Whoever would effect change in modern constitutional government must first educate his fellow citizens to want some change. That done he must persuade them to want the particular change he wants. He must first make public opinion willing to listen and then see to it that it listens to the right things. He must stir it up to search for an opinion, and then manage to put the right opinion in its way. Woodrow Wilson
Progressive efforts to “fundamentally transform” our system of government have picked up speed recently. Massachusetts is one of several states that has approved a new law intended to bypass the Electoral College system and ensure that the winner of the presidential election is determined by the national popular vote.
The Founding Fathers never intended that presidents be elected by popular vote. In fact, neither did they intend popular election for Senators. The 17th Amendment established the direct election of Senators and was also initiated by the Progressives and enacted during Woodrow Wilson’s first term.
As detailed in an earlier post, the Founders were concerned about the tyranny of the majority as much as that of a king.
[U]nbridled majorities are as tyrannical and cruel as unlimited despots. John Adams
It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure. James Madison Federalist 51.
The issues that forced the compromises of the Virginia Plan are still relevant today. At the time, smaller states were concerned that they would be steam-rolled by the bigger states. Because of the Electoral College, a candidate cannot be elected by simply winning in big urban population centers. The use of the Electoral College for the election of the executive branch was designed to maintain the federal character of the government and protect the rights of the minority. Then as now, it is a shield against direct democracy and the domination of large population centers.
The electoral process is not as complicated as we are led to believe. Each state chooses its electors, the number of which matches the number of representatives and senators for the state. Generally, the electors are appointed on a winner take all basis depending on the outcome of a popular vote for the ticket. Thus, for example, if a state has 5 representatives (and 2 senators), and the popular vote is for the Republican ticket, its 7 electoral votes are cast for the Republican candidate.. The winning candidate must receive an absolute majority of electoral votes to win – 270 of 538 (Washington D.C. has 3 electors). This guarantees that each state’s support is directed to the candidate popularly chosen by that state.
All of the mechanisms for installing the three branches of government were put in place in an effort to maintain the separation of powers – checks and balances. The Founders specified that only the House was popularly elected, the Senate chosen by state legislatures, the President by the Electoral College and the judicial branch through collaboration between the President and the Senate. Concern about a popularly elected President undermining the legitimacy of the other branches was a big part of the reason why the Electoral College was designed.
Once Massachusetts Democratic Governor Deval Patrick signs the bill (and he is expected to do so), Massachusetts will join New Jersey, Hawaii, Maryland, and Washington, states which have already approved similar legislation.
According to a recent article at boston.com:
Supporters are campaigning, state by state, to get such bills enacted. Once states accounting for a majority of the electoral votes (or 270 of 538) have enacted the laws, the candidate winning the most votes nationally would be assured a majority of Electoral College votes. That would hold true no matter how the other states vote and how their electoral votes are distributed.
Opponents say the current system works. They are concerned about a possible scenario where Candidate X wins nationally, but Candidate Y has won in Massachusetts. In that case, all of the state’s 12 electoral votes would go to Candidate X, the candidate who was not supported by Massachusetts voters.
The public may not understand the importance of the Electoral College in preserving the system the Founders put in place and the liberties it protects.. That works to the advantage of those in favor of abrogating it. There are many reasons for preserving the Electoral College put forth in the Constitutional debates, but perhaps the most important one is that it maintains the federal characteristics of our system of government.
In Federalist 39, Madison explains that the Constitution lays out a mixed system of federal and national character:
The next relation is, to the sources from which the ordinary powers of government are to be derived. The House of Representatives will derive its powers from the people of America; and the people will be represented in the same proportion, and on the same principle, as they are in the legislature of a particular State. So far the government is national, not federal. The Senate, on the other hand, will derive its powers from the States, as political and coequal societies; and these will be represented on the principle of equality in the Senate, as they now are in the existing Congress. So far the government is federal, not national. The executive power will be derived from a very compound source. The immediate election of the President is to be made by the States in their political characters. The votes allotted to them are in a compound ratio, which considers them partly as distinct and coequal societies, partly as unequal members of the same society. The eventual election, again, is to be made by that branch of the legislature which consists of the national representatives; but in this particular act they are to be thrown into the form of individual delegations, from so many distinct and coequal bodies politic. From this aspect of the government it appears to be of a mixed character, presenting at least as many federal as national features.
In Federalist 10, he explains the dangers of majority rule. The word of his time was “faction,” disparities of opinion among individuals, Madison points out the inevitability of “factions” forming around different issues. He goes on to illustrate how republican government protects everyone from the evils of factions – on the one hand preventing a minority from gaining control as would a democratic system, and on the other, preventing the tyranny of a majority.
… it may be concluded that a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.
The Electoral College is an essential part of a carefully constructed system intended to maximize liberty. It was designed to assure that each state’s choice for the presidency is represented. To replace the Electoral College with a nationwide popular election for president would fatally weaken the federal structure provided by the Constitution. The result would be the nationalization of the central government that the Founders sought to protect us from. To tamper with the balance of powers so carefully constructed by the Founders, of which the Electoral College is part, is to alter the essential nature of our government.
Like Wilson, today’s Progressives are all about consolidating power. At best they are convinced that they know better than the Founders and at worst they intend to “fundamentally transform” the country… by hook or by crook.
Massachusetts Senate Minority Leader, Richard Tisei, an opponent of the law, summed things up quite succinctly: “This is sort of an end run around the Constitution.”