To anyone who has spent some time with the Framers and ratifiers of the U.S. Constitution, most current talk about that document seems not about the Constitution at all but about some fanciful construct of wishful thinking, accumulated misunderstandings, and successful usurpations. This is certainly so in regard to the recent discussions of the Electoral College.

True, the Electoral College was, as is now complained of, in part designed to take the selection of president a remove or two from the people. The reason for this was not to thwart the people’s will but to induce deliberation and mature consideration of the public good and the virtues of candidates by persons who were in a position to have some solid knowledge of the matter. This design, of course, has been rendered null by the machinations of political parties. Electors are now anonymous partyhacks whose names often do not even appear on the ballot and who would not know what you are talking about if you mentioned deliberation and judgment.

But an even more important consideration in the design of the Electoral College was the representation of the states. There was no possibility of a mass vote, since each state set its own qualifications for the franchise and chose the electors in its own manner—by the legislature or by districts in the beginning. States no longer set their franchise: The federal government now requires us to allow 18-year-olds to vote and to register aliens when they show up at the drivers’ license bureau.

Nevertheless, the Electoral College, at least potentially, represents the states. The smaller states were given more weight, by a design (and necessity at the time) that permeates the real Constitution. If the Electoral College yielded no majority, the House of Representatives was to make the choice, with each state having one vote, hi fact, the Framers expected this to happen quite often.

The functioning of the Electoral College was perverted in the 19th century by political party organizations. The people could (and can today) vote only for candidates selected by party conventions, which are neither democratic nor recognized by the Constitution. (A lot of Americans probably think the two parties are part of the Constitution.) This is, in fact, a much more serious denial of majority rule than the weight given to small states in the college. So is the winner-take-all system, another invention of the party hacks.

There is nothing in the Constitution that requires all the votes of a state to go to one candidate. According to present practice, a candidate may win California with a 3 5-percent vote in a three-way race and receive all of California’s electoral votes, thereby disenfranchising two thirds of the voters. The only reason for this is that it is convenient for political parties.

If we really wanted to live up to true majority rule and preserve the virtues of the Electoral College, we would take the high constitutional function away from parties and choose electors by districts and as independents—men and women known for character and reason and an understanding of the people they represent. (Of course, they would have to be real districts, not ones designed by federal judges to maximize the success of favored groups.)

They would assemble in their state capitals and vote after deliberation and without reference to party organization or to polls and predictions and media declarations of winners on the basis of one percent of the votes. This would be closer to real majority rule and the real Constitution, and the results might be quite interesting.


[Slideshow image credit: By Lorie Shaull from Washington, United States (Election Day: Vote Here, Vote Aqui) [CC BY-SA 2.0]]