Time For Reform

– Considering The Failures Of The Essay, Research Paper

Time for reform? considering the failures of the electoral collegeDescription: This paper discusses the many shortcomings of the ElectoralCollege, and posits possible alternative electoral processes which likely bemore democratic. A common misconception among American is that when they vote they elect the President. The truth is notnearly this simple. What in fact happens when a person votes is that there vote goes for an Elector. ThisElector (who is selected by the respective state in which a vote is cast) casts ballots for two individuals, thePresident and the Vice-President. Each state has the same number of electors as there are Senate and Houseof Representative members for that State. When the voting has stopped the candidate who receives themajority of the Electoral votes for a state receives all the electoral votes for that state. All the votes aretransmitted to Washington, D.C. for tallying, and the candidate with the majority of the electoral votes winsthe presidency. If no candidate receives a majority of the vote, the responsibility of selecting the nextPresident falls upon the House of Representatives. This elaborate system of Presidential selection is thoughtby many to be an 18th century anachronism (Hoxie p. 717), what it is in fact is the product of a 200 year olddebate over who should select the President and why.In 1787, the Framers in their infinite wisdom, saw the need to respect the principles of both Federalists andStates Righters (republicans) (Hoxie p. 717). Summarily a compromise was struck between those who feltCongress should select the President and those who felt the states should have a say. In 1788 the ElectoralCollege was indoctrinated and placed into operation. The College was to allow people a say in who lead them,but was also to protect against the general public’s ignorance of politics. Why the fear of the peoplesignorance of politics? It was argued that the people, left to their own devices could be swayed by a fewdesigning men to elect a king or demagogue (McManus p. 19). With the Electoral College in place the peoplecould make a screened decision about who the highest authority in the land was to be (Bailey & Shafritz (p. 60); at the same time the fear of the newly formed nation being destroyed by a demagogue could be put to restbecause wiser men had the final say. 200 years later the system is still designed to safeguard against the ignorant capacities of the people. TheElectoral College has remained relatively unchanged in form and function since 1787, the year of itsformulation. This in itself poses a problem because in 200 years the stakes have changed yet the College hasremained the same. A safeguard against a demagogue may still be relevant, but the College as this safeguardhas proved flawed in other capacities. These flaws have shed light on the many paths to undemocraticelection. The question then is what shall the priorities be? Shall the flaws be addressed or are theyacceptable foibles of a system that has effectively prevented the rise of a king for 200 years? To answer thisquestion we must first consider a number of events past and possible that have or could have occurred as aresult of the flaws Electoral College. The Unfaithful ElectorUnder the current processes of the Electoral College, when a member of the general electorate casts a votefor a candidate he is in fact casting a vote for an Electoral College member who is an elector for thatcandidate. Bound only by tradition this College member is expected to remain faithful to the candidate he hasinitially agreed to elect. This has not always happened. In past instances Electoral College member haveproved to be unfaithful. This unfaithful elector ignores the will of the general electorate and instead selectscandidate other than the one he was expected to elect (McGaughey, p. 81). This unfaithfulness summarilysubjugates all the votes for a candidate in a particular district. In all fairness it is important to note thatinstances of unfaithful electors are few and far between, and in fact 26 states have laws preventing againstunfaithful electors (McGauhey, p.81). Despite this the fact remains that the possibility of an unfaithfulelector does exist and it exists because the system is designed to circumvent around direct popular electionof the President. The Numbers FlawThe unfaithful elector is an example of how the popular will can be purposely ignored. The Numbers Flawreveals how the will of the people can be passed over unintentionally due to flaw of design (McNown, LectureNotes, 2/20/93). (a)6/b(4) | (a)6/b(6) Candidate a: 18| Candidate b: 22————-|————| Electoral Votes(a)6/b(4) | (a)0/b(10) Candidate a: 3| Candidate b: 1In this theoretical example candidate (a) receives a minority of the popular votes with 18, but a majority ofthe electoral votes with three. Candidate (b) receives a majority of the popular votes with 22, but receivesonly one electoral vote. Under the winner-take-all system, the candidate with the majority of the electoralvotes not only wins the state but also receives all the electoral votes for that state. In this hypotheticalsituation candidate (a) receiving a minority of the popular votes wins the state and takes all the electoralvotes. The acceptability of this denial of the popular will, unintentional or otherwise, is questionable to saythe least. Tie GameThe problem posed by no one person receiving a majority of the electoral votes (a tie) first came to head inthe 1800 elections. The success of political parties served to turn Electoral College members into agents ofthe parties Bailey & Shafritz p. 61). This so galvanized the 1800 elections that the Republican electors cast

