IN THE FEDERALIST PAPERS NO. 68, ALEXANDER HAMILTON writing as Publius defends the Electoral College. Hamilton wrote: “A small number of persons, selected by thir fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.” In other words, don’t let the mob rule.
Like the New York Times has recommended in its editorial, “Abolish the Electoral College,” I agree that since “the majority does not rule and every vote is not equal,” the Electoral College is an anachronism that should be abandoned.
However, Americans have lost three valuable years in this debate following the contested victory of President Bush in 2000, when a U.S. president again won the White House without winning a majority of the vote. Yes, I know, the Supreme Court helped. But nonetheless, America went to sleep after this debacle and should have begun to dismantle the Electoral College then.
In August, when the Democrats were outperforming Bush in projected electoral college tabulations, there was virtually no coverage of this topic. Now, Bush is pulling ahead in some states, and the Democrats (and New York Times editorial page) are calling for the undemocratic Electoral College system to be scrapped.
I agree with the effort, but this should have been part of the Democratic Party’s efforts to broaden and deepen its voter base after 2000. Democrats should have made the case three years ago that the Electoral College was no longer assuring civilized, anti-mob rule but was rather undermining democracy and empowering shrewd political strategists (i.e., Karl Rove) that were gaming the system and establishing a national political machine.
I blame myself as well because I thought after 2000 that the Electoral College disenfranchised the active participation of millions of voters in this national political process. If one resided in what are considered “safe states” in one candidate’s column or the other, then those citizens’ votes were pretty much disregarded and candidates didn’t even try to connect with those people. This would not be true if there were direct elections for the president. We all should have tried to use our political weight in this town to move this issue when there was time to get something done.
Last night, while watching the Convention, there was some post-Giuliani discussion on CNN with the New York Times‘ Sam Roberts who bluntly said that the Republicans were trying to suppress the black vote in Florida. He said that everyone, Democrat and Republican, in Forida political circles would say “off the record” that the black vote in Florida was Democrat and thus had to be choked.
This revival of poll tax type strategies in the South is directly caused by Electoral College politics. If those black voters and voters throughout the nation were voting directly for the president, there would be a lot less interest in stripping suspected felons off of voting rosters.
Remove the borders between our voters. This is something the Democratic Party should passionately embrace — whether or not John Kerry wins this election.
And if the Democrats don’t do it, it could very well be the next trick in the Republican Party’s sleeve to look like a 21st century populist party. I know that if I were Rove, I’d go for aboloshing the Electoral College. . .right after this election.
If you want to see an interesting site that tracks political polls and translates them into likely Electoral College outcomes, see www.electoral-vote.com. I can’t vouch for its accuracy — and the battleground states clearly flip a lot as Kerry has been leading Bush recently on this site. Today, those states in Bush’s corner or leaning that way have him at 280 electoral votes, with Kerry at 242. However, the August 30th report had Kerry at 249 and Bush at 232.
— Steve Clemons