Someone buy these folks a civics textbook and maybe a Cliff Notes version of the Federalist Papers.
Yes, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by about 3 million more votes than Donald Trump, but she lost the Electoral College vote by 306 to 232. That is because the Electoral College is made up of 538 members — one for each senator and representative from each state, plus the District of Columbia. (Look at it another way. Clinton won California by 4 million votes, but Trump won the combined popular vote in the 49 other states.)
This has prompted a number of people to call, again, for the abolishment of the Electoral College, which gives smaller states like Nevada, Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas and the like a disproportionate say in the presidential election, just as James Madison and the other Founders intended. They were looking for a compromise between the unitary government of England, in which all decisions flowed from the central government, and the Articles of Confederation that dispersed nearly all decisions to the states, weakening interstate commerce and a strong national defense posture.
They settled on a Federalist system that granted enumerated powers to the people and the sovereign state governments, as well as the federal government.
Alexander Hamilton put it this way in Federalist Paper No. 68: “It was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder. This evil was not least to be dreaded in the election of a magistrate, who was to have so important an agency in the administration of the government as the President of the United States. But the precautions which have been so happily concerted in the system under consideration, promise an effectual security against this mischief. The choice of SEVERAL, to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of ONE who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes. And as the electors, chosen in each State, are to assemble and vote in the State in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation will expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people, than if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place. Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption.”
Despite this precaution, the electors were in fact subject to a flood of phone calls, emails and social media diatribes.
Joining this cacophony of voices wailing and moaning about the undemocratic nature of the Electoral College was Nevada’s own senior Sen. Harry Reid, who is retiring in less than a month after three decades representing tiny Nevada in the U.S. Senate and more than a decade as Senate Democratic leader.
In an interview with Buzzfeed, Reid called the Electoral College “very undemocratic.”
“I believe that focusing on the Electoral College is important no matter how you do it, because what’s happened this decade, these last several elections, where we have clearly two elections, the Gore election and this election. In this election Hillary Clinton will wind up getting almost 3 million votes more than Trump. It’s time the system goes away. It is very undemocratic,” Reid said. “And we have a number of states that have taken care of this. It doesn’t have to be done with a constitutional amendment. And I think people should join together and get rid of this. It is unfair that presidential elections are focused on seven states. It’s wrong.”
Perhaps, someone should remind Sen. Reid that the Senate itself was created to provide all states with an equal number of representatives in the upper chamber — very undemocratic, indeed, just like the Electoral College. Both were created precisely to be undemocratic and protect the rights of the minorities and smaller states.
In Federalist Paper No. 62 either Hamilton or Madison, not sure which, stated, “The equality of representation in the Senate is another point, which, being evidently the result of compromise between the opposite pretensions of the large and the small States, does not call for much discussion. If indeed it be right, that among a people thoroughly incorporated into one nation, every district ought to have a PROPORTIONAL share in the government, and that among independent and sovereign States, bound together by a simple league, the parties, however unequal in size, ought to have an EQUAL share in the common councils …”
Federalism, not democracy.
Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at email@example.com. He also blogs at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/.