The controversy surrounding this year’s presidential election has led
to calls to abandon the Constitution’s Article II provisions for the
Electoral College to select presidents. Despite the fact the system has
served us well for over 200 years, many Americans now call for its
abandonment in favor of electing presidents by popular vote. Before we
do this, let’s consider the function it performs.
California, Ohio, Texas, New York, New Jersey, Florida, Illinois,
Pennsylvania and Michigan can boast a combined population of 137
million. That’s slightly more than half our 272 million national
population. It’s therefore conceivable that just nine states could
determine the presidency in a popular vote. The Electoral College gives
states with small populations a measure of protection against domination
by states with large populations. That’s because the nine
high-population states have a total of 243 Electoral College votes, but
270 are needed to win the presidency.
Compare Wyoming to California. California’s population is over 33
million, while Wyoming’s is 480,000. Thus, California has 69 times more
people than Wyoming. California has 54 Electoral College votes (since it
has 52 congressmen and two senators), while Wyoming has three votes. In
terms of the Electoral College, California has only 18 times as many
votes as Wyoming. The Electoral College forces presidential candidates
to appeal to voters in states with small populations.
The Constitution’s Framers feared tyranny of the majority. That’s why
there’s an Electoral College — plus, even though California’s
population is 69 times that of Wyoming’s, both states have two senators.
Despite public consensus, there’s nothing inherently just or fair
about majority rule. In fact, one of the primary dangers of majority
rule is that it confers an aura of legitimacy and respectability on acts
that would otherwise be deemed tyrannical. Ask yourself what day-to-day
decisions would you like to be decided by majority rule? What about
where you live, for whom you work, what kind of car you drive, what
clothing you wear, what woman you marry?
You say, “Williams, those decisions are nobody else’s business but
mine. What’s more, those are issues that don’t belong in the political
arena anyway!” You’re right. Plus, we’d all agree that it would be
nothing short of tyranny if where you could live and whom you could
marry was decided by majority rule.
What if the decision whether to enslave a group of people were made
through a popular vote instead of a dictatorship? Wouldn’t you say that
it was tyranny nonetheless? Instead of enslave, we could easily
substitute the words rape, murder, rob and torture, and reach the same
conclusion. Those examples are extreme and unlikely in the United
States, but the principle is just as applicable on questions like:
Should a popular vote decide how much of my weekly salary is set aside
for retirement, or how much is set aside for housing, clothing, food and
entertainment? If a popular vote decided these questions, there’s still
tyranny, but of a lesser degree.
Americans should read the wise words of James Madison in Federalist
Paper No. 10. There’s no clearer statement that the framers fashioned a
republic and not a pure democracy. Our Constitution set limits on not
only the power of the three branches of the federal government, it also
set limits on the arbitrary will of the people that might be expressed
through a majority vote.
Madison said, “Measures are too often decided, not according to the
rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior
force of an interested and overbearing majority.” And he’s right.