The Shortsighted Electoral College (concluded)

The major effect of the original Electoral College was not to give power to the small states but to the slaveholding states. Madison had said that a direct presidential election was “fittest” but it would harm the South, citing the more “diffusive” franchise in the North, but the Virginian slaveholder continued with the curious comment that with a direct election the South would “have no influence on the score of the Negroes. The substitution of electors obviated this difficulty. . . .” The “difficulty” was avoided by basing the number of electors on representation in the House of Representatives. The apportionment of the House, of course, incorporated the three-fifths clause where that percentage of slaves was used in the allocation of House seats.

The three-fifths clause was, therefore, incorporated into the Electoral College giving extra power to the large slaveholding states. The first census in 1790 found that New York had a free white population of 313,000 and North Carolina had a free white population of 289,000. Each state had the same electors, however—twelve—after that first census. While New York had 21,324 slaves, North Carolina had 100,572. South Carolina had a free white population of 139,000 but New Jersey had thirty thousand more. Even so, South Carolina had twelve electors and New Jersey eleven. South Carolina had 107,094 slaves and New Jersey 11,423. (New Jersey is the starkest example of why Madison feared for the effect on the South if there had been a direct election of the President. Even if the franchise had been equally distributed in South Carolina and New Jersey, New Jersey with its larger white population no doubt would have had more power in picking the president; if the turnout was equal, New Jersey would have about 20% more votes than South Carolina. But as Madison had to know, New Jersey then allowed women to vote, and its total vote might have been twice that of South Carolina’s. With the Electoral College as adopted, even though South Carolina had the smaller white population, it had more power in the presidential selection than New Jersey.)

Virginia had a free white population of 441,000; Pennsylvania had 422,000, about a four percent difference. Virginia had 292,627 slaves and Pennsylvania had 3,731. Even though 40% of Virginia’s population could not vote, Virginia had forty percent more electors than Pennsylvania—twenty-one to fifteen.

A direct vote for President would have lessened the power of the South; instead the electoral college as adopted magnified it. Founders recognized and said that large states would dominate the vote in the Electoral College, and Southern states would have special influence in picking a President because of the peculiar way in which slaves were counted.

Unlike what some people now claim, the demigods of 1787 did not protect small states via the Electoral College, and their sop of requiring electors to vote for two people with one not from the state of the elector proved to be a laughable protection. The Framers in adopting the Electoral College did not foresee the rise of political parties even though parties were in place only a few years after the Constitution was adopted and were evident in the first contested presidential election, after Washington retired in 1796.* By then, two men ran as a team with one running for President and the other as Vice-President. The country made it through 1796 without a major problem, but the Electoral College caused a crisis in 1800.

Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr ran as a Republican team in the presidential election. The widespread understanding was that Jefferson was running for President and Burr for Vice President. John Adams, the Federalist incumbent, ran with his vice-presidential running mate Thomas Pinckney against Jefferson and Burr. Jefferson got seventy-three electoral votes to Adams sixty-five, making Jefferson the apparent victor, but of course, because each elector had two votes, Burr received the same number of electoral votes as Jefferson. A tie, which was not foreseen by the Framers but was close to inevitable with the rise of political parties.

The selection of the President in 1800 went to the lame-duck Federalist-dominated House, even though the Federalists had lost the election. That losing party had to decide which Republican, Jefferson or Burr, was the lesser evil. Thirty-six ballots later, Jefferson became the third President. And we got the Twelfth Amendment to fix this major flaw. That Amendment required electors to cast separate votes for President and Vice-President.** At least when it came to the Electoral College, the Framers did not see very far at all.

Remember this whenever someone suggests that the Framers were infallible or that the Constitution is a God-given document. And remember that the original Constitution gave the major slave-holding states the dominant power in picking the President.


*The Framers also did not foresee that electoral votes would be allocated by a winner-takes-all approach where the candidate with the most votes in each state would get all of that state’s electoral votes. That development, however, did not come quite as quickly as the rise of political parties. In 1796, even though Jefferson won the most votes in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina, one elector in each of those states voted for John Adams instead and those three votes made Adams president. He received 71 electoral votes to Jefferson’s 68. Jefferson received the second most votes. (Adams’s running mate, Thomas Pinckney, garnered 59 electoral votes.) Under the electoral system then in place, Jefferson became Vice-President under his political enemy, Adams, an uncomfortable result.

