Eliminate the Electoral College? The coming tyranny of the majority.

Many states are currently working to eliminate the electoral college and replace it with a straight democratic election of the President. This articles sums up the situation nicely.

Instead of writing new material here, I will quote from my own book, The Path to Tyranny.

On the benefits of the electoral college:

The Founding Fathers saw the benefits of keeping the three branches of government as independent of each other as possible. They therefore created the electoral college to choose the President. Instead of directly electing the President with majority rule or allowing Congress to select the President, each state held a number of “electoral votes” equal to its number of House and Senate seats. Originally, the candidate with the most votes became President and the person with the second most votes became Vice President. After the election of 1800, when no candidate received a majority and it took the House thirty-six ballots to elect Thomas Jefferson, the Twelfth Amendment altered the system so that votes for President and Vice President would be separate. Also in the original system, the electors were chosen by the states and those electors then decided which candidate to vote for. But the people began demanding that the electors vote for a specific candidate, so now the people vote for a Presidential candidate and the electors from each state are pledged to vote for that candidate. This system makes the President totally independent of Congress because they have no say in his election, except in the rare situation in which no person receives a majority of electoral votes, which last occurred in 1824. Additionally, because a candidate becomes President by winning the most electoral votes, even if he does not win a majority of the popular vote, he is somewhat independent of the people, as well. In this way, the President represents the entire country and not Congress, a single state or region, or even the majority of people over the minority.

Replacing the electoral college with a more democratic system is exactly what the Founders hoped to avoid. The Founders created a republic, but we’ve been becoming more democratic with time thanks to the increasing use of ballot initiatives at the state and local levels and with passage of the Seventeenth Amendment, ratified in 1913, providing for the direct election of Senators.

Here are some quotes from The Path to Tyranny warning about the evils of democracy:

  • Aristotle calls democracy a perversion of constitutional government in the interest of the needy.[Aristotle, Politics Book 3 Part 7.] In ancient Greece, this democracy often led to tyranny, not just of the majority, but also to tyranny of a single ruler chosen by the majority to lead them.
  • “Now the first of these to come into being is monarchy, its growth being natural and unaided; and next arises kingship derived from monarchy by the aid of art and by the correction of defects. Monarchy first changes into its vicious allied form, tyranny; and next, the abolishment of both gives birth to aristocracy. Aristocracy by its very nature degenerates into oligarchy; and when the commons inflamed by anger take vengeance on this government for its unjust rule, democracy comes into being; and in due course the licence and lawlessness of this form of government produces mob-rule to complete the series.” [Polybius, The Histories 6.4.7-13.]
  • The key, therefore, to maintaining peace, prosperity, freedom, and stable government is to create a system balancing monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, each with checks on the other two. But as power was being distributed downward to the people, Polybius warned that giving the people too much power would result in mob rule followed by a new tyranny: “And hence when by their foolish thirst for reputation they have created among the masses an appetite for gifts and the habit of receiving them, democracy in its turn is abolished and changes into a rule of force and violence. For the people, having grown accustomed to feed at the expense of others and to depend for their livelihood on the property of others, as soon as they find a leader who is enterprising but is excluded from the houses of office by his penury, institute the rule of violence; and now uniting their forces massacre, banish, and plunder, until they degenerate again into perfect savages and find once more a master and monarch.”[Polybius, The Histories 6.9.7-9.]
  • The term “tyranny of the majority” originated with Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America. (Tocqueville, Democracy in America 292.) However, Polybius, the Greek historian who lived from 203-120 BC, used the expression “cheirokratia,” loosely translated as “mob rule,” to describe this unlimited direct democracy, arguing that mob rule was a result of “the licence and lawlessness” of democracy. (Polybius, Histories 6.4.9.)
  • This second principle is in many ways a contradiction of his first principle. The first includes “all to rule and be ruled in turn” whereas the second is “to be ruled by none.” The first says “the majority must be supreme” whereas second says “a man should live as he likes.” The first principle leads to the tyranny of the majority whereas the second results in anarchy. It is only by balancing the two principles that a free society can be maintained without falling into tyranny or anarchy.
  • Plato warned about the evils of democracy from its birth to its death. He argues that, from the start, democracy involves killing and exiling its enemies. “And a democracy, I suppose, comes into being when the poor, winning the victory, put to death some of the other party, drive out others, and grant the rest of the citizens an equal share in both citizenship and offices.”[Plato, Republic 557a.]
  • The result of this democratic uprising, Plato argues, is anarchy, mockingly calling democracy “a delightful form of government, anarchic and motley, assigning a kind of equality indiscriminately to equals and unequals alike!”[Plato, Republic 558c.] But he contends that the end of democracy is tyranny as demagogues prey on the people’s lust for wealth. “Well, then, the insatiate lust for wealth and the neglect of everything else for the sake of money-making was the cause of its undoing.”[Plato, Republic 562b.] Plato insists that this “climax of popular liberty… is attained in such a city when the purchased slaves, male and female, are no less free than the owners who paid for them.”[Plato, Republic 563b.] “And so the probable outcome of too much freedom is only too much slavery in the individual and the state… from the height of liberty, I take it, the fiercest extreme of servitude.”[Plato, Republic 564a.]
  • The desire for more democracy and larger, more centralized government has turned what once was a laissez-faire representative government into a large interventionist government.
  • The United States was fortunate that its Founding Fathers were so well versed in political philosophy and history. They understood that they had to design a system with checks and balances between the different branches of government and between the states and federal government. They knew that both centralized power and unfettered democracy led to tyranny and hoped to limit the power of government. At the Constitutional Convention, Alexander Hamilton said, “We are a Republican Government. Real liberty is never found in despotism or in the extremes of Democracy.”
  • More than two thousand years ago, the Greeks and Romans wrote about the evils of democracy, as did the Founding Fathers just two hundred years ago. James Madison writes in Federalist No. 10, “Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found 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.” Nevertheless, Americans have ignored these warnings and history’s examples. Since the adoption of the Constitution, the United States has trended toward more democracy, exemplified by the direct election of Senators and increased use of referendum and initiative. One effect of this democracy has been the growing demand for the government to provide for the people.
  • The Founding Fathers warned about the evils of democracy. Today the politicians and special interest groups use propositions to trick the voters into constantly growing government. We have to rid ourselves of the democracy in our midst and return to our republican roots.
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5 responses to “Eliminate the Electoral College? The coming tyranny of the majority.

