SHARE
2016 elec­toral map | Wiki­media Commons

When James Madison wrote Fed­er­alist 68, he described the Elec­toral College as “almost the only part of the system, of any con­se­quence, which has escaped without severe censure, or which has received the slightest mark of appro­bation from its oppo­nents.” Now, according to a March 2020 Pew Research Poll, 58% of Amer­icans support a popular vote as the mode of electing the pres­ident. This dra­matic shift in public opinion is due to a sin­ister com­bi­nation of media mis­in­for­mation, par­tisan manip­u­lation, and civic igno­rance. 

Those who wish to do away with the Elec­toral College attack the system for being “unde­mo­c­ratic.” But the framers who gave us this system would never view this alle­gation as a good reason to do away with it, and neither should we. Founding father and second United States Pres­ident John Adams warned us, “There never was a democracy yet, that did not commit suicide.” Madison echoed Adams, calling democracy “the most vile form of gov­ernment.” Indeed, America is not a democracy, it is a republic, and the Elec­toral College is one of the remaining safe­guards that keep it so.

As democracy has become a sort of buzzword for good gov­er­nance, it is worth con­sid­ering why Amer­ica’s founders reviled this form of gov­ernment, and why the Elec­toral College serves as a prac­tical and rel­evant method of avoiding the pit­falls of democracy and majority rule.

The United States was not always united. Under the Articles of Con­fed­er­ation, America essen­tially existed as a group of autonomous, loosely con­nected states with dif­fering forms of gov­ernment, most of which had some form of pure majority rule. Seeing that this system of gov­ernment failed to protect the rights of the indi­viduals in those states, the authors of the Fed­er­alist Papers — Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay — advo­cated for a cen­tralized national gov­ernment as spelled out in the Con­sti­tution they defended. 

Hamilton, Madison, and Jay also under­stood the potential for tyranny in a cen­tralized national gov­ernment, pro­viding bril­liant safe­guards to liberty against both majority and minority rule. These safe­guards take the form of fed­er­alism, sep­a­ration of powers, direct and indirect elec­tions, and bicameral leg­is­lature that rep­re­sents the states both equally and based on pop­u­lation, and of course, the Elec­toral College. 

Without the Elec­toral College, pres­i­dential can­di­dates would face no incentive to appeal to a larger cross section of voters, instead focusing on the interests of elites in pop­ulous cities such as New York and Los Angeles. The needs and interests of regular voters in thinly pop­u­lated rural areas would inevitably be over­looked in favor of majority interests and at the expense of legit­imate minority interests. 

Indeed, Hillary Clinton’s often-dis­cussed win of the national popular vote and loss of the elec­toral vote in 2016 only had her winning one-sixth of the counties in the nation, with the counties she won con­fined mostly to “urban areas on both coasts,” according to the Her­itage Foundation’s Hans Von Spakovsky

Without the Elec­toral College, pres­i­dential can­di­dates would not need to worry about the support of farmers in rural counties, blue-collar steel workers, or small business owners if they could only secure the support of the almost entirely left-leaning big cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Boston, or Chicago. 

While the framers knew America could not exist as an ade­quate gov­erning body for the securing of our rights without a strong national gov­ernment, they admitted that ulti­mately America was a union of states, not a homogenous land mass. Therefore, in seeking to uphold the power of the states, the founders created a system in which Amer­icans who vote for a pres­ident are not pri­marily voting as cit­izens of America, but as cit­izens of their state.

Madison under­stood the threat­ening force that a majority united against the cause of liberty could have. For the framers, majority support was no deter­minant of the validity of a cause. A con­cen­trated majority could easily trample on that of a minority, and vice versa. In Fed­er­alist 10, Madison warns of the dangers of fac­tions which “whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole,” still threaten to infringe on liberty through some “common impulse of passion.”

The founders showed an astounding amount of fore­sight in choosing our method of electing the pres­ident. These men under­stood how coali­tions of elites could band together to oppress regular people — and they under­stood that regardless of whether these oppressors rep­re­sented a majority or a minority of the people, they could threaten liberty.

The Elec­toral College stands as one of the last remaining safe­guards to our liberty as Amer­icans. While radical forces decide what is “polit­i­cally correct” every five minutes, our pres­i­dential can­di­dates are forced to reckon, at least to an extent, with the interests of everyday Amer­icans. We have the Elec­toral College to thank for that. It may not be a perfect system, and we still must remain vig­ilant pro­tectors of our own and our fellow cit­izens’ liberty, but we would do away with the Elec­toral College at our own peril. 

The question of whether or not to scrap the Elec­toral College is a question of choosing democracy or liberty. Common sense and a love for America support our choosing the latter.

 

Sarah Weaver is pur­suing a master’s degree in the Van Andel Graduate School of States­manship.