‘Sense of the people’? Indeed, the Electoral College Still Works
“It was desirable that the sense of the people should operate in the choice of the person to whom so important a trust was to be confided,” writes Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 68, the paper known for discussing “The Mode of Electing Presidents.”
Yet the Founders likely never anticipated Donald Trump – or Hillary Clinton, for that matter.
Since the election of Trump, calls to end the Electoral College have been on display in everything from opinion pieces, online petitions to protests in the streets. In addition, aggressive actions toward electors themselves have been exhibited.
For example, elector Michael Banerian of Michigan was lobbied and threatened with death, according to The Detroit News.
The Michigan Republican Party told the newspaper that Trump opponents “have deluged Banerian and other GOP electors with pleas and nasty emails to reverse course and cast their ballots for Clinton.”
“You have people saying, ‘You’re a hateful bigot. I hope you die,’” Banerian said, according to the newspaper. “I’ve had people talk about shoving a gun in my mouth and blowing my brains out.”
This is not what our Founders had in mind.
They chose the very nuanced approach of an electoral college, in lieu of direct election by the people or election by the legislature or election by convention. This was to ensure that all parties – specifically the people and the sovereign states – had a role in choosing the person who would be “chief magistrate” of our country. And that the president would not be beholden to special interests, such as a state, a faction or a foreign power.
The Electoral College is a “one-hit wonder.” We elect them once every four years by state. When we vote for the president, we are voting for their – the candidate’s – electors who are generally people of character and longstanding loyalty to the political party of their choice and candidate.
These individuals who have been elected will then go to their state capitol in December and officially cast their ballots for president. Once that happens, the deed is done and the elector is no longer relevant.
With very few exceptions, this process for more than two centuries has provided us with, in general, superb leaders. Simultaneously, we have also ensured the states in our federal system are provided the necessary standing in selecting the leader of our entire country.
While Clinton did win the popular vote by less than 1 percent, it is looking, as of this writing, increasingly likely that Michigan’s sixteen electoral votes will be won for Trump. That would give him an impressive final total of 306-232, carrying 30 of the states. The ratio by Electoral College and states won is effectively three to two.
When you continue to remember that ours is a federal system of government, you begin to understand just what an impressive victory – and mandate – the Republican has achieved in a vote he was supposedly losing by most polls and media accounts.
Another point to consider in the calculus of the founders is the caliber of individual who would be able to navigate the nuances of the Electoral College. Hamilton wrote that the process would give us a qualified president of “ability and virtue.” And that this same person might possibly utilize the “little arts of popularity” to perhaps win a state or two, but that it would require much more gravitas to win the confidence of the entire country.
When you look at the final vote totals in New York and California, you begin to understand just how regional Clinton’s popularity was this election: eighteen percent of her entire vote came from just those two.
However, I think it is probably safe to say that Hamilton had thoughts of George Washington and John Adams when he wrote “Federalist No. 68” 228 years ago and did not consider that the American people would be faced with the choice of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Say what you will about Trump’s character. He still did what a president-elect is supposed to do in our system: address concerns on a scale that had national appeal. Certainly, his wins from Florida to Pennsylvania to Wisconsin to Arizona do not represent a “one size fits all” approach.
Trump is the leader of a broad cross-section of Americans, which is precisely what the Founders were looking for. But I’m pretty sure no one saw this coming, except for Washington who warned us of political parties – an arrangement not designed by our Constitution.
The irony is that despite the angst coming today from national popular vote proponents, the Electoral College system was one of the least controversial elements originally debated in the creation of our Constitution. And, as a matter of principle, the system was devised particularly so that the people would have a say in electing their president.
The people did have their say. The Electoral College still works. As does America. God help us.
This column was written for The Princess Anne Independent News and will appear in the Nov. 25 edition.