First, Mr. Thompson suggests that it would be subversive to argue against the Electoral College, and/or against the construction of the Senate as equally representative of each state.
Editor’s Note: This letter is in response to an opinion column by Bill Thompson “Electorial College was created so mob doesn’t take over,” published in the Nov. 27, 2018 Lake Sun.
I read Mr. Thompson’s editorial with interest but I have a few comments.
First, Mr. Thompson suggests that it would be subversive to argue against the Electoral College, and/or against the construction of the Senate as equally representative of each state. In fact of course (and I imagine Mr. Thompson would agree if we were talking together) it is much more subversive to suggest that open discussion of the Constitution’s structure is to be discouraged.
There are certainly merits to structuring one legislative body to represent population and one to represent the rights of individual states. This structure made even more sense in the context of the Constitutional Convention, in which the framers were compromising with each other in an attempt to successfully replace the Articles of Confederation, in which each of the 13 original colonies were essentially sovereign. And yes, I think we can all appreciate the need for a republican democracy which filters majority rule through layers of representation.
But Mr. Thompson goes quite a bit too far in several ways.
He suggests that we should discount Clinton’s 2.8 million popular vote victory in 2016 because 4.3 million of those votes were in California. Why? I don’t live in California myself, but is there some reason those folks matter less than anybody else in the country? If we discounted Texas and Florida, Hillary Clinton would have won the electoral vote. So what?
He points out that Trump won 2649 counties to Clinton’s 503 counties. The framers did set up a system in which small states have a larger impact in the Electoral College than large states, but does he really believe that individual COUNTIES should vote as opposed to individual voters in those counties? I live in a rural area and I am all for rural representation, but do we really want to give voters in less-populated counties a larger say than voters in counties with a larger population? If not – and I certainly hope not – then this statistic is irrelevant.
Mr. Thompson tells us the framers did not want urban populations to dominate elections and this is also a dubious point. The framers did not want large states to dominate. Virginia for example was a state with a large population (but largely rural at the time). Rhode Island would be an example of a small state at the time. The distinction for the framers definitely was not urban vs. rural; it was large vs. small. Of course the framers did also give southern states the advantage of counting 3/5 of their slaves as population.
Yes, we can argue the Electoral College makes sense in some ways. For one thing, can anybody imagine the chaos involved in a nationwide recount of a close election? On the other hand, consider the impact of voters in various states on the Electoral College. North Dakota had a 2010 population of 675,000 and is granted 3 electoral votes. Missouri had a 2010 population of 6,000,000 and has 10 electoral votes. California had a population of 37,000,000 and had 55 electoral votes. So electing one elector required 225,000 voters in North Dakota, 600,000 voters in Missouri, and 673,000 voters in California. Voters in very small states have almost 3 times the impact of voters in moderately large, or very large, states. Yes this is by the framers’ design; however, yes, it is worth an ongoing discussion.
Mr. Thompson tells us we derailed the framers’ intent by moving (via Constitutional amendment) to direct election of Senators. By that argument we derailed the framers’ intent by amending the Constitution to avoid electing the Vice President via second place finish in electoral votes (should Hillary Clinton be the Vice President?). In fact the framers set up a Constitution which could be amended by legitimate process – via the people’s representatives at the national and state levels. That amendment process has been used several times as the framers intended.
Finally Mr. Thompson makes a point which is both technically correct and yet misleading. Yes it is true that many presidents are elected by a minority of voters, and yes the point made by the Washington Post’s “caterwauling cadre” is not made well. But Mr. Thompson’s own caterwauling ignores the obvious point: in most cases the Electoral College vote goes with the popular vote – not necessarily a majority when there are three or more candidates, but generally the highest popular vote total wins the Electoral College vote and this feels “right.” For example in 1992 Bill Clinton won the Electoral College vote and he also had the highest popular vote total, followed by George H. W. Bush, followed by Ross Perot. Clearly the point intended by the Post was that, in 2016 for example, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but Trump won the Electoral College vote.
This is per the framers’ intent, but Mr. Thompson’s argument is disingenuous and it is also disingenuous for Trump to argue (as he likes to!) that because of the Electoral College framework, it is difficult for a Republican to be elected President. In present day politics, Republicans have an advantage. If we don’t like that we should change the Constitution – as the framers intended!