(vQCHfssrnTrue ReformrnDisenfranchising the PoHtical Partiesrnby Scott P. RichertrnThe Electoral College is an archaic institution designed hyrnmen who felt that they could not trust the people at largernto choose the president—or so we are told every four years byrnthe most ignorant members of the Fourth Estate. While it mayrnhae been true (the argument continues) that the people werernrelatiel’ uninformed when the Constitution was adopted, werncannot sav the same thing today. After all, we now have CNNrnand C-SPAN and NPR and the New York Times and the WashingtonrnPost. Any objection the Founding Fathers could havernhad to popular election must surely vanish in the face of thesernorgans of enlightenment.rnAu objection, that is, except the real one. The Framers ofrnthe Constitution, although undoubtedK skeptical of the abilit)’rnof the people at large to decide on national affairs, were not opposedrnto popular election per se. Thev allowed for direct electionrnof the Mouse of Representatives, and they included in thernConstitution certain requirements for being able to vote—notrnsimplv because they thought suffrage should be restrictedrn(which, of course, they did), but because they wanted to ensurernthat states could not impose more strict suffrage requirementsrnin national elections.rnWhy, then, did the Framers establish the Electoral College?rnA quick glance at James Madison’s notes on the ConstitutionalrnConxention recals the answer. In their consideration of thernelection of the president, as in so man- other areas, the Framersrnw ere concerned witii two problems: mitigating the influence ofrnfaction and preserving the sovereigntv’ of tiie states. If the presidentrnw ere elected by popular vote, the opportunities for factiousrndemagoguery were great, and the states could, essentially, berndisenfranchised by tiieir own citizens. State sovercignti,’ couldrnbe preserved b’ allowing the state legislatures to determine thernmethod of appointing electors; the popular will would still berntaken into account, since the people elected their state legislators.rn’lodaw as far as state sovereignt)’ is concerned, the Constitutionrnis essentialK a dead letter. The Electoral College is the on-rnK significant estige of the Old Republic that reminds us thatrnthe states arc not simply administrative subdistricts of the federalrngoeniment—that the states, in fact, created tiie federal government.rnBut while proposed constitutional amendments tornabolish the Electoral College have never gone anywhere, thernsstem has been successfullv undermined in the states over thernears b the forces of faction, which go toda- by the name of politicalrnparties. Any attempt to restore tiie Electoral College to itsrnftill function as conceived by the Framers must confront thernScott P. Richert is the executive editor of Chronicles.rnproblem of political parties — and, therefore, it is probablyrndoomed to failure. Still, it does not hurt to dream.rnThe 12th Amendment, ratified in 1804, was the earliestrnchange to tiie Electoral College; it was also one of the mostrndamaging, because it is one of the few instances in which thernConstitution was changed to reflect tiie part)- system. (The 25tiirnAmendment, allowing tiie president to appoint a ice presidentrnif the office is vacant, and the 14th Amendment, which disenfranchisedrna large number of Southern Democratic Part)’ leadersrnand therefore ensured the primacy of the Republican Part’,rnare the other instances.) W’liile the amendment does not mentionrnpolitical parties, it sets up separate elections for presidentrnand ‘ice president, making it almost ine itable that the hvo w illrncome from one party; until that point, the man who receivedrnthe second-highest number of electoral votes became vice president,rnregardless of his part)’ affiliation. Repealing the 12thrnAmendment would strike a blow at the heart of the parh’ system.rnAny other reform should take place at the state level, becausernthat is where the damage has been done. Wliile the Constitutionrnallows state legislatures to determine the method of appointingrnelectors, every state now uses the popular ote. Staternlegislatures might consider appointing electors based on thernpopular vote within each congressional district, allocating onernof the two extra otes to tiie winner of tiie statew ide popular voternand the other to the candidate who \ ins the largest number ofrncongressional districts. While this system would force candidatesrnto campaign within each congressional district, it wouldrn(unfortunateK) probably strengthen the part) ssteni, since therndistricts are created by (and for) the parties (witii a touch of judicialrnintervention).rnA more radical proposal would be to return to tiie Framers’rnvision of appointing electors on the basis of their qualifications,rnratiier than part)’ affiliation. By adopting this idea, a few bravernstate legislatures could potentially deprive both of the majorrnparties of tiie abilit’ to construct an Electoral College majorit)’.rnAt the ven’ least, tiiC)- could force the presidential candidates tornaddress issues tiiat concern each state at large. Under tiie currentrnwinner-take-all system (which ever) state except Mainernand Nebraska has adopted), candidates can simpK’ pander tornlarge urban populations and ignore the bulk of the state. AlthoughrnRockford is the second-largest cit)’ in Illinois, no presidentialrncandidate has stopped here since 1988, because Chicagorncan manufacture more than enough votes to allow arncandidate to win Illinois’ 22 electoral votes. Returning to thernFramers’ original plan would not only restore a measure of staternsovereignt); it would re-enfranchise millions of oters in smallrncities, towns, and countn’sides across tiie United States. crnFEBRUARY 2001/21rnrnrn