The subtlety of a word: Revisiting the electoral college

Discussion in 'Politics' started by Tiassa, Feb 4, 2004.


The American electoral college?

  1. It's there for a reason. Don't tinker with the Constitution.

    1 vote(s)
  2. It's time to dump it. The people are ready, whether they know it or not.

    8 vote(s)
  3. (Other)

    0 vote(s)
  1. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Relic of an old republic?

    A philosophical proposal, of sorts, pertaining to the electoral college.

    It occurs to me that the college may, in fact, be a "relic of an old republic no longer extant."

    Typical discussions of the history of the electoral college are simplified. But the process is actually anything but simple:
    Note the boldfaced sentence above: The winner had to win by a majority of the states.

    This is almost an antebellum throwback.

    As you pass through the annals of American history, a subtle transformation can be found, quite literally in the footnotes, or else by the prudent observation of a good history teacher. It is the difference between two phrases, varied by a single word. Do we describe the nation as "these United States," or "the United States"?

    It's a subtle difference that only occurs in certain arenas. Certes, this is The United States of America, as a nation. But while "the several states" is a phrase used to refer to the collective body of states in the Union, the difference between "the" and "these" reflects the classic battle of states' rights.

    And think about it. "Big government," while a popular political catch-phrase, actually refers to the increasing centralization and federalization of American governance. This is not exactly the intended course of the United States government, as the Bill of Rights--the cornerstone of the states' rights argument--guards against it.

    The argument over the 2000 election casts the issue of words in an interesting light.

    "These United States"? I don't think they exist anymore. They haven't existed since Lincoln seized hold of the Union and quashed the secession. So much centers around the Fed these days, but abortion and gun control seem to be the most widely-recognized aspects involving states' rights. One need not think hard, though, to look beyond that: even interstate-highway speed limits fall under the paradigm.

    But states' rights isn't quite the issue. It merely serves to illuminate the issue.

    Some have called for the end of the electoral college. But 2000 wasn't nearly the circus that 1824 was. However, in the end, the difference comes down to whether "these" or "the" United States elects a president.

    Despite concerns about electronic voting, it is the future. Those who recall instant voting and the ad market of Max Headroom lore have a suggestion of what the future might bring, but still the world seems to be that way. Fraud, obviously, can be had on paper, as well, so it's just a matter of finding a right way to do it electronically.

    And in that sense, it would definitely be time to retire the electoral college. It may already be time to do so by two simple points:

    • We have the technology and infrastructure to carry out a direct election. We know very quickly who the winner is. One of the reasons we vote in November and inaugurate in January was to give the vote-counting and validation process time to work. Only 262,000 popular votes were cast between Quincy-Adams and Jackson, but the nation could not know that night who won. We can do this now, and validate the results quickly.

    • We generally don't think in terms of "these United States." We are, these days, "The United States of America," and if this is the course we are to set--European Union take notes ... just take notes; I know the EU presidency isn't as strong an executive as the American presidency, but just wait--then we ought to elect our president as "the United States" instead of "these United States."

    Is it power to the people? Or power to the people in their states?

    I'm considering attending the Democratic Caucus on Sunday, and as such I would be voting as a Washingtonian. But come November, I'd like to be able to vote as an American.

    Think about it. The Supreme Law of the Land is the US Constitution. The primary identity to which I am bound (Social Security, Selective Service, "treason" laws, &c.) is the federal identity--the United States of America. But look at my votes. When I vote for federal offices, I vote as a member of my state. I don't vote as an American, but as a Washingtonian.

    A frequent lesson in history classes and texts:
    If we look closely, the Framers were wary of giving the people direct access to the federal government. Your authority over the government is once-removed.

    As a Washingtonian, I can elect my governor. I can elect my Senator and my Representative to the US government. I can elect my state's vote for President. I can elect to pass or reject certain laws which apply to the state. From there, the considerations narrow. My state legislators are voted on even smaller identities, say, "Bothelite" or "Snohomish". School boards? Hello?

    But notice that at no point does my electoral power touch the actual authority of the federal government. I don't ever vote as an American. I don't vote directly for my president, and I can't vote to pass or reject certain laws which apply to the nation.

    Now, I'm not up for a national referendum system just yet, because on a statewide basis I see frequently how the metropolitan vote pretty much dictates the public-initiative ballot. Besides, can you imagine how many lawsuits will be filed before fifty attorneys general can certify and validate the petitions from their respective states and advise the United States Congress of the result? And judicial review ... what a nightmare that could be.

    But I am coming around to the notion that the United States can no longer afford the dichotomy between the rhetoric of a democracy and the reality of a republic possibly obsolete.

    People's tax money goes to teach children that the United States is a democracy. The simplest solution to the 2000 sideshow would be if people did not live under this erroneous notion.

    This is not a democracy. It never has been.

    Do we want it to be? Do we really want to demand that this generation of legislative minds gather and tinker with our Constitution?

    The closer we move to cooperative anarchism, the happier I'll be. To be honest, I still don't trust the American people with direct democracy; the gay-bashing ballots of the 1990s showed that, and Oregon politicians dodged a campaign-reform bullet on that principle. But regardless of whether or not I trust my neighbor to not turn an American democracy into a grand mal seizure . . . it may be that conditions dictate the necessity of a more democratic presidential election process.

    "These" or "the"?

    We might be Americans, but we never vote as Americans.


    • "Constitutional Topic: The Electoral College" -
    • "NARA: Federal Register - Electoral College" -
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  3. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    Its time has come to bid a fond adeu to it. Let it just slip away into the land of the lost .
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  5. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

    The Electroal College is the main reason I don't vote in Presidential elections.

    The system of Government in the US was first concieved as more of a distributed or delegated Libertarian System than a Democracy.

    It was designed to be a collection of individual self-governing States United under some common ideals.

    The Executive Branch was to have no direct control over the citizens (only indirect control at the discretion of the individual states' governments on issues that affected all the states equally), and the citizens were to have no direct control over the Executive Branch.

    The Executive Branch was to be little more than an arbiter for State Representatives arguing over the issues that affected all the states, and a central global representation of the unified states.

    The citizens elected their state government officials to govern them directly.
    The state government elected the Executive Branch to be the arbiter for those issues they felt should be handled centrally and applied to the common ideals of the country.

    Presidential Elections were simply the official way to let your State Electors know how you feel (in some states, you can't even vote for who your State Electors will be, they are appoionted by party members within the state government).

    The Federal Government was basically the UN for the States, and the President was the head lawyer.

    This system worked pretty well for a while, and it was fair.
    The State Governments governed us, so we elected them.
    The Federal Government governed the State Governments, so they elected them.
    However, as time went by the Federal Government gained more and more direct control over the citizens, but the citizens still have only indirect control over the Federal Government through the representatives they elected.

    When someone comes along with a viable plan to increase individual control over the Federal Government and/or reduce the amount of control the Federal Government has over individuals (and I agree with his/her platform), I will register and vote in Presidential elections.

    Until then, knowing that the Presidential Elections are little more than a placebo for the citizens, knowing that I, as an individual, have little control over the Federal Government and knowing that the Federal Government has much more control over me than I am comfortable with keeps me out of the polls.
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  7. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    I forgot to mention, so I was wondering if y'all caught the note:
    California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, New Jersey, and North Carolina equals 271 electoral votes.

    I'll think about whether I feel like doing the population totals from that.

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