**Elections might have been more fun if we still had the original electoral scheme as indicated by Alexander Hamilton’s devious actions in 1796. Although Adams and Hamilton were both Federalists, Hamilton did not want Adams to become President. Supposedly Hamilton approached electors in states Jefferson had won and urged those electors, after voting for Jefferson, to give their second vote to Thomas Pinckney. Hamilton was hoping that Jefferson-Pinckney votes plus Adams-Pinckney votes would give Pinckney the most electoral votes and the Presidency. Hamilton’s machinations seem to have borne some fruit, most notably in South Carolina where both Jefferson and Pinckney received eight electoral votes. The scheme failed because in a number of states that Adams won, the electors divided their second votes between Pinckney and other candidates or did not give any second votes to Pinckney. For example, Adams received nine votes in Connecticut, but Pinckney got only four, with five votes going to John Jay. New Hampshire gave six votes to Adams, but none to Pinckney. Pinckney received twelve fewer electoral votes than Adams. But think of the gamesmanship we might have if this original electoral edifice still existed.

The Shortsighted Electoral College

 With a presidential election looming, it should be a good time to examine again the efficacy of the Electoral College, but if the electoral vote follows the popular vote this time, the topic’s urgency will dissipate. There is, however, another good reason to consider the Constitution’s original electoral system. The insertion of Amy Coney Barrett onto the Supreme Court has made many think again about our Constitution and how to interpret it. A strain of constitutional interpretation regards the original men who framed the Constitution as so sagacious and farsighted that their constructs of 1787 are still perfect for us now. Some believe that God inspired the Constitution.

The Framers did write an amazing document. The governance it started continues on in a somewhat recognizable form to that of 1789, an extraordinary achievement. Nevertheless, an examination of the Electoral College the originators adopted reveals their foresight to have been quite limited. We should remember these limitations when some seek to deify the Framers and the Constitution.

After reading some contemporary comments suggesting that the point to the Electoral College was to preserve the powers of the small states so that the large states would not dominate the presidential selection, I pulled out The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 edited by Max Farrand and The Federalist Papers to see what these sources said about the method of selecting the president. The issue was debated again and again in the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The delegates would agree to a method, but potential flaws in that selection process would circulate. A different scheme would be proposed and problems with the new proposal would be pointed out. This merry-go-round continued until near the end of the convention when the delegates finally settled on the Electoral College as it appears in the original Constitution.

The convention first voted to have Congress  choose the President, but criticisms soon emerged. In James Madison’s words: “If the Legislature elect, it will be the work of intrigue, of cabal, and of faction: it will be like the election of a pope by a conclave of cardinals; real merit will rarely be the title to the appointment.” Foreign governments would try to influence Congress in the selection of the President because they would think it important “to have at the head of Government, a man attached to their respective politics and interests.” In addition, a basic goal of the Constitution, the separation of powers, would be compromised because the President would be beholden to Congress for his selection. In addition, as Alexis de Tocqueville, the astute observer of the United States, wrote in Democracy in America forty years later, Congress, chosen to make laws, “would represent but imperfectly the wishes of the nation in the election of its chief magistrate; and that, as they are chosen for more than a year, the constituency might have changed its opinion in that time.”

This and many other methods were proposed and rejected: The state governors should select the President; electors selected by Congress should make the choice; electors drawn by lot from Congress should choose the President.

Madison said that the “fittest” way to select the President was to have a direct election, but he then noted two problems. “The first arose from the disposition of the people to prefer a Citizen of their own State, and the disadvantage this would throw on the smaller States.” Madison did not find this problem insurmountable and said “that some expedient might be hit upon that would obviate it.” The next speaker, however, differed with Madison’s optimism by saying, “The objection drawn from the different size of the States, is unanswerable. The Citizens of the largest states would invariably prefer the Candidate within the State; and the largest States would invariably have the man.” The delegates thought that a direct election would prejudice the smaller states, but what concerned them was that candidates from small states could not get elected because the parochial electorate in the large states would favor candidates from their states and those large-state votes would overwhelm the candidates from small states. (Reminder. In the last presidential election, Trump was then a lifelong resident of a large state, but New York overwhelmingly voted against the hometown boy. Perhaps the Founders were not familiar with the adage, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”)

Madison also maintained that a direct vote would undermine the South. Many northern states had eased the traditional requirement that only white male citizens who owned property could vote by allowing white males who paid taxes also to have the franchise, and in New Jersey, even women had the vote. Madison recognized that the “right of suffrage was much more diffusive in the Northern than the Southern States.” A higher proportion of people in the North could vote than in the South, and the South’s power would be diluted by a direct election.

