The Electoral College: striving for balance
The Founding Fathers created the Electoral College so rural/mountain America would always have a voice in our national political affairs. They understood the unsettling effects of urbanization in England and Europe. They knew the French Revolution began in Paris and not out in the farmlands of France.
More importantly, the Founding Fathers felt the “goodness” of America -- as chronicled later by Alexis de Tocqueville in his classic Democracy in America -- was to be found in rural/mountain America and not in its teeming, crime-ridden cities.
The real purpose of the Electoral College was then and is now to prevent the people living in highly urbanized parts of America such as the Boston-New York-Washington, D.C. corridor from making all of the nation’s major political decisions. Of course, the Founding Fathers probably did not foresee America’s Left Coast now running from Los Angeles to Seattle. If they had, they probably would have been even more determined to install the Electoral College as a means of giving rural/mountain America (AKA fly-over land) some voice in our nation’s political affairs.
Shortly after the November 7th election, USA Today published some interesting statistics based on America’s geography and political subdivisions. Geographically, Bush won virtually every county between the two coasts. Specifically, Bush won 2,434 counties, Gore won 677. Bush won 29 states, Gore won 19. The total population of the Bush counties was 143 million, the Gore counties 127 million. The number of square miles of the country won by Bush was 2,427,000, by Gore 580,000. Moreover, George W. Bush drew 5,547,913 more votes in 2000 than Bill Clinton did in 1992.
But the Electoral College is a compromise arrangement that tries to balance the popular voting power of the cities with the geographical vastness of the rural/mountain states. So, even though Al Gore may have won the popular vote by about 300,000 votes, George W. Bush garnered 271 Electoral College votes – one more than he needed to be elected.
Will the Electoral College be scrapped? Not as long as at least 13 states want to keep it. If the nation were to adopt direct voting for president and vice president, 17 rural/mountain states would lose what little political clout they have. Therefore, the Electoral College is here to say.
Those who oppose the Electoral College would make better use of their time by looking at our obviously flawed system of casting the popular vote ballots that lead to the election of the members of the Electoral College. From what we saw in Florida, Wisconsin, Illinois, New Mexico and other states where the voting procedures were suspect, there is need for a uniform, federal system of elections laws and voting machinery for the conduct of federal elections.
The easiest reform involves voting machine technology. Obviously, some of the current mechanical systems malfunction and even electronic systems can err as well. But we can probably devise a national system with less than the current two-to-five percent error rate.
The more difficult issue will be arriving at a uniform system of voter qualification and voter registration. This will provoke a heated national debate. Welfare-state liberals will want anyone who can walk and chew gum at the same time to vote. Conservatives will want to limit the voting franchise to those who pay taxes or own property or have some other evidence of fiscal responsibility.
By the way, a study done by Professor Joseph Olson of the Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota, looked at the murder rate in the counties won by Al Gore and the murder rate in the counties won by George W. Bush. The average murder rate per 100,000 residents in the Gore counties was 13.2 percent. In the Bush counties, it was 2.1 percent. These figures tend to prove the point the Founding Fathers and de Tocqueville were making about where one finds the “goodness” of America.
William Hamilton, a nationally syndicated columnist, is a former professor of political science and history at Nebraska Wesleyan University.
©2001. William Hamilton