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Hillary Clinton blamed the electoral college for her stunning defeat in the 2016 presidential election in her latest memoir What Happened? Some have claimed that the electoral college is one of the most dangerous institutions in American politics. Why? They say the electoral college system, as opposed to a simple majority vote, distorts the one-person, one-vote principle of democracy because electoral votes are not distributed according to population.

To back up their claim, they point out that the electoral college gives, for example, Wyoming citizens disproportionate weight in a presidential election. Put another way, Wyoming, a state with a population of about 600,000, has one member in the U.S. House of Representatives and two members in the U.S. Senate, which gives the citizens of Wyoming three electoral votes, or one electoral vote per 200,000 people. California, our most populous state, has more than 39 million people and 55 electoral votes, or approximately one vote per 715,000 people. Comparatively, individuals in Wyoming have nearly four times the power in the electoral college as Californians.

Many people whine that using the electoral college instead of the popular vote and majority rule is undemocratic. I'd say they are absolutely right. Not deciding who will be the president by majority rule is not democracy. But the Founding Fathers went to great lengths to ensure that we were a republic and not a democracy. In fact, the word "democracy" does not appear in the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, or any other of our founding documents.

How about a few quotations expressed by the Founders about democracy? In Federalist Paper No. 10, James Madison wanted to prevent rule by majority faction, saying, "Measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority." John Adams warned in a letter, "Remember Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There never was a Democracy Yet, that did not commit suicide." Edmund Randolph said, "That in tracing these evils to their origin, every man had found it in the turbulence and follies of democracy." Then-Chief Justice John Marshall observed, "Between a balanced republic and a democracy, the difference is like that between order and chaos."

The Founders expressed contempt for the tyranny of majority rule. Throughout our Constitution they placed impediments to that tyranny. Two houses of Congress pose one obstacle to majority rule. That is, 51 senators can block the wishes of 435 representatives and 49 senators. The president can veto the wishes of 535 members of Congress. It takes two-thirds of both houses of Congress to override a presidential veto.

To change the Constitution requires not a majority but a two-thirds vote of both houses, and if an amendment is approved, it requires ratification by three-fourths of state legislatures. Finally, the electoral college is yet another measure that thwarts majority rule. It makes sure that the highly populated states--today, mainly 12 on the east and west coasts-- cannot run roughshod over the rest of the nation. That forces a presidential candidate to take into consideration the wishes of the other 38 states.

Those Americans obsessed with rule by popular majorities might want to get rid of the U.S. Senate, where states, regardless of population, have two senators. Should we change representation in the House of Representatives to a system of proportional representation and eliminate the guarantee that each state gets at least one representative? Currently, seven states with populations of 1 million or fewer have one representative, thus giving them disproportionate influence in Congress. While we're at it, should we make all congressional acts be majority rule? When we're finished with establishing majority rule in Congress, should we then move to change our court system, which requires unanimity in jury decisions, to a simple majority rule?

My question is: Is it ignorance of or contempt for our Constitution that fuels the movement to abolish the electoral college?


Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.

Editorial on 01/18/2018

Print Headline: Constitutional ignorance

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  • hah406
    January 18, 2018 at 8:46 a.m.

    The founding fathers were absolutely correct about the tyranny and folly of majority rule. Getting rid of the electoral college would be unwise. However, as populations have shifted and changed, perhaps it is time to re-formulate and bring a bit more balance to the proceedings. An electoral college vote in Wyoming should not carry four times the weight that one in California does. Yes, it will and should always carry more, but perhaps four times more is excessive and misrepresents the will of the people?

    January 18, 2018 at 10:23 a.m.

