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"Indeed, the rage of theorists to make constitutions a vehicle for the conveyance of their own crude, and visionary aphorisms of government, requires to be guarded against with the most unceasing vigilance."
     -- Joseph Story
     Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States
     Book III, § 1857.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Steven Den Beste on why we have the Electoral College.

The large state/small state compromise was only one part of the Framers' consideration. The chief reason for the College, as it was also for the original setup whereby Senators were chosen by the State legislatures, was the Framers' idea that, by proceeding through multiple stages, it would improve the chances of the eventual successful candidate's being a person of merit.

Here's how it was supposed to work. The people, looking over the prospective Electors, would vote for the "better person"; this winning better person, because it was the duty of his position to pay attention to the choice before him, and also just because he was a better person (or someone else would have been chosen as Elector), would then make a better and more informed vote for President.

Of course, in order for this scheme to work as advertised, it requires that the people, in voting for Electors, would know who those Electors are, and would be able to judge their merits. I am not aware of any State, though, where a party's slate of Electors is plainly set before the voters for their consideration, and, as most States seek to bind the chosen Electors to the result of the popular election, only "faithless electors" can make any difference to the process.

As to the alternative of a nationwide popular vote, there is one other thing to consider. The 2000 election turned upon a dispute over somewhere between 500 and 5000 votes in Florida. Because of the way the Electoral College is set up, no other State was embroiled in Florida's ugly mess; all except 25 electoral votes were a done deal on election night. If the Presidency were decided upon a nationwide popular vote, though, any such recount battles would necessarily be nationwide. Along these same lines, under the Electoral College, a corrupt elections officer can swing only his State's electoral votes; in a close nationwide popular vote, he could decide the entire election.

-- posted by Clayton 10/15/2003 06:56:00 PM

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