The Continuing Attacks on Electoral College

minute-man-2-lithoOn December 15, the Electoral College will meet and cast their votes for President and Vice-President in accordance with Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution.  An effort has been underway for years to do away with the Electoral College and substitute in its place the popular vote as the means for electing the President and Vice-President.

The following is a reprint from our Illinois Conservative Blog of April 9, 2008.  The original is no longer available due to a computer crash that wiped out our database.

Illinois Nixes Electoral College

On Monday (4/8/08) Illinois became the third state to attempt to dump the Electoral College by state law rather than by Constitutional amendment.  The elimination of the Electoral College has long been a goal of progressives, socialists and the Democratic Party.  Attempts to get it abolished in the past by amending the Constitution has failed.

As a Congressman in 2000, Rep. Rod Blagojevich co-sponsored a proposed constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College.  Today, as Governor of Illinois, he signed into law a measure designed to bypass the Constitution and elect the President by popular vote.

The new law is largely the result of efforts by the California-based advocacy group National Popular Vote Inc.  Similar laws have been passed in Maryland and New Jersey.  The idea is to bind by law, each state’s electors to vote for the candidate who gets the most popular votes in the national election. Once enough states have passed similar laws to equal the 270 electoral votes necessary to elect a President the Constitution would be effectively rendered impotent without the need for a Constitutional amendment.

Such an attempt illustrates the contempt many politicians have for the Constitution they are sworn to uphold.  It also illustrates a colossal lack of understanding concerning our form of government.  The founders certainly were not unfamiliar with the meaning of democracy and probably understood the meaning of “popular vote“. If they wished the President to be elected by the popular vote of all the people throughout the United States they certainly had the knowledge and means to have written it into the Constitution. — Although they probably could not have gotten it ratified by the states.

Article Two of the Constitution which sets forth the manner of choosing a President was not written in a day and not without considerable discussion among the convention delegates.  The first debate record I found on this question was on July 24, 1787.  It was still under debate on September 4, six weeks later.

There were a number of proposals put forth by the delegates for selecting a President.  One of the first being the popular vote of the people.  Another was to elect the President by vote of the Legislature. Another by the state legislatures.  Still another was to elevate a member of the Legislature to the office of President by a vote of the Senate.  All were rejected for what seems to be good and valid reasons, having to do mostly with corruption and partisanship.

Aside from the founders’ distrust of pure democracy from fear of “tyranny of the majority”, they wanted the President to be able to make independent decisions not unduly influenced by others.  They believed that if elected by popular vote he would be influenced too much by the popular whims of the people at any given time.  Not much different from the attempt to “govern by polls” we see so often today.

By the same token, they believed that a choice by either the national or the state legislative bodies would place the office at too much risk of coercion by those bodies or subject the President to undue temptation to bribery or other unsavory influences by special interest groups.  The method they finally adopted was the Electoral College.

Article II, Section 1: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two Persons, of whom one at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed;…

The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.”

Advocates for the National Popular Vote (NPV) claim their proposal is constitutional because the Constitution grants to the states the power to “appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct…electors”.  NPV not only violates the text of the Constitution, it also violates the spirit.  This is evident from the careful way in which the language was constructed and also in considering the overall nature of the Constitution and the government it establishes.

The U.S. government is a constitutional republic not a pure democracy.  Furthermore the same form of government is guaranteed to each state by the same Constitution.

Article IV, Section 4: “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a republican form of government…”

Exactly what is meant by “a republican form of government”, although well understood by the founders, is not well understood today.  The definition agreed on universally is that it means the rule of law as opposed to rule by a monarchy, oligarchy or dictatorship, with the same law applying to government officials as to the people.  Under our form of government, the Constitution is the supreme law of the land and trumps all others.

Another feature of our form of republican government is that the people do not, by popular vote, make decisions of law or policy.  Instead, we elect representatives who make those decisions for us. If we do not like the decisions they make we do not re-elect them.  This is evident from considering two hundred plus years of history and also viewing the Constitution in its entirety. From the Village Board, to the City Council, to the Federal government this principle applies.  The modern practice in some states of referendums is a fairly new device introduced by the progressive movement.

Getting back to the Constitution, Article II, Section 1:  Notice that the authority of the State Legislature is limited to determining the manner in which electors are to be appointed and nothing else.  Also notice, “No Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector“.  Only by understanding that the framers did not intend for any member of the state legislature or other official of the state to influence the outcome of the electoral vote, does this restriction make any sense at all.

Furthermore the fact that the electors were to meet once, at a time and place prescribed by federal law and cast their votes “by ballot”, the tally of which was to be sealed and delivered to the Senate of the United States along with certification as to their authenticity.  It is evident from these facts that the vote of the electors was to be based on their own judgment, independent of the influence of those who appointed them, whether elected by the people or appointed by the legislature.  The current practice of many states to cast all their electoral votes for the candidate receiving the most votes statewide, notwithstanding.