Madison and others maintained that an electoral college, however selected, would obviate some of the concerns of a congressional selection. The electors would be chosen for only one purpose and would meet just once, and in the adopted version, not meet together but in the separate states so that there would be little opportunity for cabals, intrigues, and foreign influence.

An electoral college, however, does not necessarily alleviate the small-state concerns. Today many see the founders protecting the small states by giving them a slightly greater number of electors than is justified by their populations. The founders, however, addressed the small-state problem in a different way. The concern was that a candidate from a small state, even if worthy, would inevitably lose because the large-state electors would vote for one of their own. The solution: each elector would vote for two people, one of whom must not be from the elector’s state. The delegates thought that while one vote may go to someone from the home state, the second vote would be for the person seen as the best in the rest of the country, and if that person was from a small state, he could be elected with a collection of second-choice votes.

The Founders added another “accommodation to the anxiety of the smaller States,” as Madison wrote in a letter in 1823. If no person got a majority of the appointed electors, then the House of Representatives would choose the President from the five highest on the electoral list with each state having one vote. The largest and smallest states would be equal in this process, which, according to Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist Papers, would be “a case which it cannot be doubted will sometimes, if not frequently, happen.”

That Senators as well as Representatives were included in determining each state’s electors may seem to have been a major protection of the small states, but delegates knew that the large states would dominate the Electoral College. Luther Martin writing to the Maryland Legislature after the draft Constitution was promulgated but before it was adopted said that the “large states have a very undue influence in the appointment of the President.” Gouverneur Morris, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, writing in 1803, noted that it was recognized that the large states would dominate the Electoral College. Only if the matter went to the House of Representatives did the small states have a substantial voice in the presidential selection.

(concluded October 30)

What if We Abolish the Electoral College (concluded)

Principled and historical reasons can be lodged for and against the Electoral College, but the present partisan divide indicates that both Democrats and Republicans believe that if the national popular vote had been determinative, Al Gore would have won the presidency in 2000 and Hillary Clinton in 2016. However, that should not be assumed because if the popular vote had controlled, the vote totals for the candidates would have been different.

With a direct election, all voters throughout the country would have had an equal incentive to vote because all votes would have mattered equally, which, of course, does not exist now. An additional 50,000 votes for Trump or Clinton in New York or California or Texas would have changed nothing under our present system. With the direct election of the president, voters in safe states would have more incentive to go to the polls than now, and we would probably have more voters. My guess is that the minority candidate in a “safe” district would especially benefit. Where I vote, Democratic candidates are almost assured of winning not only the presidential vote, but also for all the other ballot spots. For many people, it is more satisfying to vote for winners than losers. If I had supported Trump, it would have taken some unusual strength to do the dispiriting thing of walking the block to the local junior high to fill in the bubble in front of Trump’s name because he was going to lose New York overwhelmingly. But, of course, the comparable dispirited Clinton supporter also existed in Alabama and Mississippi. I don’t know how the totals would have changed, but if the Electoral College had not existed in 2016, I am confident the totals would have been different from what got tallied as the total popular vote.

The direct election of the president would probably increase the number of voters. It would definitely change the nature of the campaigns. With hindsight, Hillary Clinton was criticized for not campaigning in Wisconsin. That criticism is understandable. She polled 27,000 fewer votes than Trump there giving Trump won the Badger State’s ten electoral votes. The critics’ assumption is that if Clinton had campaigned harder in the Dairy State (should a state be allowed two nicknames?), she might have switched some Trump voters to her or, more likely, convinced some who voted Libertarian or Green to vote for her. And perhaps more campaigning would have meant that some of those who sat on their hands would have come out to vote for her. If her campaign had brought one percent more to the polls to vote for her, she would have won Wisconsin.

