BAYHAM: The Present, And Perhaps Future, Of The Electoral College

On Monday, fifty-one groups of presidential electors gathered in state capitols (in the case of the District of Columbia, the John A. Wilson Building that houses their city government) to cast the votes that actually choose the president and vice-president.

The process went off without a hitch as the individuals selected to serve as electors dutifully adhered to the results of the November 6th popular vote that technically elects slates of electors and not the actual presidential and vice-presidential candidates.

Here’s how it works in Louisiana: electors (one per congressional district and two at-large) are listed as slates under each party’s nominee for president and vice-president in the November general election. In the case of the Louisiana Republican Party, the state central committee not the Romney campaign picked the electors via caucus within the body.

Though all of the Louisiana Republican presidential electors in 2012 were members of the state committee, serving on the state GOP’s governing body is not a prerequisite. For example, four years ago Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser was selected as an elector from the Third Congressional district.

The slate of electors that receives a plurality (the most votes as opposed to a majority) then meet on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in November (this is mandated by federal law) to be sworn in as electors, who are elected officials, and perform two duties: casting an electoral vote for president and casting an electoral vote for vice-president.

After being sworn in, the electors elect a chairman to run the meeting and a secretary to record the meeting’s minutes. The chairman then conducts a verbal roll call of the electors for for president and vice-president.

In some states, electors are legally bound to honor the results of the November presidential vote in their state, though Louisiana is not one of them.

In anticipation that the electors will follow through on honoring the state vote, several copies of a form with the names of the candidates who carried the state already typed-in are presented for each of the electors to sign. The signed forms are then sent off to Washington to be counted by Congress.

If an elector chose to be “faithless”, that is vote for some other individual who is legally qualified to be president regardless if he or she was even an actual candidate, the pre-printed document would have to be changed. To indirectly ensure that nobody goes rogue, people who are named as electors are generally political activists, party leaders and major contributors.

Of Romney’s eight Louisiana electors, at least one backed Newt Gingrich in the Louisiana primary and two supported Rick Santorum.

Democrats from large states tend to favor the abolition of the electoral college and its replacement with a national popular vote as the current system gives rural, sparsely populated and generally red states additional clout by giving them disproportionate influence in the selection of the president.

For example, Wyoming’s state population is 568,158, which is smaller than the average population of a congressional district. Wyoming’s percentage of the national population is less than two-tenths of a percent yet its electoral vote share (guaranteed at least three out of a universe of 538) is a half percent.

After being foiled in a second consecutive presidential election, some Republicans are also looking at tinkering with the electoral college by pushing through a proportional allocation of electoral votes. Maine and Nebraska already split their electors by the presidential vote in congressional districts. This move would assure Republican presidential candidates of at least a share of vote in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Illinois.

I oppose both schemes.

The popular vote initiative would do several disagreeable things.

First, it minimizes the importance of states while maximizing the importance of population centers. America is a federal republic (two-layers) as opposed to a unitary (single layer) republic. The latter facilitates a centralized model of national government.

Secondly, a national popular vote would expand the possibility of vote fraud determining the outcome of an election.

For example, questionable returns from a state are currently isolated to how that state’s capped electoral votes were decided. However under a national popular vote system, a state might keep its polling places open until enough votes were manufactured to alter the national results after the other 49 plus DC completed voting with nothing to stop them from doing so as there are no national voting procedures, registration standards or verification of legal capacity to vote.

Third, the same arguments used to replace the electoral college with a national popular vote could also be used to justify changing the composition of the US Senate, a chamber that does not reflect the one-man, one-vote principle.

The national popular vote may be the most radical political concept under consideration when considering it would fundamentally change our federal republic, make the presidency more susceptible to being decided by vote fraud and sow seeds of enmity between states that would threaten to tear the fabric of the union.

While the politically convenient Republican-backed proportional plan is not as toxic to the existing federal-state governmental structure, it also minimizes the importance of states by devaluing winning a state to a mere two electoral votes. It would also increase the degree of congressional district gerrymandering as more will be at stake with the district than who sits in the US House of Representatives. Our country’s official name is the United States of America, not the United Congressional Districts of America.

Rather than trying to tamper with the system, Democrats should gain some appreciation for our federal system while Republicans ought to channel their creativity towards coming up with ways to better appeal to the public, the 47% and the 53%.

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