The main reason why the founders rejected the election of a President by popular vote was because such an arrangement would disenfranchise the smaller states and give undue weight to the votes of the more populous states where the vote is more easily controlled by political machines in major cities like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, etc.  That still seems like the most valid reason to me.


7 responses to “The Continuing Attacks on Electoral College

  1. The major shortcoming of the current system of electing the President is that presidential candidates concentrate their attention on a handful of closely divided “battleground” states. In 2004 two-thirds of the visits and money were focused in just six states; 88% on 9 states, and 99% of the money went to just 16 states. Two-thirds of the states and people were merely spectators to the presidential election. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or worry about the voter concerns in states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. The reason for this is the winner-take-all rule enacted by 48 states, under which all of a state’s electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state.

    Another shortcoming of the current system is that a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide. This has occurred in one of every 14 presidential elections.

    In the past six decades, there have been six presidential elections in which a shift of a relatively small number of votes in one or two states would have elected (and, of course, in 2000, did elect) a presidential candidate who lost the popular vote nationwide.

    The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections.

    The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    The bill is currently endorsed by 1,181 state legislators — 439 sponsors (in 47 states) and an additional 742 legislators who have cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.

    The National Popular Vote bill has passed 21 state legislative chambers, including one house in Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, and Washington, and both houses in California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland. These four states possess 50 electoral votes — 19% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.


  2. There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that needs to be changed in order to have a national popular vote for President. The winner-take-all rule (awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who gets the most votes inside the state) is not in the U.S. Constitution. It is strictly a matter of state law. The winner-take-all rule was not the choice of the Founding Fathers, as indicated by the fact that the winner-take-all rule was used by only 3 states in the nation’s first presidential election in 1789. The fact that Maine and Nebraska currently award electoral votes by congressional district is another reminder that the Constitution left the matter of awarding electoral votes to the states. All the U.S. Constitution says is “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors.” The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the states over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as “plenary” and “exclusive.” A federal constitutional amendment is not needed to change state laws.


  3. National Popular Vote has nothing to do with whether the country has a “republican” form of government or is a “democracy.”

    A “republican” form of government means that the voters do not make laws themselves but, instead, delegate the job to periodically elected officials (Congressmen, Senators, and the President). The United States has a “republican” form of government regardless of whether popular votes for presidential electors are tallied at the state-level (as is currently the case in 48 states) or at district-level (as is currently the case in Maine and Nebraska) or at 50-state-level (as under the National Popular Vote bill).

    If a “republican” form of government means that the presidential electors exercise independent judgment (like the College of Cardinals that elects the Pope), we have had a “democratic” method of electing presidential electors since 1796 (the first contested presidential election). Ever since 1796, presidential candidates have been nominated by a central authority (originally congressional caucuses, and now party conventions) and electors are reliable rubberstamps for the voters of the district or state that elected them.

  4. The people vote for President now in all 50 states and have done so in most states for 200 years.

    So, the issue raised by the National Popular Vote legislation is not about whether there will be “mob rule” in presidential elections, but whether the “mob” in a handful of closely divided battleground states, such as Florida, get disproportionate attention from presidential candidates, while the “mobs” of the vast majority of states are ignored. In 2004, candidates spent over two thirds of their visits and two-thirds of their money in just 6 states and 99% of their money in just 16 states, while ignoring the rest of the country.

    The current system does NOT provide some kind of check on the “mobs.” There have been 22,000 electoral votes cast since presidential elections became competitive (in 1796), and only 10 have been cast for someone other than the candidate nominated by the elector’s own political party. The electors are dedicated party activists who meet briefly in mid-December to cast their totally predictable votes in accordance with their pre-announced pledges.

  5. The small states are the most disadvantaged of all under the current system of electing the President. Political clout comes from being a closely divided battleground state, not the two-vote bonus.

    Small states are almost invariably non-competitive in presidential election. Only 1 of the 13 smallest states are battleground states (and only 5 of the 25 smallest states are battlegrounds).

    Of the 13 smallest states, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Alaska regularly vote Republican, and Rhode Island, Delaware, Hawaii, Vermont, Maine, and DC regularly vote Democratic. These 12 states together contain 11 million people. Because of the two electoral-vote bonus that each state receives, the 12 non-competitive small states have 40 electoral votes. However, the two-vote bonus is an entirely illusory advantage to the small states. Ohio has 11 million people and has “only” 20 electoral votes. As we all know, the 11 million people in Ohio are the center of attention in presidential campaigns, while the 11 million people in the 12 non-competitive small states are utterly irrelevant. Nationwide election of the President would make each of the voters in the 12 smallest states as important as an Ohio voter.