That one percent, however, would have been about thirty thousand more votes. With a direct election, this extra targeting might not make sense, and Clinton probably would have spent more time in several other states where she, and Trump, did little campaigning—California and New York. Candidates do visit these states, but usually for fundraising, not traditional campaigning. The assumption under our present system is that both these states are safe for the Democrats and campaigning there by both sides is a waste of time. If the national popular vote controlled, however, both Hillary and Donald would have made campaign efforts in these states since an increase of a one percent turnout for the candidates in those places could mean 100,000 or more votes to the national total.

The abolition of the Electoral College would not just mean a change in the location of campaign efforts, it would also make a difference in campaign promises. Think about Iowa and the primaries. Don’t all candidates swear to defend ethanol because they think defending the corn crop is high on the list of Iowa voters? If Michigan is viewed as a swing state, candidates appearing in Lansing or Battle Creek can be expected to make promises that especially appeal to Michigan voters. In safe states, such as Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, candidates do not have to make the kind of pandering promises they make in swing states. If, however, each vote truly mattered as much in Mississippi as in Michigan, candidates might have the same incentive to pander in both places.

But under the system we have, and I expect that we will continue to have, each vote for president is not equal. The swing states count more and get more from the candidates.

As a result, however we view the structure of our government, we should not refer to it as a democracy.

What if We Abolish the Electoral College?

Prominent Democrats have called for the end of the Electoral College, that unusual device through which we select our president. A Representative from Hawaii has introduced a constitutional amendment to abolish it and use the national popular vote to choose our chief executive. Conservatives now defend the Electoral College. You might think this indicates some sort of principled split over basic constitutional principles; you might think that if you were ill-informed. The defenders of the present system, of course, want the status quo because they believe it favors Republicans while the reformers believe Democrats would benefit from a national popular vote. These inclinations are fueled by recent history. Twice in the last generation we have inaugurated presidents who did not get the most votes, and both of them were Republicans.

We did not always have this partisan divide over the Electoral College. The 1968 election produced a close national popular vote but a much wider margin in the Electoral College. Six months before that election, 66 percent of Republicans and 64 percent of Democrats stated that the Electoral College should be replaced with a national popular vote. After the election, 80 percent of Americans supported changing the electoral system. In 1969, the House, by 339 to 70, passed a constitutional amendment to select the president by popular vote. The proposal, however, was filibustered to death in the other chamber by Senators from small states.

If such an amendment could not make it through the Senate when the populace overwhelmingly favored it, a similar amendment has no chance in the Senate today. However, reforms of the Electoral College are possible without a constitutional amendment. Most states now have a winner-takes-all approach to the allocation of their electoral votes. Whoever garners the most votes receives all the electoral votes. This method of allocating a state’s electoral votes is a prime reason it is possible for a candidate to get the most votes nationally but lose in the Electoral College. The winner-takes-all rule is not constitutionally required, and some states have modified it by giving an electoral vote to the candidate who wins the most votes in each congressional district with the state’s two other electoral votes going to the candidate who wins the state. Other states have signed onto a national popular vote bill that would give each state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most nationwide votes. The bill would take effect in those states when jurisdictions with a combined 270 electoral votes have enacted it. (Fifteen states with a total of 189 electoral votes have already passed it.)

I think that in a land that likes to tout a government of “We, the People,” the direct election of the president would probably be a good thing. Surely, “We, the People” can be an aspirational concept under our present system where a candidate who does not get the most votes can become president. But in the unlikely event that we get to some system where the president is elected by the national popular vote, we will deepen current controversies about who gets to vote.

We don’t have national voter standards, and this is a problem if the national popular vote is to determine who will be president. For example, states have different laws concerning the disenfranchisement of convicted felons. A few states allow all to vote. Some states permanently bar convicts from voting. Some states prohibit those in prison from voting. And so on. As a result, a higher percentage of the population can be eligible to vote in State A than in State B. And of course, identification laws for voting and provisions for early voting mean some states make it easier or harder to vote. A true national popular vote should have uniform standards on voting eligibility and procedures, but we now leave that to the states. Getting to the needed uniformity seems unlikely even if we managed to implement the direct election of the president.