their two votes for the two Republican candidates, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr respectively. It wasassumed that Jefferson would be President and Burr the Vice-President. Unfortunately their was noconstitutional doctrine to affirm this assumption. As a result the ever audacious Aaron Burr challengedJefferson election as President and the issue had to be sent to the House for resolution (Bailey & Shafritz, p. 61). Any debating on the issue was only incidental; when all was said and done the issue was decided by oneman, Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton, and the Federalists were in control of the House when the decision was tobe made. Hamilton, who disagreed with Jefferson but overwhelmingly distrusted Burr, orchestrated a blankballot initiative among the Federalists which allowed the Republicans to select Jefferson as President (Bailey& Shafritz, p. 61). Though this entire incident was significant the most noteworthy aspect was the fact thatthe President was essentially chosen by one man. The final decision was taken entirely out of the hands of thepeople and was left to the mercy of the biases of a single individual. In all fairness it should be noted that the12th amendment was formulated out of the Jefferson-Burr to forever lay to rest the question of who isPresident and Vice-President in a tie. The 12th amendment stipulates that electors are to cast separate votesfor the President and Vice President, and summarily an event such as the Jefferson-Burr incident cannothappen again. (Bailey & Shafritz p. 61). In effect the 12th prevents the issue of a tie from going to the Houseunder a very narrow scope of conditions. This is far less of a solution than one which would have preventedthis issue from going to the House at all because when the issue of who would be President went to the Housein 1800, the issue of democracy was left to compromise. This all serves to reveal yet another flaw of theElectoral College process. Congressional selection of the President can lead to democratic compromise. Thiswould seem an area of concern. Though some would argue we have had 200 years to distance ourselves fromsuch maladies as the elections of 1800, the following reveals how close to home the flaws 200 year oldinstitution can hit. The Wallace DebacleIn 1968 a three-way tie nearly brought to head the same undemocratic modes of presidential selections thatemerged 200 years earlier with the Jefferson-Burr incident. The 1968 elections race was extremely close. Richard Nixon barley received a majority of the electoral votes to win the presidency. Had Nixon failed to geta majority a number of bizarre scenarios might have emerged. The candidates in the race were Richard Nixon,Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace respectively. Had Nixon failed to win a majority Wallace would have beenin a position to control who the next President would be (Bailey & Shafritz p. 65). Though he could not havewon himself Wallace could have used his votes as swing votes to give Nixon a majority, or give Humphreyenough to prevent Nixon from getting a majority (Bailey & Shafritz p. 65). In the latter instance the issuewould have, as in 1800, been sent to the House for rectification. In either instance Wallace would have had agreat deal to gain, and the temptation to wheel and deal (at the compromise of democracy) would have beengreat indeed. It is possible Wallace could have used his influence with Southern House members to getHumphrey elected. In the process he would have likely `garnered great political clout for himself. Wallacecould have bargained with Nixon for an administration position in Nixon’s cabinet in return for Wallace’selectoral votes. The possible scenarios are endless, and for the most part irrelevant. What is relevant is thatthe processes of the Electoral College again paved a path for democratic compromise, just as it did in 1800. Iftime is the mechanism for change then apparently not enough time has passed.ConclusionThe shortcomings of the Electoral College presented above are only a few of many flaws. Others flaws includethe bias toward small and large states, which gives these states a disproportionate advantage; The biastoward those who live in urban areas and therefore enjoy a stronger vote than those living in sparselypopulated areas (Bailey & Shafritz p. 63). The list of flaws is extensive. The question that still remains iswhether or not the flaws are extensive enough to warrant change? The Electoral College has successfullyprovided the U.S. with its Presidents for 200 years and has done so without allowing the ascension of ademagogue. But in the process of 200 years of electing the College has allowed the will of the people to becompromised. Granted at the time of the 1800 elections the College was young and its shortcomings were notentirely clear. 200 years later the flaws have revealed themselves or have been revealed in various fashion. The question remains then are flaws acceptable considering the duty the College performs? If the purpose ofthe College is to provide democracy but prevent demagoguery then its success seems uncertain. The U.S. hasseen no demagogue but has seen compromise of democracy. The evidence shows that the flaws of the ElectoralCollege are responsible for democratic compromise. It would seem then that the flaws of the college areself-defeating to the purpose of the college. If this is then it is definitely time for reform.1 Bailey, Harry A. Jr., Shafritz, Jay M. The American Presidency, (California: Brooks/Cole Publishing Co., 1988)Chapter III2 McGauhey, Elizabeth P., “Democracy at Risk,” Policy Review, Winter 1993: 79-813 R. Gordon Hoxie, “Alexander Hamilton and the Electoral System Revisited,” Presidential Studies Quarterly, v. 18 n. 4 p. 717-7204 John F. McManus, “Let the Constitution Work,” The New American, v. 8 n. 14 p. 195 William P. Hoar, “The Electoral College: How The Republic Chooses its President,” New American, v. 8 n. 16 p. 23-28


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