    The fact that the bonus of two electoral votes is an illusory benefit to the small states has been widely recognized by the small states for some time. In 1966, Delaware led a group of 12 predominantly low-population states (North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Kentucky, Florida, Pennsylvania) in suing New York in the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that New York’s use of the winner-take-all effectively disenfranchised voters in their states. The Court declined to hear the case (presumably because of the well-established constitutional provision that the manner of awarding electoral votes is exclusively a state decision). Ironically, defendant New York is no longer a battleground state (as it was in the 1960s) and today suffers the very same disenfranchisement as the 12 non-competitive low-population states. A vote in New York is, today, equal to a vote in Wyoming–both are equally worthless and irrelevant in presidential elections.

    The concept of a national popular vote for President is far from being politically “radioactive” in small states, because the small states recognize they are the most disadvantaged group of states under the current system.

    As of 2008, the National Popular Vote bill has been approved by a total of seven state legislative chambers in small states, including one house in Maine and both houses in Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermont. It has been enacted by Hawaii.

  6. The 11 most populous states contain 56% of the population of the United States and that a candidate would win the Presidency if 100% of the voters in these 11 states voted for one candidate. However, if anyone is concerned about the this theoretical possibility, it should be pointed out that, under the current system, a candidate could win the Presidency by winning a mere 51% of the vote in these same 11 states — that is, a mere 26% of the nation’s votes.

    Of course, the political reality is that the 11 largest states rarely act in concert on any political question. In terms of recent presidential elections, the 11 largest states include five “red” states (Texas, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Georgia) and six “blue” states (California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New Jersey). The fact is that the big states are just about as closely divided as the rest of the country. For example, among the four largest states, the two largest Republican states (Texas and Florida) generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Bush, while the two largest Democratic states generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Kerry.

    Moreover, the notion that any candidate could win 100% of the vote in one group of states and 0% in another group of states is far-fetched. Indeed, among the 11 most populous states, the highest levels of popular support were found in the following seven non-battleground states:
    ● Texas (62% Republican),
    ● New York (59% Democratic),
    ● Georgia (58% Republican),
    ● North Carolina (56% Republican),
    ● Illinois (55% Democratic),
    ● California (55% Democratic), and
    ● New Jersey (53% Democratic).

    In addition, the margins generated by the nation’s largest states are hardly overwhelming in relation to the 122,000,000 votes cast nationally. Among the 11 most populous states, the highest margins were the following seven non-battleground states:
    ● Texas — 1,691,267 Republican
    ● New York — 1,192,436 Democratic
    ● Georgia — 544,634 Republican
    ● North Carolina — 426,778 Republican
    ● Illinois — 513,342 Democratic
    ● California — 1,023,560 Democratic
    ● New Jersey — 211,826 Democratic

    To put these numbers in perspective, Oklahoma (7 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 455,000 votes for Bush in 2004 — larger than the margin generated by the 9th and 10th largest states, namely New Jersey and North Carolina (each with 15 electoral votes). Utah (5 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 385,000 votes for Bush in 2004.

    Under a national popular vote, a Democratic presidential candidate could no longer write off Kansas (with four congressional districts) because it would matter if he lost Kansas with 37% of the vote, versus 35% or 40%. Similarly, a Republican presidential candidate could no longer take Kansas for granted, because it would matter if he won Kansas by 63% or 65% or 60%. A vote gained or lost in Kansas is just as important as a vote gained or lost anywhere else in the United States.

    Although no one can predict exactly how a presidential campaign would be run if every vote were equal throughout the United States, it is clear that candidates could not ignore voters in any state. The result of a national popular vote would be a 50-state campaign for President. Any candidate ignoring any particular state would suffer a political penalty in that state.

  7. When presidential candidates campaign to win the electoral votes of closely divided battleground states, such as in Ohio and Florida, the big cities in those battleground states do not receive all the attention, much less control the outcome. Cleveland and Miami certainly did not receive all the attention or control the outcome in Ohio and Florida in 2000 and 2004.

    Under a national popular vote, every vote is equally important politically. There is nothing special about a vote cast in a big city. When every vote is equal, candidates of both parties know that they must seek out voters in small, medium, and large towns throughout the state in order to win the state. A vote cast in a big city is no more valuable than a vote cast in a small town or rural area.

    Another way to look at this is that there are approximately 300 million Americans. The population of the top five cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia) is only 6% of the population of the United States and the population of the top 50 cities is only 19% of the population of the United States. Even if one makes the far-fetched assumption that a candidate won 100% of the votes in the nation’s top five cities, he would only have won 6% of the national vote.

    Further evidence of the way a nationwide presidential campaign would be run comes from the way that national advertisers conduct nationwide sales campaigns. National advertisers seek out customers in small, medium, and large towns of every small, medium, and large state. National advertisers do not advertise only in big cities. Instead, they go after every single possible customer, regardless of where the customer is located. National advertisers do not write off Indiana or Illinois merely because their competitor has an 8% lead in sales in those states. And, a national advertiser with an 8%-edge over its competitor does not stop trying to make additional sales in Indiana or Illinois merely because they are in the lead.