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UNDERSTANDING THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE

Posted by Tim Bryce on August 11, 2014

BRYCE ON GOVERNMENT

– No, it is not an educational institution, nor is it really difficult to understand.

(Click for AUDIO VERSION)
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One of the biggest myths in American government is that the President and Vice President are directly elected by the people. Nothing could be further from the truth. Get it out of your head now. In fact, the Constitution mentions nothing of such a popular vote. Instead, the President and Vice President are INDIRECTLY elected by the people, and for good reason. Allow me to explain…

The vote for President and VP is actually a vote for the electors of the state who will later cast the true votes. This is usually done in accordance with the wishes of the voters of each state. However, each state has their own set of rules for selecting electors and how they will vote. Their only restraint, from a federal perspective, is they can only appoint as many electors as there are members of Congress representing their state. For example, Florida has two US Senators and 27 members of the House of Representatives, for a total of 29 electors, none of which may be members of Congress. Since each state uses a “winner-take-all” approach, most electors are members of the winning party.

The “Electoral College” is not an educational institution, but all of the electors of all of the states in the union along with the District of Columbia, for a total of 538 electors and a minimum of 270 votes to elect a president. After each state ratifies its electoral votes, it is sent to the nation’s capitol for counting in a joint session of Congress on January 4th. The official count is later filed in the National Archives.

The big question though is, “Why do we vote this way?” Many people believe a popular vote should suffice. Fortunately, our founding fathers thought otherwise. At the time of the writing of the Constitution, America was primarily a rural country. However, cities like Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Richmond, and Charleston, had substantial populations. Conceivably, politicians could have won the popular vote simply by winning these urban areas. This would have meant the interests of the rural areas would have been ignored, or whole states completely. To overcome this problem, the framers of the Constitution devised the Electoral College to maintain parity between all of the states, including both rural and urban areas. In this way, the college protects the rights and interests of all states, not just those with large populations.

To illustrate, in the 2000 presidential election, Al Gore won the large metropolitan states, but George Bush won more of the smaller rural states. Based on the number of electoral votes, Bush won the election by a razor-thin number of votes, six. This meant that the interests of ALL of the states were considered, not just the “swing states.”

Following the 2000 election, then Senator-elect Hillary Clinton, feeling that Al Gore had been cheated of the presidency, called for the elimination of the Electoral College. According to Hillary, “We are a very different country than we were 200 years ago. I believe strongly that in a democracy, we should respect the will of the people and to me, that means it’s time to do away with the Electoral College and move to the popular election of our president.” (Nov 10, 2000)

Obviously, Mrs. Clinton fails to understand we reside in a democratically elected republic, not a democracy. Admittedly, most Americans misunderstand the concept of the Electoral College, thereby making it fodder for debate. Nevertheless, the electoral college remains a fair and equitable approach for representing the interests of ALL of the states in the nation, not just those with large metropolitan areas. Without the electoral college, the large metropolitan areas would decide the direction of the country, not smaller towns and villages. In other words, cities such as New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, San Francisco and Los Angeles would dictate the interests of the country, and not places like Des Moines, Scranton, Chillicothe, Morgantown and Macon.

It is not rational to discard or abandon something simply because we do not understand it.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2014 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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6 Responses to “UNDERSTANDING THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE”

  1. Tim Bryce said

    An F.W. of Louisville, Kentucky wrote…

    “Yes, we in the United States live in a Representative Republic, not enough Americans understand this concept and it would appear that few in the media understand this either.”

    Like

  2. Tim Bryce said

    An M.H. of Michigan wrote…

    “Good explanation. Partisans only hate the EC when they lose, Republicans in 1960 and Democrats in 2000. They’ll say anything for expediency, but the EC helps to keep the union together by forcing a geographical confirmation when the popular vote is too close to call. As Lincoln argued, the union trumps all other political objectives.”

    Like

  3. sirchristiantheheck@reagan.com said

    Succinct and very understandable. Anyone that can’t follow that logic shouldn’t be allowed to vote due to sheer stupidity.

    Like

  4. Mrs. Clinton was certainly correct in her observation that “We are a very different country than we were 200 years ago.” and this is true in no greater sense than our ‘modern’ trend toward completely ignoring the interests of the states in the making of public policy in Washington. The electoral college was instituted both to safeguard the interests of the states (largely rural, as you say) as well as to involve local leaders, recognized and respected by the voters, in the process at a time when few candidates for the presidency were known outside their states or regions. Ironically, it is now the candidates we know (though we still manage to elect them, apparently, without knowing much) and the electors who are totally unknown to us…if we’re even aware of the process at all.

    Demands for eliminating the electoral vote, like the 17th Amendment’s institution of popular election of senators, is another example of retrofitting the republic to be something that it was never intended to be: a democracy, which Plato warned would be subject to the manipulated whims of uninformed voters. If that was a valid concern in the 5th century B.C., how much greater should be our fear in an age of mass media manipulation and the trillion dollar welfare state.

    Like

  5. Tim Bryce said

    A D.F. of New York City wrote…

    “Tim, I couldn’t agree with you more other than I think the biggest misunderstanding in America is that we are a Democracy. We are a Republic. I may be all alone in this but I don’t believe in Democracy. The rule of the mob does not interest me.

    Also this view from all corners that winning a popular Presidential election is some kind of a zero sum game. It’s not. The minority is always represented and thank God for that. If it was up to me we wouldn’t even have a popular vote for either the President or the Senate. IMHO most U.S. Presidents throughout our history have been incompetent in varying degrees.”

    Like

  6. Tim Bryce said

    An M.C. of Chicago, Illinois wrote…

    “We are a representative republic by design and the Electoral College surely figures into that fact.

    There is the notion that the Senate was designed to represent the States (until we changed it), the House represents the People, and the President is to be elected by both the States and the People; to which the Constitution refers to as the seat of power, when it states that all powers not enumerated therein were reserved to the states and to the people…

    Minority Rights and Reason, were designed into the system.

    I also prefer the old system of selecting Senators, but still want to vote for the President for some reason; something about taking a stand every four years.

    Incompetence is built into the human model as a recessive gene! Good Article.”

    Like

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