Arguments FOR The Electoral College?
I just got to the part about the Electoral College, and since I’m always on the lookout for any discernible reason why the EC makes any sense at all, I was really excited for it. Amar dispenses with some of the traditional objections to the EC (Framers hated democracy, wanted to protect small states), and then attempts to frame an argument about why it made sense at the time the Constitution was adopted. Here’s my gloss:
1. Information. The Framers, by and large, did not anticipate the rise of (more or less) ideologically or regionally coherent political parties. They expected that the House would use its tiebreaker in presidential elections “19 times out of 20”. Given the fact that the average person from State X would be fairly unlikely to know about candidate from State Y, given the state of roads, communication, travel, etc., they thought it made more sense for people to pick someone they did know (who in turn knew the national candidates) to vote on their behalf in a national election.
2. Mechanics. The country simply didn’t have the bureaucracy necessary to run a national election. The states were better equipped to do their own thing. In addition, the franchise being what it was, it was theoretically possible for states to game the system (imagine if we had direct election and Massachusetts gave women suffrage in 1790 – they’d double their electorate and every president would be from Massachusetts). Without a better national system for governing who gets to vote and how to make sure they’re able, it was totally impractical.
3. Slavery. Obviously. Everything in the Constitution is ultimately about slavery (which, if you didn’t already know or believe, Amar will convince you). The South would never agree to a direct popular election because they couldn’t count their slaves for voting purposes. Using the Electoral College got them presidential votes on behalf of 3/5 of their slaves (without, of course, asking the slaves who they wanted to be president).
I’ve never seen a good argument for the Electoral College laid out like that before, so that was really novel and exciting for me. That said, it’s a terrible argument for keeping the Electoral College now that we’ve obviated every single one of those problems, so it doesn’t really meet my ultimate need. I’m beginning to suspect nothing can.
In any case, go buy or check out or download or whatever it is you do this book. It’s excellent.