    Walter Williams asks a question at the end of his article: "Is it ignorance of or contempt for our Constitution that fuels the movement to abolish the electoral college?" The answer is simple: BOTH. Generally speaking, our Public Schools have failed its students -- our children -- for nearly five decades through a faulty philosophy of education. Our institutions of higher learning have and are failing their students via liberal professors. Therefore, the general public has been "dumbed-down" to the point that they "accept" any lie coming out of the mouth of any liberal, progressive, Democrat, RINO, politician, Justice, Judge, and/or Lawyer. WAKE UP, AMERICA! The "frog-of-FREEDOM" has been slowly boiled in the "waters-of-liberalism" for decades; and "we-the-people" are responsible for this tragedy for allowing it to have occurred. There's a "new-water" beginning to boil in this country, and masses are beginning to wake-up. It's NOT too late to restore America to its intended purpose. STAND-UP and let your voice be heard. Thank you, Walter Williams, for this fantastic article.

  • Dontsufferfools
    January 18, 2018 at 10:55 a.m.

    How does giving Wyoming residents and residents of low population states in general a 4-1 weighting in presidential voting make the U.S. less tyrannical? It doesn't. It's a phony argument. Voters in N.Y. and California aren't any more or less tyrannical than voters in the Dakotas. Historians say the founding fathers weren't weighing tyranny when they set up the electoral college system. They worried that in presidential elections, candidates would simply ignore low-population areas and focus on where most of the votes were, so they gave the low-pop states a way to attract candidates. Back then, traveling to the hinterlands to campaign was a major undertaking. This isn't working today because of our bright red-blue division and isn't necessary because of air travel. Candidates can fly in and out of several states in one day, if they wish. But presidential candidates spend little time in the Dakotas and Wyoming, both reliably red, and spend all their time and money in the handful of swing states. Terrible argument by Mr. Williams, deceptive even.

  • Slak
    January 18, 2018 at 11:48 a.m.

    Sufferin' Fool demonstrates the answer is Ignorance, at least for the class of proglibs known as the so-called "useful idiots".
    As for the elitist cabal which leads the proglib insurgency, it is most certainly contempt. For these traitors, any means justifies the ends.

  • mozarky2
    January 18, 2018 at 1:06 p.m.

    With a name like Dontsufferfools, it makes you wonder how he lives with himself...

  • WhododueDiligence
    January 18, 2018 at 1:18 p.m.

    As Williams points out, the founders were opposed to direct democracy and its associated rule by majority. However, they were also opposed to ruling-class aristocracy through birthright and also vehemently opposed to rule by monarchy. Democracy is generally not defined as Athenian-style direct democracy. It's usually defined as representative democracy in which citizens vote for their representatives and are otherwise given rights to participate in the political process. The fact that the founders designed a republic doesn't prevent the USA from also being an example of a representative democracy.
    In his argument that the USA is a republic and not a democracy (an often-stated argument from the extreme right), Williams conveniently ignores the fact that the Constitution begins with "We the People," which strongly suggests a degree of democratic process. Article 1, Section 4 gives power to the states to determine how their US representatives are elected, which also allows implementation to some degree of the democratic process. Williams presents his argument as an either/or choice. But it's a false choice--an either/or fallacy--because the founders designed a government which can be legitimately referred to as both a republic and a representative democracy.
    Williams' last question is also an either/or fallacy. The answer doesn't have to be either. As brettell pointed out, the answer can be both. The answer also can be neither. It's a complex issue, and it's likely that many people who oppose the electoral college are neither ignorant nor contemptuous of our Constitution. I happen to agree with Williams that the electoral college should not be abolished, but the way Williams presents that question, in the all-too common political form of an either/or fallacy, is objectionable.

  • TimberTopper
    January 18, 2018 at 2:16 p.m.

    WhoDo, excellent points! My thought is Gerrymandering does much more harm to our nation.

  • Delta123
    January 18, 2018 at 2:32 p.m.

    "Gerrymandering" is only seen as harmful if you think members of your tribe are put at a disadvantage as a result. It's also a great excuse for trying to explain away why your candidate got beat. It can't be my candidate and what they stand for, it has to be because of Gerrymandering.

  • Dontsufferfools
    January 18, 2018 at 2:42 p.m.

    It's always a victory when one's detractors answer your argument with schoolyard insults.
    Williams got his history and his logic wrong in this instance. Point made. Case one. Russian trolls can writhe and whimper, but the truth will out.

  • Slak
    January 18, 2018 at 2:46 p.m.

    Case one (sic).
    ---for amigoo