“I had the privilege of teaching US History and Political Science to students at a regional high school. Nearing each federal election cycle the question seems to arise as to why the United States uses an Electoral College. Wouldn’t it be better to elect the president and vice-president by the direct vote of the people? The debate that followed gave me the opportunity to extol the brilliance and forethought of the founding fathers in anticipating problems that would face the nation in the future and how they proposed solutions on how to deal with them.
“In Federalist Papers No. 39, James Madison argued that the Constitution should be a mixture of state-based and population-based government. This approach created an acceptable compromise which was reached between the most and least populated states. Thus, the US Senate has two representatives from each state regardless of size and population, while the House of Representatives is constituted based upon population.
“The Electoral College was conceived to mirror that concept so that the majority of the states would approve the plan and create a union. Neither side got exactly what it wanted, but acceptable compromise was reached. This process has now matured to where there are 538 electors in total, with 270 needed for election. Each state gets two electors because they have two senators, but they also get an additional number of electors to represent the state’s population then sitting in the House of Representatives. Later, three electors were allocated to the District of Columbia. This formula unified the states by allowing all parts of the country to have some say in the election process. The number of electors would grow as the country developed.
“We have all heard the proposals to have the Constitution changed so that the popular vote would alone determine the winner. This seems to be the politically correct approach in today’s society. If this were done, the entire concept envisaged by the framers of the country would be lost, and the balance of power in presidential elections would be further shifted to population centers of the country, giving them a greater opportunity to determine the winners in each election.
“The question of controlling the growth and power of any one faction of the delicate checks and balance system was a deep concern of the framers of the Constitution. The term faction to them would be political parties today, like we find in large cities with well controlled patronage armies that usually vote as they are told.
“Madison concluded that the federal government should control the negative effects of factionalism; thus, we have an Electoral College not allowing any part of the republic to becoming overly powerful to injure the structure of the country.”
The above article was actually written 12 years ago, in 2008, as an editorial for the Northwest Indiana Times, yet it still applies today. I wanted to reprint it here for current consideration as a means to encourage public discussion.
In the next few months, the United States will again be plagued with demands to change the Constitution by replacing the Electoral College as the way to elect the President of the United States. In fact, there is a better chance for this to happen now because of the contentious political climate existing in the country.
I would like to ask Lansing residents to give consideration to this narrative and be ready for what is to come.
To become more involved in the election process I would ask you to voice your opinion to Lansing’s US Representative in Congress, Robin Kelly. Before she makes her vote on the question, she should be made aware of what her constituents feel about this important decision.
Congresswoman Kelly has offices in Matteson, Chicago, and Kankakee, as well as Washington DC. Contact information–including office addresses, phone numbers, and email instructions–is available at robinkelly.house.gov/contact.
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