Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Hamilton and the Electoral College: Independent Electors, or an Alternative Counting System?

It is quite true that, from the point of view of the Constitution which determines how these things go, Trump is legitimately President despite getting less popular votes than Hillary. But if you buy the argument that we are a Republic and not a Democracy, and that is why we have the Electoral College, then you would have to accept Hamilton's justification for the EC, which is that people can't really be expected to vote directly for the President, (since they may be unfamiliar with the candidates, which was often the case in the early days before communication improved), but should instead trust the decision of the President to electors more familiar to them than the candidates whose judgment they could trust. Hamilton described electors in this way: 
"...men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice." 
But nowadays, we know all about the candidates and nothing about the electors, and the allegiances of the electors is guaranteed by the political parties to which they are affiliated. Although electors occasionally "go rogue," their votes are signed, sealed and delivered to the candidate whose party selected them.  The idea of Republic v. Democracy is that we select representatives to vote for President who have an independent voice. But they don't. They are the hacks of political parties. 
What the electoral college creates is an alternative counting system which favors citizens of smaller states over citizens of larger states. But that is not the original concept of the Electoral College. Hamilton would not recognize his creation if were to come back today. 
Is there any good reason to have an alternative counting system? I have my doubts. 

4 comments:

bmiller said...

@Victor,

Wasn't the electoral college put in place to mitigate the historical (and empirical) complaints against democracy?

In a particular election some partisans may view the representatives in the electoral college as merely hacks but partisans of the other side see it as the orderly change of power in a developed nation. Roles may reverse the next election cycle.

Is the "some partisans may view the representatives in the electoral college as merely hacks" proportion growing on both sides? Could make for interesting times.


Joe Hinman said...

I don't want to deg out my copy of the Federalist papers but it was to stop demagogues fro being chosen by the ignorant basses, Empirically it does not work.

Victor Reppert said...

The original intent of the electoral college was to give an additional layer of independent judgment into the process. We don't directly write laws in our Federal Government (although we have ballot initiatives in Arizona), but we elect representatives to write laws. By the same token, electing a President was not something that Hamilton thought individual voters were capable of. With no mass communication, he thought people outside the major metropolises (which was a more significant percentage of the population than it is now), might not know enough about the candidates, but might know who their electors were, and could trust them with the decision on the President. In the beginning we didn't even have the President and the Vice President on the same ticket.

Now, we all know the names of the Presidential candidates, but know few if any of our electors. Occasionally electors don't vote for who they are supposed to vote for, but that is actually illegal in many states, and electors put themselves at risk when they do that, since it's not a secret ballot.

The College is supposed to stop demagogues, but, to my mind, it had the exact opposite effect in 2016.

bmiller said...

So you would be in favor of the electoral college if the members voted differently than the people they represented and the election turned out differently?