  1. The Founding Fathers only said in the U.S. Constitution about presidential elections (only after debating among 60 ballots for choosing a method): “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors . . .” The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the state legislatures over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as “plenary” and “exclusive.”

    There is no valid argument that the winner-take-all rule is entitled to any special deference based on history or the historical meaning of the words in the U.S. Constitution. The current 48 state-by-state winner-take-all rule (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in a particular state) is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, the debates of the Constitutional Convention, or the Federalist Papers. The actions taken by the Founding Fathers make it clear that they never gave their imprimatur to the winner-take-all rule.

    The constitutional wording does not encourage, discourage, require, or prohibit the use of any particular method for awarding the state’s electoral votes.

    As a result of changes in state laws enacted since 1789, the people have the right to vote for presidential electors in 100% of the states, there are no property requirements for voting in any state, and the state-by-state winner-take-all rule is used by 48 of the 50 states. Maine and Nebraska currently award electoral votes by congressional district.

    • “The current 48 state-by-state winner-take-all rule (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in a particular state) is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, the debates of the Constitutional Convention, or the Federalist Papers.”

      I never said that a winner-take-all system would be unconstitutional. Just that it would be democratic and the Founders opposed democracy.

      If the Founders had wanted a direct election of President, they could have easily created one. Instead, they created this complicated system exactly to prevent direct election AND to prevent election by the Senate as Hamilton clearly describes in Federalist #68.

  2. A “republican” form of government means that the voters do not make laws themselves but, instead, delegate the job to periodically elected officials (Congressmen, Senators, and the President). The United States has a “republican” form of government regardless of whether popular votes for presidential electors are tallied at the state-level (as has been the case in 48 states) or at district-level (as has been the case in Maine and Nebraska) or at 50-state-level (as under the National Popular Vote bill).

    In 1789, in the nation’s first election, the people had no vote for President in most states, Only men who owned a substantial amount of property could vote. Later, state laws gave the people the right to vote for President in all 50 states.

    The National Popular Vote bill would end the disproportionate attention and influence of the “mob” in a handful of closely divided battleground states, such as Florida, while the “mobs” of the vast majority of states are ignored. 98% of the 2008 campaign events involving a presidential or vice-presidential candidate occurred in just 15 closely divided “battleground” states. Over half (57%) of the events were in just four states (Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia). Similarly, 98% of ad spending took place in these 15 “battleground” states.

    The current system does not provide some kind of check on the “mobs.” There have been 22,000 electoral votes cast since presidential elections became competitive (in 1796), and only 10 have been cast for someone other than the candidate nominated by the elector’s own political party. The electors are dedicated party activists of the winning party who meet briefly in mid-December to cast their totally predictable votes in accordance with their pre-announced pledges.

  3. I love the Founding Fathers. However, I find it hard to believe they would embrace an electoral system where 2/3rds of the states and voters are completely irrelevant. Presidential campaigns spend 98% of their resources in just 15 battleground states, where they aren’t hopelessly behind or safely ahead, and can win just one more than 50% of the vote to win all of the state’s electoral votes. 35 small, medium-small, average, and large states are not battleground states. Virtually none of the small states receive any attention. Once the primaries are over, presidential candidates don’t visit or spend a dime in Idaho. Or Vermont. Or Rhode Island. Or South Dakota. The only small state that has been a swing state in recent history has been New Hampshire. Candidates know the Republican is going to win South Dakota and the Democrat will carry Vermont. This is why those states are ignored.

    With every vote equal, candidates will truly have to care about the issues and voters in all 50 states. A vote in Massachusetts will be as sought after as a vote in Florida. A vote in Kansas will equal a vote in Ohio. Isn’t that what our Democracy is all about? Or at least should be . . . you receive the most votes, you win the election. The Founding Fathers were unquestionably brilliant. Part of their genius was implementing a system that could change as needed. When they wrote the Constitution, they didn’t include a provision for people to vote, or establish state-by-state winner-take-all, or any method, for how states should award electoral votes.. (Read the Constitution, Neither is in there). The laws allowing people to vote and for how states award electoral votes were passed by state legislatures AFTER the Constitution. A change to make all voters in all 50 states relevant, is long overdue, and can be achieved by states through the National Popular Vote bill.

    • The original Constitution is clear: the states choose the electors. How they choose them was up to them, as you state. However, there was no national popular voting for President under the original system, so it would have been impossible for the states to select electors based on the popular vote in all states. Thus, the Constitution is clearly against granting all the electors to whoever wins the national popular vote because no such thing existed.

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