November 13, 2000
The Electoral College Serves to Protect Liberty and Statehood
As this column is written, America still does not know the final results of the 2000 presidential election. After a long and bitter campaign fight, neither party is ready to accept defeat gracefully. The margin of victory for either candidate will be exceedingly narrow, and challenges to the validity of the results surely will follow. Both campaigns may bring legal actions which could take months to resolve. Should Governor Bush prevail despite having lost the popular vote, we may see proposals in Congress to eliminate the electoral college. Angry calls to obey "the will of the people" will be heard in Washington and the popular media. The pundits will argue that it is not fair to deny the presidency to the man who received the most total votes. After all, to do so would be "undemocratic."
This argument ignores the fundamental nature of our constitutional system. The Founding Fathers sought to create a loose confederacy of states, joined together by a federal government with very little power. They created a constitutionally limited republic, not a direct democracy. They did so to protect fundamental liberties against the whims of the masses. The electoral college likewise was created in the Constitution to guard against majority tyranny in federal elections. The President was to be elected by the states rather than the citizenry as a whole, with votes apportioned to states according to their representation in Congress. The will of the people was to be tempered by the wisdom of the electoral college.
By contrast, election of the President by pure popular vote totals would damage statehood. Populated areas on both coasts would have increasing influence on national elections, to the detriment of less populated southern and western states. A candidate receiving a large percentage of the popular vote in California and New York could win a national election with very little support in dozens of other states! A popular vote system simply would intensify the populist pandering which already dominates national campaigns.
Not surprisingly, calls to abolish the electoral college system are heard most loudly among the liberal/collectivist elites concentrated largely on the two coasts. Liberals favor a very strong centralized federal government, and have contempt for the concept of states' rights. They believe the federal government is omnipotent, and that individual states should not have the power to challenge directives sent down from Washington. Their real goal is the abolition of statehood, because strong states represent a threat to their centralized collectivist agenda. The electoral college system threatens liberals because it allows states to elect the President, and in many states the majority of voters still believe in limited government and the Constitution. Citizens in southern and western states in particular tend to value individual liberty, property rights, gun rights, and religious freedom, values which are abhorrent to the collectivist elites. The collectivists care about centralized power, not democracy. Their efforts to discredit the electoral college system are an attempt to limit the voting power of pro-liberty states.
With the presidential election still undecided, America is at an historic crossroads. Neither candidate will enjoy a public mandate or the usual honeymoon period in the White House. The partisan rancor is likely to increase in Congress. The already narrow Republican majority in the House has diminished, while the Senate may well be evenly divided between the parties. A lame duck congressional session is scheduled to complete the unfinished appropriations bills for 2001, which could not be finalized in the poisoned atmosphere before the elections. Relations between Congressional Republicans and the administration have deteriorated in the aftermath of presidential vetoes of hard fought legislation. This divisiveness underscores the larger issue facing the nation in the electoral college debate, which is the conflict between collectivism and freedom. Perhaps the uncertainty of the recent elections will cause Americans to rethink the role of the federal government in their lives.