The Electoral College in the U.S. Constitutional Republic

Douglas Harden wrote an informative column (Macon Telegraph, Aug. 14) about how the Electoral College process works and explained why our Founding Fathers created that system for presidential elections.

However, I beg to differ with his assertion, “The framers... felt the common, everyday, average, eligible voter was not intelligent, well-versed, well-read and knowledgeable enough to vote for the most qualified and best candidate.”

Although that statement is certainly another good reason to maintain the Electoral College, it is historically incorrect. The Founders, including James Madison (photo left), the master-builder of the Constitution, were in general very eerie of establishing a direct mass democracy on principle and founded a constitutional republic with an indirect presidential and senatorial election.

In fact, even with this caveat, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Alexander Hamilton hoped the most virtuous and capable public servants would be elected by an informed populace.

Most Americans during the American Revolution and Constitutional Convention were very well informed and devoured political pamphlets, such as Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” and “The American Crisis” voraciously. Those were the best sellers of the day. Later, political articles published in various newspapers (to become the famed Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers) were equally devoured by the citizenry with the same avidity as today’s trendy Americans consume TV images and on-line news of the scandalous lives of sport figures and celebrities.

The additional reasons the Founders created the Electoral College system centered on the issues of federalism and fairness, e.g., preserving the delicate geographical political balance among the various urban and rural populations of the small and large states of the federal union. (Alexander Hamilton, pictured right)

Thus, the Electoral College was (and is) more conducive to encourage candidates to campaign more equitably throughout rural areas as well as urban centers, smaller states as well as larger states, because not doing so may result in the candidates’ loss of an entire state and its slate of electoral votes, rather than just losing small clusters of votes.

Another reason concerning fairness, even more acutely, is the occurrence of natural catastrophes, such as floods or hurricanes, which can depress disastrously the turnout of voters of a region of a state or several states.

Yet, with the Electoral College system, these voters are not penalized, because their states would still contribute the same number of electoral votes toward an election.

Proposed changes such as proportional representation with the fractional casting of a state’s Electoral College votes would drastically dilute the voting strength of the individual state that foolishly adopts it, making that state irrelevant in a nationwide presidential contest. If this proposal were to be uniformly adopted by the nation by constitutional amendment, it would defeat the purpose for which the Electoral College was wisely created, negating all of the previously outlined benefits.

Likewise, popular elections would dilute the power of rural areas and less populated states, so that a heavily populated section of the country, such as the Northeast could, realistically and unfairly, determine presidential elections. That is less likely now with the Electoral College system than the fantastic, theoretical amalgamation of 270 Electoral College votes of 11 politically disparate states, e.g., Texas and New York with Georgia and California joining forces to enslave the country. The Electoral College process has shown that it worked then, as it was intended, and continues to function well. That is the main reason not to tinker with it now. The wisdom of the Founders reverberates through the ages.

Miguel A. Faria Jr., M.D. is a resident of Macon, Georgia

This editorial was published in The Macon Telegraph on August 19, 2011.
Copyright © 2011 Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D.

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