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College daze

As a general rule, most colleges convene in late August or early September. This particular college, which does not convene until November, has no athletic squads, no homecoming queen and no graduation ceremonies. One does not hear a great deal about this college. It almost never makes the news; in fact, many Americans are totally unaware of its existence, never mind its purpose. A joint study by Brandine University and the Helvetica Institute found that 63 percent of Americans think it is a school!

The entity in question is the Electoral College, and it performs one of the most important functions in our particular form of government. It is not a school for politicians, nor is it a place from which candidates graduate. It is the seat of electors and was designed and established by the Founding Fathers to safeguard our system of government and ensure a representative form of government.

Some polls have shown that 62 to 74 percent of Americans think the Electoral College should be abolished. This may be a good place to point out that fortunately, in some cases, the Electoral College does not reflect the popular will. Were that not the case, it is conceivable to imagine Elvis as “the prez” and the Beatles in the Cabinet. (Remember, in a direct democracy, the general population would vote directly for the president of United States.)

Recently there has been an increasing number of calls to abolish what some are calling the “antiquated, outmoded, out-of-date” Electoral College because “it does not accurately reflect the popular will.” There are some people today who inadvertently (and others who deliberately for political purposes) attempt to blur the distinction between a direct democracy, which the United States is not, and a constitutional republic, which the United States is.

Let’s take a quick peek. The 1789 Constitutional Convention proposed the indirect election of a president through a college of electors. These electors were to be chosen by state legislatures. In other words, the election of the president of the United States would, as closely as possible, reflect the desires and dictates of the American people as a whole. In our system of government, the number of representatives each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives is determined by population (one representative for approximately every 600,000 people. The Constitution originally stated one per 30,000). In the Senate, two senators per state, regardless of the size of its population. Each state’s number of electoral votes equals its representatives plus its two senators. (The least populous states like Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming and Washington, D.C., each have three electors.)

According to Amendment X to the Constitution: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited to it by the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

In our republic, a properly registered voting community of legal age citizens (thus far) elects representatives to exercise power on their behalf; “We the people” choose people to represent us!

At the outset, direct election was rejected, not because the framers had doubts about the intelligence of the voting public, but out of concern that people would not have sufficient accurate information to vote for the most qualified candidate. Unlike today, there were no 24-hour news services. Unfortunately, rather than the unbiased free press envisioned by the founders, today we are bombarded with left and right reportage, doctored commercials and suspect information on the Internet. The Founding Fathers felt that a nationwide direct popular vote would cut out the very heart of the federal structure laid out in our Constitution.

Unfortunately, the system has been obfuscated by politicians and the mainstream media – which by its own admission leans left, according to a Lichter-Rothman survey – so most voters have no idea that it is actually the Electoral College, the electors (not the popular vote), that elects the president.

Let me ask you: Have you ever heard of electors (not the electorate)? Do you know who your electors are? Did you vote for them? Do you know where they meet and when? Have you ever thought about becoming one? Know how to begin the process?

It is vitally important that only those people who most closely reflect the desires of the American people, and who are extremely well informed, should be appointed to this critical position of “elector.” Consequently, it is crucial that “we the people” should a) know who our electors are, b) ensure they are the most informed about the respective candidates and c) be satisfied that the president of the United States is our choice, not that of some political party. Tragically, this is not the case today.

The process can vary from state to state, but here are two of the most commonly accepted methods today: 1) As a reward for faithful service to the “party,” an elector can be nominated by the state political party committee, or 2) After a campaign waged by the seeker, a decision can be made by a vote of party regulars at the political party’s state convention.

A direct popular vote would produce a president who would always be elected by the most populous states and/or the one with the biggest campaign fund. What do we really know about the candidates today? Are the media reports seen in newspapers or on television truly unbiased? Are the ads we see factual or designed and edited by professionals to influence us in a specific direction? Have you been influenced because you suddenly saw a negative ad about your candidate? In other words, in the words of Pontius Pilate, “What is truth?”

The wisdom of the Founding Fathers is manifested when we consider the danger inherent in our current process of electing senators and representatives directly. Since senators are no longer appointed by the state legislatures, as they were prior to the 17th Amendment (passed in 1913), and are elected, as are House representatives, by the popular vote, we find ourselves in danger of creating self-fulfilling prophecies of the warnings issued by such as Alexis de Tocqueville when he said, “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.” Benjamin Franklin may have been paraphrasing that when he said, “When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.” A quote attributed to Alexander Tytler is even more specific: “… people will invariably hand over their sovereign responsibility and freedom to the government which promises the most benefits.”

Are these prophecies being fulfilled today, as we see the increasing federal debt ($17.5 trillion) generated, in large measure, by government benefits paid out to the electorate? “Vote for me and I will give unto thee …”

Does all this really matter, and does it ever truly come into play?

Perhaps some of you recall the most recent example: the 2000 presidential election. It involved the popular vote, a Supreme Court decision and the Electoral College. Remember? Al Gore won the popular vote, but of the 538 electoral votes (with one abstention), George Bush collected 271 to Gore’s 266 and, therefore, became the 43rd president of the United States.

It is purported to be an historical fact: When Benjamin Franklin left Independence Hall at the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, he was approached by a woman who asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin is reported to have replied, “A republic, Madame, if you can keep it.”

“… if  you can keep it.”

Can we? What say you?