The Elitism in the Electoral College

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Majority rule is not the operative principle in the United States Constitution. People who find frustrating the project of achieving greater democracy in the United States are fighting against the basic plan of government as the Founders conceived of it. James Madison, a major player in the writing and ratification of the Constitution and later fourth president of the United States, made very clear in his Federalist Number Ten that he abhorred simple majority rule. He hoped the Constitution would instead rely on representation of the people by elected officials.

He did not say so out loud, but he and his fellow national leaders at the time were frankly elitist and believed that only the best sort (by their lights), of property owning, white men should govern.

At the ratification of the Constitution, every state had property qualifications for voting. Only white men could vote.

The only component of the federal government that operates according to majority rule is the House of Representatives, which allots seats by population. States with more population have more seats in the House of Representatives, although every state gets at least one. The Senate allots every state, no matter how large or small its population, two seats, which is not majority rule. As the Founders wrote the Constitution, state legislatures chose Senators, which removes it even further from majority rule. We changed that with the seventeenth amendment.

Federal judges receive lifetime appointments from the president, with confirmation by the Senate. We expect them to decide questions according to the law and ignore political considerations — they care not for majority rule.

And, as events have reminded us twice in the last twenty years, the majority does not choose the president. The Electoral College does. Every state gets a number of votes in the Electoral College equal to its number of House votes plus two for its Senate votes, so, as in Congress, less populous states wield greater influence in choosing the president than they would in a simple majority system.

With Trump’s accession to the presidency, we see numerous calls to abolish the Electoral College. A member of the new Congress has already introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to accomplish exactly that.

Amusingly, the people in the middle of the country who most vocally oppose abolishing the Electoral College are also the people who often complain about having “coastal elites” ignore them and condescend to them.

Logically (!), it is impossible both to oppose “elitism,” and defend the Electoral College.

Anyone who wants to defend the obvious elitism of the Electoral College, beyond the obvious observation that modern technology has rendered the Founders’ design entirely inoperative — the last two presidents to hold the office through its operation were far from the best candidates — should also explain what other blows against the elitism of the Founders we should eliminate?

The Twenty-Fourth Amendment, setting the maximum minimum voting age at 18, prohibiting states from setting their minimum voting age higher?

The Twenty-Second Amendment, limiting the president to two terms? If the Electoral College reliably chooses the best president, why limit him (!) to only two terms?

The Nineteenth Amendment, prohibiting states from discriminating in voting rights on the basis of sex, voting rights for women? The Founders would find the idea horrifying.

The Seventeenth Amendment, allowing the people to elect their Senators, instead of state legislatures?

The Fifteenth Amendment, prohibiting discrimination in voting on the basis of race, color, or previous condition of servitude?

Should we reinstate property qualifications for voting?

How much elitism do you want? How much elitism in opposition to the “coastal elites” do you want?

Written by

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.

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