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Why the Electoral College decides

By Alan Caruba
web posted June 9, 2008

Call it the Gore Curse. In 2000 Albert Gore had a slim margin of popular votes in Florida until the Supreme Court shut down what had already become an endless process of re-counting them. When, as Vice President, Gore presided over the counting of the Electoral College votes in the Senate, it was George W. Bush who was the winner.

That was precisely the way the Founding Fathers intended the election of a President should be. It is also pretty much a mystery to most voters who assume that whoever gets the most popular votes is the winner.

As Sen. Mitch M. McConnell says in an interesting book on the subject, Securing Democracy: Why We Have an Electoral College, this unique instrument of the Constitution, was "the only thing that kept us from an even worse national nightmare." I recall thinking at the time how calmly Americans accepted the Supreme Court decision and the outcome of the election. The judges had read the Constitution!

What many Americans do not realize when they go to the polls is that presidential elections are "state-by-state battles to accumulate a majority in the Electoral College." As McConnell explains it, "When our citizens go to vote, they are technically not voting directly for president. Rather, they are voting for a slate of electors who are pledged to vote for a particular presidential candidate."

The Constitution is such a devilishly clever—nay, brilliant—instrument of government that I can't blame the average citizen for a lack of understanding of it, but its essential principles are not difficult to understand. First, all power resides in the nation's citizens. They in turn elect Electoral College and congressional representatives on the basis of population per state (updated by regularly scheduled census) to conduct the nation's affairs.

Thus, several weeks after an election, those electors meet in their state capitals where they cast two ballots—one for president and one for vice president. Those ballots are then sealed and sent to Congress to be opened and counted in January. In theory they are free to vote for whomever they want. In practice, they are party activists and loyal supporters of the presidential candidate in their state. All the votes are then counted in a joint session of Congress.

That's how the President and Vice President are chosen! One candidate must receive a majority of the electoral votes cast to become President. These days, that number is 270, out of 538 total electoral votes. Failure to achieve that would throw the election into the House of Representatives where they would vote as a state delegation, not as individuals.

It is ingenious and it reflects the fact that America is a republic composed of separate republics, the States, each of which has a constitution of its own. The Constitution delineates the specific powers and limitations on the federal government while specifically stating in the Tenth Amendment, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

The whole purpose of the Constitution is to defuse power so that neither the President, nor the Supreme Court, nor Congress could become a tyranny over the people. It deliberately made the process of passing legislation laborious in order to slow it down for adequate deliberation and for the people's voices to be heard.

As Gary L. Gregg II, the editor of Securing Democracy points out, "Properly understood, the Electoral College and its origins point to the ideas and values that undergird the entire America constitutional system as these were embedded in the foundations of the Electoral College itself."

Everything about the Constitution is about the republican form of government that is dependent on "the consent of the governed." That implies, as it should, that citizens have a responsibility to be involved as voters and be responsive in terms of letting their elected representatives know what they wish their government to do.

As the Democrat Party met on Saturday, May 31, to figure out what to do with their horrid primary system that left Michigan and Florida hanging like so many chads, the argument that Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan put forth was that two nearly all-white States, New Hampshire and Iowa, should not and do not have the right to go first on the primary calendar and thus force candidates to spend an inordinate amount of time and money in order to influence the other state primaries.

This is why the nomination process came down to the power of the Democrat Party's super delegates. It is the Gore curse. Hillary Clinton may have the popular vote, but Barack Obama has the delegate votes. She could argue she is more "electable", but he had worked within the system devised to secure the party's nomination.

In January 2009, the Electoral College will have the final vote as to who becomes the next President of the United States of America. This is precisely the outcome the Founding Fathers and the Constitution intended. ESR

Alan Caruba writes a weekly column posted on the Internet site of The National Anxiety Center. He blogs at http://factsnotfantasy.blogspot.com.


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