While states disenfranchise differing portions of its citizenry make a true national popular vote impossible, the direct election of the president would at least lessen the fact that some votes count a lot more than others in our present system. I vote in New York, but my vote for president is, in a practical sense, meaningless. Last election, I could be confident that no matter whether I voted or not, all of New York’s electoral votes would go to Hillary Clinton because she was certain to get a majority of the state’s vote. In any “safe” state, be it California, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, or elsewhere, it is clear who will get the electoral votes, and it does not matter whether the winning or losing candidate gets more or fewer votes.

The truly important voters throughout the country are in the “swing” states. In 2016, the votes in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania mattered much more than in other places.  Each swing-state voter, and non-voter counts much more than those in the safe states. That may not seem American, but it is the American way.

(concluded April 12)

Democracy: Indexed and Flawed (Again)

(When I have written longer essays, I have posted segments over multiple days thinking that readers might not read all the way through if it were all posted at once. Followers of the blog can read in its entirety as the essay goes online, but it has been pointed out to me that those who find such postings through a search engine may find only a part of the essay and have difficulty reading the essay from start to finish. Recently when I posted such a multiple-part essay, I have then posted the essay in its entirety after the segments have concluded so that it can be read from start to finish by those wishing to do so in one viewing. Almost always the blog’s content is new, but on occasion when it seems timely, I have repeated a past blog, which I am doing today. When I do so, even if it originally was posted over several days, I will post all of it at once. It is my Again project.)

(With waves passing through the states passing and considering legislation to make voting more difficult in the name of election security, it has made me think again about our “democracy.” As a result I revisited an earlier post not about such legislative activities but about anti-democratic structures built into our system of government.)

(First posted March 4, 6, and 9, 2020)

 I had not heard of the Democracy Index until a friend recently mentioned that the United States was listed on it as a “flawed democracy.” I later learned that the index is produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit, sister to The Economist magazine.

 The EIU bases its report on sixty indicators grouped into five categories (electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture, and civil liberties) yielding a numeric score capped at 10.00. Norway, with a score of 9.87, leads the list followed by Iceland (9.58), Sweden (9.39), New Zealand (9.39), and Finland (9.25.) Countries with scores of 8.0 to 6.0 are listed as flawed democracies, and the United States was given a 7.95 score.

This made me wonder about how I or my fellow Americans would define “democracy.” One dictionary said democracy was “government by the people, especially rule of the majority; government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.” Another source said: “a system of government by the whole population of all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.” A third source: “the belief in freedom and equality between people, or a system of government based on this belief, in which power is held by elected representatives or directly by the people themselves.”

These definitions raised all sorts of questions and thoughts. Democracy was government by “the people,” but what was the definition of “the people”? Is it the same as “the eligible members of a state”? The whole population cannot vote in an election. Ten-year-olds don’t get to cast a ballot. Isn’t it important to define what the “eligible members of a state” ought to be for a democracy? If the franchise is restricted to a tiny part of the society, but the leaders are picked by majority vote of that small group, is it a democracy? I guess it is, at least according to one definition.

 One democracy definition emphasized majority rule, but I have heard of the “tyranny of the majority,” and wondered if we would consider a country democratic that horrendously oppressed all those not in the majority. And, if a system selects representatives with a plurality but not a majority, is it not democratic or is it a lesser form of democracy?

One democracy definition said “free elections.” That is not a self-evident phrase. I was not sure how I would define it, or if it could be defined except by negative examples.

Even though I felt as if I would know a democracy when I saw it, I was not sure that it could be defined. Part of the problem is that the definitions, like most definitions, were binary—something was either this or not this. Something was not “sort of” this or a “better or more complete version” of this. The Democracy Index, however, accepts a more inclusive notion of democracy. Many societies are democratic, but some are more democratic than others, and I probably thought along similar lines.

I did think, however, that the third definition included a component the others did not when it said a democracy was a system of government based on the belief of equality among people. For me, I realized, a facet of a better democracy is that the ability to vote is widespread, indicating equality among the people, and that all voters’ votes count the same, again indicating equality among the people. The elected representatives of the society are chosen by determining who had the most votes cast in an election where all the voters have equal access to cast ballots and all votes carry equal weight.

