nif­i­cantly more votes, na­tion­wide, than the win­ner Don­ald Trump.

It seems many Amer­i­cans do not know of the Elec­toral Col­lege, and many who do, do not un­der­stand why it ex­ists or how it works.

Way back in the 18th Cen­tury, the Found­ing Fa­thers could not reach con­sen­sus as to a method of se­lect­ing a pres­i­dent. Pa­pers re­veal that Alexan­der Hamil­ton felt it would be too risky to leave it en­tirely up to or­di­nary ci­ti­zens as some charis­matic tyrant could ma­nip­u­late pub­lic opin­ion and get the po­si­tion. In ev­ery case, there were ob­jec­tions as the 13 large and smaller states – sus­pi­cious of po­lit­i­cal par­ties and any cen­tral na­tional gov­ern­ment – all wanted to make sure they were not ig­nored.

Even­tu­ally, a group called the Com­mit­tee of Eleven pro­posed a com­pro­mise of the Elec­toral Col­lege. Each State would have a to­tal num­ber of elec­tors cor­re­spond­ing to its two sen­a­tors and the num­ber of its mem­bers in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. The leg­is­la­tures would choose the elec­tors who could not be Con­gress­men or gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees. In this way, ed­u­cated rep­re­sen­ta­tives could vote for a pre­ferred can­di­date if the vot­ers, who they did not trust, chose some­one they con­sid­ered un­suit­able. The win­ner would then be the per­son that got the ab­so­lute ma­jor­ity of 538 elec­tor’s votes – 270.

Pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates now fo­cus on a few closely di­vided bat­tle­ground states – ig­nor­ing those States in which they are hope­lessly be­hind or safely ahead. This was not en­vis­aged by the Founders. In fact, it is the ex­act op­po­site of what the founders had in mind.

THE STA­TIS­TICS

As a re­sult of the state-by-state win­ner-takeall ar­range­ment, a can­di­date can win the pres­i­dency with­out win­ning most votes na­tion­wide, as has hap­pened in four of that na­tion’s 57 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. It has hap­pened only once since 1888 when Ben­jamin Har­ri­son got 233 elec­toral votes to Grover Cleve­land’s 168. But Cleve­land got 90,000 more votes than Har­ri­son. In re­cent times, 537 votes won Florida and the White House for Bush in 2000 de­spite the fact that his op­po­nent – Gore – polled 537,179 (1000 times more) more votes na­tion­wide. Four years later, had John Kerry re­ceived just 30,000 more votes in Ohio, he – and not Bush – would be pres­i­dent. Bush was lucky twice.

Today, the United States has swelled to a pop­u­la­tion of 320 mil­lion with 3,144 coun­ties and 19,354 cities. But tech­nol­ogy has shrunken it to a small vil­lage where in­for­ma­tion sat­u­ra­tion takes sec­onds. Is the Elec­toral Col­lege still rel­e­vant? Is it re­flect­ing the will of the peo­ple? Since 1944, Gal­lop polls con­sis­tently show only 20 per cent of Amer­i­cans sup­port this an­ti­quated sys­tem. There are only three pre­vi­ous oc­ca­sions in Amer­i­can his­tory where the loser of the pop­u­lar vote still be­comes pres­i­dent. Amer­ica is the only coun­try where this is pos­si­ble. Today, there are in­di­ca­tions that Hil­lary Clin­ton is likely to have se­cured two mil­lion more votes than pres­i­dent elect Don­ald Trump. Bwoy, dat mus hot enuh? GLENN TUCKER Stony Hill glen­ntucker2011@gmail.com

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