October 2015 Brief: Volume 22, Number 30
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The Electoral College and the United States Constitution
by John Hendrickson
The Electoral College is one of the least-understood elements of the United States Constitution. For many Americans it is a mystery, and it is often viewed as antidemocratic and archaic. This is especially true in recent years when the Electoral College has come under fire, and with the approaching 2016 presidential election calls to reform or abolish the Electoral College will once again become more prevalent in political discourse. The Electoral College must be preserved, because it not only reflects the traditions of American constitutionalism, but provides the best avenue to elect the President and Vice President.
When the Founding Fathers met in Philadelphia in 1787, they designed a republican form of government that was based upon a written Constitution that limited the power of the federal government. The Constitution was a document that contained separation of powers, checks and balances, and federalism. The Founding Fathers were students of history and political philosophy and understood the dangers of democracy. Therefore, in deciding how to elect the executive, the Framers designed perhaps one of the most inventive and clever designs — the Electoral College.
Rejecting the direct popular election of the President, the Framers of the Constitution looked to a more improved way to select a President by ensuring the protection of the states and providing every citizen with an equal vote. Gary L. Gregg, II, a political scientist and editor of Securing Democracy: Why We Have an Electoral College, wrote:
Gregg also argues that the design of the Electoral College reflects the greater role states played during the formation of the Constitution, which provides further evidence of the Founders’ commitment to federalism:
The states would have a key role in the election of the President via the Electoral College. Perhaps the Electoral College and federalism are two of the most misunderstood components of American government today, partly because both are being undermined by the growth of big government and progressive democracy. Although the Electoral College is unfairly attacked by being criticized as being both “undemocratic” and “out of date,” the process is actually fairer than if the Constitution had called for a direct election of the President.
Perhaps one common mistake which leads many to dismiss the Electoral College is the fact that the term “democracy” is overly used in our political vocabulary. Most Americans refer to the United States as a democracy, but the Founding Fathers rejected democracy in favor of a republican form of government based on a written Constitution. The Founding Fathers had a pessimistic view of human nature. Based on Western Civilization many of the Founding Fathers understood the danger of democracy.
In a republic, which is the basis of our political system, “sovereign power rests in the people as a whole but is exercised by representatives chosen by a popular vote.” As Gary L. Gregg, II, wrote:
Perhaps it is best to close by considering the thoughts of the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who even as a liberal, understood the importance of the Electoral College. Moynihan argued that abolishing the Electoral College would be “the most radical transformation in our political system.” “We have a republic. It has endured. We trifle with its arrangement at a risk not only to the future of that republic, but, most assuredly, to the reputation of this generation of political men and women,” stated Moynihan.
 Gary L. Gregg, II, “The Origins and Meaning of the Electoral College,” in Securing Democracy: Why We Have an Electoral College, edited by Gary L. Gregg, II, ISI Books, Wilmington, Delaware, 2001, pp. 20-21.
Public Interest Institute’s POLICY STUDY, The Electoral College: Explaining a Constitutional Mystery and Defending American Constitutionalism, can be viewed at http://www.LimitedGovernment.org/ ps-15-8.html.
John Hendrickson is a Research Analyst with Public Interest Institute, Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Contact him at Public.Interest.Institute@LimitedGovernment.org.
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