I know I’ll be celebrating a big anniversary this Saturday. It is the 115th anniversary of the 12th Amendment, which established the Electoral College, one of the major accomplishments of the Founding Fathers.
At the Constitutional Convention, Article 2, Section 1 provided for Electoral College electors to submit single ballots with two names, but no designation of president and vice president. In 1796, the system yielded a president from one party (John Adams) and a vice president from another (Thomas Jefferson). The 12th Amendment designated that separate ballots were to be used for president and vice president.
The Electoral College, from the very beginning, has had tremendous support. In fact, Alexander Hamilton, currently the most celebrated Founding Father of our time, is credited with writing Federalist Paper No. 68 in support of the Electoral College. He wrote, “I venture somewhat further, and hesitate not to affirm, that if the manner of it be not perfect, it is at least excellent, it unites in an eminent degree all the advantages, the union of which was to be wished for.”
It’s obvious to me that recent attacks on the Electoral College have been triggered by Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential race. She won the popular vote by about 2.87 million, but garnered 227 electoral votes to Trump’s 304. These attacks on the Electoral College have helped to add energy to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. This compact says that the states involved will award their electoral votes to the candidate who gets the most popular votes in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. So far, 14 states and the District of Columbia have signed on, and five or six more are getting close, with Pennsylvania a key target. Their challenge is to reach 270 electoral votes and to survive court challenges.
What if they succeed and they cancel out the Electoral College? Trent England, writing in USA Today, says that rural and small-town Americans would become serfs. I love that summation because, as England points out, rural America produces almost all of America’s food, as well as raw materials. He also points out the same Americans produce most of our energy. You know about fossil-fuel production, but Drew Bond, writing at realclearenergy.org, points out that the rural states are producing the lion’s share of alternative energies. “The numbers tell the story — Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, and Kansas have some of the highest installed wind capacity in the nation, while North Carolina has more than double the solar capacity of New York,” he wrote.
These producers should have a good deal of say in our government. In 2016′s presidential race, Clinton dominated California, New York, New England, the West Coast, and some big cities, but she lost almost everywhere else. The Electoral College requires not just piling up raw votes, but also geographical balance to win the presidency.
The Electoral College helps to provide real diversity. It requires appealing to voters in middle America, in addition to people on both coasts. It requires campaigning in a wide swath of America rather than camping out in big population centers.
The Electoral College also reinforces the central tenet that this country is not a democracy but rather a republic. As Jon Gabriel wrote in the Arizona Republic, “James Madison said democracies are ‘incompatible with personal security or the rights of property and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.’”
It’s clear that’s why America was set up as a republic with emphasis on a system of checks and balances.
Speaking of these checks and balances, the Electoral College in a close election like the presidential election of 2000 helps to ensure an easier chance at a recount. Imagine the horrors of a national recount.
Even with all the controversy and misinformation around the results of the 2016 election, it appears that some national Democratic figures are at least giving lip service to the notion that the party’s nominee must appeal to flyover country and rural America.
So, I hope more people will celebrate the 12th Amendment with me this Saturday. Also, with the smash hit Hamilton coming to town soon, besides celebrating Hamilton as an outsider who made to the top, don’t forget his eloquent and impassioned defense of the Electoral College.