Opinion / Politics

Electoral College – New Thinking on Old Ideas

Electoral CollegeYou will hear a great deal about the Electoral College, which picks American Presidents, in 2020. President Trump won the electoral college in 2016, not the popular vote. Why does this matter, why will it again in 2020? Why keep the electoral college?

Here are five facts few know – all of which argue for preserving the electoral college, even if the electoral college reelects President Trump.

First, the electoral college is how the Framers of our Constitution sought to keep state representation balanced. They had 13 states, we have 50 – so balance counts more than ever.  Put differently, the electoral college protects the nation against a few big states – like California and New York – crushing prerogatives and the voice of smaller states.

If smaller states are crushed or disenfranchised, a couple of big ones will pick our presidents – creating a “tyranny of the majority.”   This is what our Framers feared, why they invented the electoral college.

The Framers made no predictions about Democrats and Republicans, Federalists and Anti-Federalists.  They just wanted citizens from smaller states to participate in the national process, while permitting citizens in bigger states to have a disproportionally larger “say” in the process.

To keep balance, they allowed each state to have electors equal to a combination of their House and Senate seats.  Since every state has two US Senators, no state would be boxed out – and no few could totally control the process.

Another, second argument was “informed” voting.  Electors would be educated, resistant to mob manipulation, and would theoretically produce a more informed choice for president.  The idea was to protect the national population from mass manipulation.

Rather ironically, and contrary to recent arguments about the 2016 election, our Framers recognized that selecting a president by electoral college protected against mass manipulation by a foreign government.  If a foreign government could reach the uneducated, responsible electors would be bypassed.  In effect, electors are an insurance policy against foreign chicanery.

To understand how wise this thinking was – how prescient – one need only look at the current make-up of the US Congress, especially the US House.  What we see is a partisan mess – one party seeking to remove a political opponent in the White House, the other defending America’s properly elected leader.

Look closer, and you will see that the US House is run by a collection of coastal, urban, big state districts, in effect a collection of liberal “enclaves.”  This is not conjecture or political opinion, it is a fact.

To be specific, the US House is led by members who hail from large, urban, coastal states – dense left-leaning enclaves, not those from the vast, less urban states of America.  On numbers, of 53 California districts, only seven are Republican – 45 Democrat.  Of 27 New York seats, only five are Republican, 22 Democrat. Of nine seats in Massachusetts, all are Democrats.  Of five in Connecticut, all Democrats.  Of eight in Maryland, seven Democrat.

Conversely, the exact opposite happens across the rest of America, which is less densely populated, less liberal, less affiliated with large states (by population).  Because those who live in the rest of America deserve to be heard, the electoral college was set up to permit all states to have a non-trivial say in the outcome of presidential elections.

A third bit of forethought by our Constitution’s Framers is worth mentioning.  The electoral college, you will recall, was insurance against picking a president by uninformed mob, or less educated masses, a way to assure informed and empowered electors made the final call.

This seems timely, based on research that suggests educational standards are falling in America.  Recent research suggests that, while Americans are educated in a formal sense, quality of what they are learning is falling.

Recent research shows fewer teachers are teaching writing, while 12th-grade math textbooks are dumbed to 7th grade level and college math is akin to former middle school learning.  On top of this, 40 percent of students think the first two years of college are useless, objective indicators of knowledge slipping.  All this is before one discusses political bias.

What we see is an “across-the-board collapse in American educational standards,” even as the “why” behind new data is debated.  Some attribute the demise to the job market, others to entitlement mentality, reduced family influence, loss of faith and eroding middle-class values.  But logic and deep learning are being replaced by “feelings.”

Much of this goes back to poor teacher preparation.  The “liberal enclave states” are most laggard in teacher preparation.  Thus, “enrollment in teacher-preparation programs” has fallen sharply in California and New York.   In recent years, California teacher preparation enrollment fell from 44,692 to 26,231, New York from 74,348 to 61,821 (according to the Department of Education), and yet – these unprepared teachers “teach.”

In short, objective indicators of an uninformed electorate – or misinformed, especially on politics, history and hard sciences – is a growing concern.  The same concern occupied our Framers. They wanted to assure informed voting, which is another reason they instituted the electoral college, an educated backstop to protect against “tyranny” of the uniformed mob.

Net-net, the objectives which caused our prescient Framers to put their reputations, sacrifices and life experience behind the electoral college remain as powerful and compelling today as then.  There is one added virtue:  The system they devised has worked for 200 years and offers a track record of American exceptionalism that is hard to argue.

So, next time you hear someone argue for dumping the electoral college, just because Trump won it in 2016 and may in 2020, help them see that our Framers were believers in equality, process, states’ rights, and not disenfranchising those outside big states.

More, they would never have wanted America run by a cabal of liberal, urban enclaves.  They saw America as committed to liberty and justice, imperfect but aspiring for balance and fidelity to process.  That is what the electoral college gives us – a chance to be heard every four years.  Given the recent record of enclave leadership in the House, Americans outside those enclaves should be heard in 2020.

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