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Too much democracy?

By Henry Lamb
web posted July 2, 2007

Is it possible?  Is it really possible to have too much democracy?  Isn't democracy what the war in Iraq is about?  Isn't democracy what all previous wars were about?  How, then, can it be possible to have too much democracy?

If you're the only sheep among a group of wolves, voting on what to have for dinner, you might want some limitation on democracy.  

On the other hand, if you voted for Al Gore in 2000, you probably dislike the limitation on democracy that the Electoral College places on the election of the President.  In fact, since 2000, there has been a growing effort to abolish the Electoral College in favor of election of the president by direct popular vote.

Sadly, schools stopped teaching about the Electoral College - and why it was written into the Constitution - a few generations ago.   Consequently, when Hillary Clinton, and others, say it's time to abolish it, there's little public outcry, and less resistence.

The Electoral College is an ingenious scheme to balance the power among small and larger states.  Without the Electoral College, a few large states could elect the president, and the small states would be left completely out of the voting.   But the wisdom of our founders foiled the monopoly of power for the big states.

Under the present "winner-take-all" Electoral College system, the winner of the popular vote in a state gets all the state's delegates to the Electoral College (except in Maine and Nebraska).  

This means that a candidate may receive one vote less than 50% of the popular vote, and get no votes in the Electoral College from that state.   This is how Al Gore stacked up more popular votes than George Bush in 2000, but the distribution of the Electoral College delegates, awarded on a winner-take-all basis, pushed Bush over the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the Presidency.

Maine and Nebraska do not use the winner-take-all distribution of Electoral College votes.  They assign delegates on the basis of the winner of the Congressional District.  If Candidate A wins a particular Congressional District, then the delegates from that district are awarded to Candidate A, regardless of who gets the most votes in the state.

In 2007, no less than 41 states considered, or are considering, some change in the winner-take-all system of the Electoral College.  It would take a Constitutional Amendment to repeal the Electoral College outright, which all agree, would be extremely difficult to do.  But changing the way delegates are awarded does not require any Constitutional Amendment; it requires only legislative action.  The result could very well be the same as repealing the Electoral College.

This is not an issue that has gained a lot of press.  It has gained a lot of work, and a lot of money from folks who don't like the Electoral College, but most folks have no idea that this effort is underway. 

It is entirely possible that one day in the not too distant future, the Electoral College will become an exercise in futility, and the President of the United States will be elected by New York, California, Florida, Pennsylvania, and another large state or two.   Wonderful - if you live in these areas and agree with the politics practiced there.   Horrible - if you live in Utah, Wyoming, Alaska, Arkansas, and other small states that may disagree with the politics of the big states.

The current system forces candidates to visit both large and small states, and listen to the concerns of the people.  The current system forces candidates to be equally concerned about winning the Electoral College delegates in the small states, and in the large states.  The current system - as is the case with the rest of our Constitution - has proven to be the best system of self governance yet devised.  Those who pester it do so at great peril to current and future generations.

Case in point: for all who are totally disgusted with the bickering and political posturing that has become the norm in the U.S. Senate - and, therefore, in Congress - consider what the political landscape might be like in Washington today had not the 17Th Amendment been ratified - and all Senators were chosen by the state, rather than by popular vote.  The 17th Amendment gave us a little too much democracy.

The United States of America is a Republic, unique in its structure, sovereign by the consent of the governed, expressed through the election of representatives empowered by the people to effect public policy.   This government has produced greater freedom and prosperity than previously known in all of history.    The effort to bypass the Electoral College is an effort to tinker with the structure of this government.  Woe be unto the one(s) who weaken the foundation of the world's best hope for freedom. ESR

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), and chairman of Sovereignty International.


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