Monday, August 10, 2009
Securing Democracy: Why We Have an Electoral College
© 2001 ed. Gary Gregg II
"The Framers of the Constitution would have been appalled at the notion that over time the presidency would become an objection pf partisan ambition, that candidates for the Electoral College would be identified on the ballot as supporters of particular candidates or pass unmentioned altogether, that in some states the electors would be required by law to vote for the candidate to whom they were pledged, and that for all intents and purposes the President of the United States would be directly elected by the people." - p. 61, author Paul Rahe
I collect recordings of political speeches, and there's one from 2004 that tends to bother me. It's either former President Bush's address to the RNC or his victory speech, but in one of the two he addresses party members, citizens, and "delegates". That one word makes me raise an eyebrow. Delegates? I've had a basic understanding of the Electoral College's function since high school, I suppose, but when I heard "delegates" and remembered that people don't actually vote for the president, I was instantly bothered. What's going on here? I know that the winners of a given state's election get that state's electoral votes, and it those votes that count in the national election, but I was bothered by the fact that there were people who cast those votes. Who's to say they won't just vote how they see it, instead of how the people see it? I decided to read this book to sort out these questions -- to figure out where delegates fit into the system. Humorously, I found the answer to those questions in the introduction -- but I read the rest of the book, too, and I'm glad I did.
The book is a collection of essays from various authors published as a result of the drama following the 2000 election, when people started calling for the abashment of the College. Concerned, Gregg began looking for contributors for a book meant to explain and defend the electoral college. The themes in the various essays are by and large the same: the Constitution was written to create a series of checks and balances not only in the central government, but between the government, the states, and the people themselves. In his introductory essay, Gregg writes that the founders did not intend to create a wholly democratic country: they intended to create one that created good laws, and to this end they attempted to create means through which laws and presidents would be decided on with great deliberation -- not drummed in through majority rule, which is susceptible to growing wildly passionate about one issue or one man. (I suppose an example of that is people in Alabama voting for a ban on same-sex marriage: no gay person in their right mind would come to Alabama to get married. That's like going to Saudi Arabia as a woman to feel the sun on your face.)
According to Gregg and the other authors, the states were to send delegates -- prudent statesmen with no government role and well-respected citizens -- to a convention, where they would all talk together and decide on what man was best for the job. Also according to the authors, this worked twice: once to elect George Washington, and once to re-elect him. After that, the formation of party politics changed the nature of the electoral college. Interestingly, although the College no longer works the way it was intended, it works still to moderate the two-party system. Many of the authors elaborate on this.
The book reads well: since the authors were not working in concert with one another, they sometimes repeat one another on general statements, but there's a general variety of topics here. Often they will mention the same facts or refer to the same situations, but use them to discuss different sides of the issue. The book gives me a lot of think about, as my own political opinions in regard to ideal democratic systems are mixed. It did help me understand the function of the College, both today and as it was intended. The book includes several relevant articles from the Constitution and from the Federalist Papers.