Edi­to­ri­als: A col­lege un­der seige

Losers want to trash the Elec­toral Col­lege, but re­al­ity says they can’t

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY -

All that most Amer­i­cans know about the Elec­toral Col­lege is that it’s prob­a­bly the only col­lege in the coun­try that might beat Alabama. But it has no stu­dent body in the stands chant­ing, “We’re No. 1!” and it cel­e­brates home­com­ing only ev­ery four years, and no­body ever shows up. The Democrats have been clam­or­ing to abol­ish it since the Novem­ber elec­tion, but a new poll nev­er­the­less shows it to be en­joy­ing in­creased pop­u­lar­ity.

Forty-seven per­cent of Amer­i­cans now fa­vor re­tain­ing the Elec­toral Col­lege, ac­cord­ing to Gallup, and 49 per­cent fa­vor elect­ing the pres­i­dent by a pop­u­lar vote. Ap­proval of the Elec­toral Col­lege is up from 35 per­cent in 2011. The most ar­dent op­po­nents of the old school are Democrats, 85 per­cent of whom want to abol­ish it. Just 19 per­cent of Repub­li­cans agree.

The Found­ing Fathers, fed­er­al­ists all, were de­ter­mined that the pres­i­dent should be elected by the states. The states, as Ron­ald Rea­gan re­minded us in his first in­au­gu­ral ad­dress, es­tab­lished the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, not the other way around. The Elec­toral Col­lege is the way the Founders pre­served the pri­macy of the states. Though ev­ery state now se­lects its elec­tors by pop­u­lar vote, the states are free to choose an­other method, such as en­abling their leg­is­la­tures to se­lect the elec­tors.

The losers this year are lead­ing the charge for change, such as it is. Sen. Bar­bara Boxer of Cal­i­for­nia, which voted over­whelm­ingly for Hil­lary Clin­ton, has in­tro­duced a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment to elim­i­nate the col­lege, and hun­dreds of thou­sands of Amer­i­cans — some of them vot­ers and many who no doubt are not — have signed on­line pe­ti­tions in be­half of Mrs. Boxer’s amend­ment.

Al Gore, who lost the Elec­toral Col­lege but won the na­tional pop­u­lar vote in 2000, sup­ported the col­lege when late in that cam­paign it ap­peared briefly that he might lose the pop­u­lar vote and win the elec­toral votes, has changed his tune. “[Mov­ing to a pop­u­lar vote] would stim­u­late pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion in the demo­cratic process like noth­ing else we could pos­si­bly do,” Mr. Gore says now. “We’ve got to get back to har­vest­ing the wis­dom of crowds in the United States. We’ve got to get back to the con­ver­sa­tion of democ­racy that al­lows good ideas to rise to the sur­face.”

The Founders were wary that it might be a mob har­vest­ing the sound and the fury of a crowd. Alexander Hamil­ton, one of the Founders lately be­queathed fame by rap mu­si­cians, de­fended the Elec­toral Col­lege be­cause it would be a source of sta­bil­ity, and that “an in­ter­me­di­ate body of elec­tors will be much less apt to con­vulse the com­mu­nity with any ex­tra­or­di­nary or vi­o­lent move­ments, than the choice of one who was him­self to be the fi­nal ob­ject of the pub­lic wishes.”

The Founders, like other stu­dents of history, feared the de­struc­tive pas­sions of the mob, as many of them re­garded the masses. They had just thrown off a cold and self­ish monarch, but they were afraid as well of an elite that re­garded them­selves as aris­to­crats ea­ger to im­pose them­selves and their wis­dom (as they imag­ined it to be) on the will of the peo­ple. The Elec­toral Col­lege was the com­pro­mise, nei­ther aris­to­cratic nor a hun­dred per­cent demo­cratic.

Be­cause the col­lege and the method of choos­ing the pres­i­dent is en­shrined in the Con­sti­tu­tion, it will re­quired a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment to elim­i­nate it. Thirty-six states would be re­quired to rat­ify it, but the im­por­tant num­ber is not 36, but 14, the num­ber of states that could block rat­i­fi­ca­tion. With each of the states with one vote, Cal­i­for­nia would carry no more weight in such a show­down vote than Rhode Is­land or Wy­oming. The Elec­toral Col­lege would still be No. 1.

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