I also noticed an important absence in all the definitions. They had agreed that a representative democracy had the electorate picking people to represent them in government. But the definitions do not say that the people or the electorate choose the form of government in which their representatives will govern. But surely, the structure of the government has something to do with democracy. And “democratic” countries can be structured in ways that seem to make them more or less democratic. If our government is a flawed democracy as the Democracy Index asserts, part of the reason is that our governmental structure makes votes unequal. Our form of government means that some Americans count much more than others in choosing those who run the country. We are not, and cannot, be equal under our form of government. And the people of today have not chosen the structures causing inequality and a lesser form of democracy. Our forebears did that.

While the Democracy Index lists the United States as a flawed democracy, that categorization will be difficult for many of us to accept. Meanwhile, many who might entertain the idea of that limitation will assume that we are placed in the defective bin because of Trump’s election and his autocratic actions. The Democracy Index, first published in 2006, however, initially listed the United States as a flawed democracy in 2016 before Donald J. Trump became president. Trump may be the result, but he is not the cause, of a flawed democracy.

And although we may mouth those Fourth-of-July words—government of the people, by the people, and for the people—a little reflection shows that we don’t really believe them. Just look at the polls about confidence in Congress, for example. If we thought that government is of, by, and for us, we should have great confidence in our governing officials and bodies. We don’t. If the U.S. were truly a good and strong democracy, would approval polls for Congress hover around the twenty percent mark?

Perhaps the surprising aspect of the Democracy Index is that before 2016 it listed us as fully democratic, but we have always had important problems that conflicted with a fully functioning democracy. We often repeat Lincoln’s of, by, and for formulation, but if our government was so good, how was it that when he uttered them, he was speaking at a cemetery that represented the ongoing slaughter of a civil war? And, of course, the “people” then did not include women, blacks, or Native Americans.

We have progressed, but our democracy has never been even close to perfect. Our Constitution has served us well in many respects. It formed separate states into one nation that has endured, but that does not mean that the Constitution is without flaws. It permits governments to take actions to undercut democratic values, perhaps something that this blog will explore more in the future, but it also created a structure with anti-democratic features, structures that make our country increasingly undemocratic.

We certainly are aware that our method of selecting our president is not fully democratic. If democracy requires that all votes be counted equally and the person with the most votes wins, then the candidate with three million fewer votes than the rival would not become president, but under our semi-democracy, that was the result in 2016. (I have previously written about the electoral college including on April 10, 2019, and on October 28, 2020

The electoral college, however, is at least roughly democratic in that each state’s electoral votes roughly mirror its population size. The Senate is another story.

Within each state, the election for Senator is democratic. Every vote in Texas, for example, counts equally in choosing Ted Cruz as Senator, but within the country, votes for Senators are not equal. The Constitution allots Texas two senators. It also gives Wyoming two Senators even though the population of Texas is about fifty times the size of Wyoming’s. In other words, each Wyoming vote for a Senator counts as much as fifty voters in Texas. Hardly democratic.

And the Senate will be increasingly undemocratic. I don’t know the initial source of this statistic, but I have seen it in several publications: By 2040, 70% of the population will live in the fifteen largest states and will, therefore, account for thirty Senators while 30% of Americans will have 70% of the Senate.

Of course, even though an ever-smaller minority of the population will control the Senate, that does not mean that that minority will be able to legislate for the rest of us. The House of Representatives, even with partisan gerrymandering, more accurately reflects the population trends of the country. (Unrestrained gerrymandering is something for future consideration here.) Senators representing a small portion of the population, however, will be able to stop legislation, and that minority will be able to confirm judges, cabinet officers, and other federal officials. The majority of the country will have even less power than it does now as the Senate becomes more skewed, or we might say, the cracks in our democracy will become chasms.

You might question whether the population trends reflected in that 2040 prediction will continue. People are leaving high-cost-of-living states and moving elsewhere. It is true that California out-migration has exceeded its in-migration? That does not mean, however, that its population has declined. Instead, while the rate of its growth has slowed to a trickle, it still grew by 141,300 from 2018 to 2019, a 0.35% growth rate. However, Wyoming, the state with the smallest population, has fewer than 600,000 residents. Even if –miraculously — Wyoming grew by 20%, it would add fewer people to its population than California now does. Wyoming would continue to fall behind in this population race, but it will still have the same senatorial representation as California.

