Monday, December 19, 2016
Reiboldt: Electoral college has helped make our country great
This week I want to continue my thoughts about the electoral college, something that is unique to the United States of America. Following the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked by a woman,”What form of government have you given us?” He replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
What our founding fathers gave us was a Representative Constitutional Republic, which, over the years, has proven its greatness. Many writers and commentators have referred to our founding fathers, using the word “genius,” and referring to our constitution as “great.” Truly, we owe all our founders the honor and the respect they deserve for giving us the form of government that we enjoy today. It has endured the test of time and given us a nation of stability, one governed by laws, and one that has enjoyed a peaceful transition of power when electing new presidents.
On December 19, the electors of every state and the District of Columbia met to elect the next president of the United States. Each state has the same number of electors as it does U.S. Senators and Representatives, combined. For example: Missouri has 10 — 8 congressmen plus 2 U.S. Senators. Each party elected a slate of electors that are trusted to vote for the party’s nominee; that trust has rarely been betrayed. The chosen electors are bound by custom everywhere, and by law in many states, to support the presidential candidate who won the state’s popular vote. This process of electing a president has been very well laid out in the U.S. Constitution and has worked for over 200 years.
If the president were elected by popular vote, essentially the elite populists on both coasts would effectively rule the entire United States, while the Midwest and other areas would virtually have no say in who is elected. Without the electoral college, many states would have no real input into the process that would ultimately govern them, and their authority would be undermined, thus allowing for excessive federal overreach. Using the popular vote as our nation’s election standard would be yet another way of limiting the authority of the states.
There are several good reasons for keeping the electoral college versus adopting the national popular vote. With the electoral college the certainty of the election’s outcome is less likely to be disputed than with a popular vote, mainly because the winning candidate’s share of the electoral college votes will generally exceed that person’s share of popular votes. A good example was in 2012 when President Obama received 61% of the electoral votes—a virtual landslide—but received only 51% of the popular votes.
Furthermore, the electoral college requires presidential candidates to have trans-regional appeal. There is no region of the United States with enough electoral votes to elect a president on its own. A candidate cannot just pile up popular votes in the most heavily populated states and win the overall election. They must carry other states across the nation in order to accumulate the 270 electoral votes required to win the presidency.
Admittedly, the electoral college concept is a difficult one to grasp, and maybe that is why there seems to be increasing pressure to do away with it in favor of the national popular vote. A recent poll revealed that just over one-half of Americans favored doing away with the college while others favored keeping it. Proposals to abolish the electoral college have frequently been put forward but have failed largely because the alternatives would create even more problems.
Doing away with the electoral college would fundamentally alter the nature of our government and might bring about consequences that even the so-called “reformers” would come to regret.
The college has performed and proven itself in 58 presidential elections over our history as a nation. It has ensured that the president of the United States has both sufficient popular support to govern and that popular support is sufficiently distributed throughout the country so as to enable him to govern effectively. Sometimes tampering with the careful balance of powers between the national and state governments can become problematic when electing a president. The electoral college has kept the election process in the individual states and again proven its validity.
The republic we have been given, if we can keep it, depends largely on keeping in place those institutions of government that have sustained our nation and made it the greatest one the world has known. The electoral college is one of those institutions.