November 20, 2000 –
Entrusting political power to imperfect human beings is rarely a safe idea. Such power tends to swell the head, corrupt the manner, afflict the soul and eventually make war on the neighbor of everyone who tastes of it. This is just as true whether those who possess such power consist of the one, the few, or the many. It’s human nature. And human nature has never changed.
Because the America’s Founders understood this flaw in man they were just as wary of democracy, as they were of oligarchy and monarchy.
My last piece brought to the stand American Founders Edmund Randolph, Elbridge Gerry and James Madison to testify that the natural byproduct of democracy is socialism. This they knew to be true because any form of “absolute power,” will as the maxim declares, “tend to corrupt absolutely.” Democracy is absolute power in the hands of the majority – a majority who will eventually, especially in times of moral decline, vote to themselves advantages over minorities.
By minority, the Founders meant almost anything. It could refer to the rich, the merchant, the small state, the immigrant, the unpopular religious sect or viewpoint, or a thousand other things.
But the Founders had a cure, a mixed republic, which ingeniously created various centers of powers, divisions of powers and modes of representation, with two objects in mind: Number one, to reach out and represent as many groups as possible (generally in broad sweeps); and number two, to make it extremely difficult for any one group to ever become a majority over all the others.
This is the genius of republicanism: to prevent the people from producing “a mandate” for government, but rather keep the government so locked up in gridlock that competing power centers will only come together on policies which are universally acceptable to all. (See Federalist 51) The electoral college was part of this plan, and it was a brilliant idea.
Today, this column will briefly look at how the electoral college helps protect three minority groups from the tyranny of the majority: Small states, rural cultural/religious values, and minority ethnic groups.
Discovering a Mixed Representative Formula
The Founders considered at least 10 different plans to elect the president (the subject of an upcoming essay), only one of which was by the direct election of the people. But as we know, the one which stuck was the indirect election of the president by electors chosen by the states.
The formula mirrors the representative plan for each state in the U.S. Congress. Each state, therefore, is guaranteed two electoral votes ( as per their two votes in the U.S. Senate); plus additional electoral votes apportioned according to the size of the state’s population as determined in the Census (as per their assigned slots in the U.S. House). The numbers are identical. If your state’s congressional delegation consists of two U.S. House members and two U.S. Senators as does mine in Nevada, then the electoral vote in your state is four.
This feature was incorporated consistent with the “Great Compromise” in the Constitutional Convention over congressional representation. That is, each state’s two votes in the Senate protect the sovereignty of the smaller states (an equality of states rule), while each state’s proportional representation in the House favor fairness for the larger states (an inequality of states rule).
This is a republican governmental feature which forces at least one of the candidates, usually both, to seek broad support, rather than local or regional support, which in turns tends to favor the protection of state sovereignty, the cultural and religious values of rural America, and ethnic minority rights.
Let’s discuss these.
Rights of Small States
As just stated, one half of the electoral formula is proportional, as mentioned, while the other half – the two votes – is not. This equality gives smaller states a disproportionate advantage and thus a check on the interests of the larger states.
Individually, this two vote small state check on larger states is helpful, collectively, the small state check can be powerful. William C. Kimberling, deputy director, Federal Election Commission, Office of Election Administration, gives us an example:
“In 1988 … the combined voting age population (3,119,000) of the seven least populous jurisdiction of Alaska, Delaware, the District of Columbia, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming carried the same voting strength in the Electoral College (21 electoral votes) as the 9,614,000 persons of voting age in the State of Florida. Each Floridian’s potential vote, then, carried about one-third the weight of a potential vote in the other States listed.”
This Electoral College feature protects small states. Leave it alone.
Rural Cultural and Religious Values
Because of the above example, a need for candidates to find a message that appeals to smaller but collectively valuable population centers is created. This has another positive effect, it protects rural cultural and religious values. Yet, some of you may ask, why is that important?
Thomas Jefferson believed that it was on the farm, on the ranch and in small-town America where the moral values that temper and preserve liberty are found – while it was in industrial society where these values were derided and true liberty was most easily destroyed by a love of luxury, indolence, amusement and pleasure.
Jefferson wrote to Madison: “I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries; as long as they are chiefly agricultural … When they get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, they will become corrupt as in Europe.”
We only have to observe the elitist lifestyles, on the one hand, and the rampant crime, moral decay, welfare enrollment percentages and lower public school performance levels, on the other hand, in the big cities, to understand that Jefferson was right. These big city forces raise a hue and cry for more and more government invasion into private and public life.
For a free people to long survive, the bedrock values of virtue, religion and education – more prevalent in rural communities – must sufficiently offset their opposites. Inasmuch as the Electoral College permits rural states to band together and wield an influence disproportionate to their numbers, this Jeffersonian wish is accomplished through the electoral college.
And it does work. Consider how the big city, liberal, gun control advocates of the Democratic Party were, by their own admission, forced to back down this election because the rural campaign trail unveiled a different perspective, that is the prospect of hundreds and hundreds of small towns where people use guns responsibly for hunting, target practicing and self-defense. Similarly, how the Republican candidate was persuaded to take a public stand against abortion, because his electoral base was projected to be strongest in rural America.
This Electoral College feature protects small town cultural and religious values. Leave it alone.
Ethnic Minority Rights
At the National Democratic Convention, in April of 1860, Yancy gave one of the world’s most famous orations. In it he stated: “Constitutions are made solely for the protection of the minorities in government, and for the guidance of majorities.”
Ethnic minorities, are one of those minority groups which must be protected.
An example of how the Electoral College helps is found in the September 30th – October 6th 2000 edition of “The Economist.” In the piece titled “Yo Te Quiero Mucho,” we read:
“Latinos cluster in some of the most populous, and, therefore electorally desirable, states. California, Florida, New York, Illinois and Texas, the five states with the largest Latino populations, account between them for 166 electoral college votes, 61 per cent of the total needed for victory. In a close race, as this one is, any identifiable bloc gets attention, and Latinos are both numerous and well-placed.”
Think about this. Latinos make up 11.7 percent of the population, but are a strong voting block that must be addressed in 61 percent of the electoral votes. This does not mean, that they will be the only group addressed in those cities, and thus capable of forcing policy on the majority, but it does mean, that their concerns, like everyone else’s, had better be addressed by the candidates. And they were.
This Electoral College feature helps protect minority rights. Leave it alone.
The Founders in their wisdom devised a representative plan, which although imperfect, does a better job than any other political machinery in the world to address and protect the across-the-board interests of a nation. Or, in other words, it does this in a manner, said Madison, “[which comprehends] in … society so many separate descriptions of citizens as will render an unjust combination of a majority of the whole very improbable, if not impracticable.”
It is republican government at its best. The idea is to protect liberty for all, not just for the majority – to preserve liberty for a millennium, not just for a decade. Let’s be smart, and leave the Electoral College alone.
Steve Farrell is a freelance writer, a graduate of the University of New York, and a constitutional law student at George Wythe College.