It is true that New York, with the fourth largest state population, has lost residents [and with the results of the 2020 census in, has now lost a seat in the House], but so have the small states of West Virginia and Alaska. The New Yorkers who leave do not get in their modern Conestoga wagons and go to these small states. Significant numbers are not heading to West Virginia, Alaska, or even Nebraska, whose growth rate from 2017 to 2018 was only slightly above California’s at 0.6%.

The population disparities among the states will only increase. At the end of the coming generation perhaps 20% of the population will select the Senate’s majority.

You might also say that the increasingly undemocratic representation in the Senate is what the founders of the country created. Yes, of course, those who wrote and adopted the Constitution mandated that all states, big or small or in between, would get two seats in the upper house. And perhaps that provision was necessary to get the thirteen states to meld into one country, but that, of course, does not mean that it is right for today. Those founders, unless they were on substances much different from the copious amounts of cider they drank, could not have imagined states with populations approaching 40 million.

The Constitutional framers did not create a Senate with hopes that a small portion of the population would control the Senate. A national census had not been undertaken when the Constitution was drafted, but the drafters’ views of the relative populations of the states can be seen in the Constitution’s Section 2 of Article I where the document prescribed the allocation of Representatives for the original House. New Hampshire would have three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode Island one, Connecticut five, New York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five, and Georgia three, for a total of sixty-five.

The framers thought that the three largest states (this calculation included the infamous three-fifths clause) would have twenty-six representatives, indicating the belief that Virginia, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania had 40% of the population. Both Maryland and New York were allocated six Representatives. These five states, the framers believed, had about 57% of the population. Together, of course, they had ten seats in the twenty-six-person Senate, or about 38% of the Senators, while the states with 43% of the population would have 62% of the Senators. This, of course, was an imbalance, but it was nothing like the coming disparity where 50% of the population is expected to live in just eight states by 2040. They will only have 16% of the Senators, and, thus, a minority of the population will have 84% of the Senators. 

Whether or not two-Senators-per-state is a good provision today, it is what we have because of what happened in 1787. It is not because we today have determined it is the best policy for our governing structure. But even if almost all of us concluded that we should have some other way of allocating Senators, it wouldn’t be changed. Of course, the Constitution can be amended, which requires approval from two-thirds of each house of Congress and ratification by three-quarters of the states. The states are treated equally, and the lack of approval from thirteen states, no matter what portion of the population they contain, would doom an amendment. The amendment process in general is difficult, but in reality it is impossible for changing the Senate’s composition. The Constitution’s amendment provision, Article V, says that “no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.” I don’t think that I am being overly cynical by concluding that Alaska and Wyoming and other states would not willingly give up their “equal” Senatorial representation.

There is another possibility for ameliorating the increasingly undemocratic governmental structure. Large states such as Texas or California could divide themselves into four or six separate states, each with two Senators. The Constitution’s Section 3 of Article IV, however, says that such division can only be done with the consent of Congress. Again, I don’t think that I am being overly cynical by concluding that the Senate, where the overwhelming majority of Senators will come from the smallest states, is not going to approve the admission of such new states into the Union.

So . . . a smaller and smaller minority of the population will select a majority in the Senate. What, if in addition, the electoral college deviates further and further from the majority’s vote? Will “the people” see their government as legitimate? With these governmental structures unchangeable within our Constitutional confines, what will then happen?

The famed philosophers John Lennon and Paul McCartney seemed to advocate a mind change instead of a revolution when change might be desirable but difficult: “You say you want a revolution/ . . . But when you talk about destruction/ Don’t you know that you can count me out/ . . . You say you’ll change the constitution/Well, you know/We all want to change your head/You tell me it’s the institution/Well, you know/You better free your mind instead. . . .” But at least for me, I don’t think I can change my mind so that rule by an increasingly small minority in my country will really be all right. I don’t want to live in the equivalent of a banana republic.

But, then, what’s left? With no constitutional method for change, perhaps only the words of Jefferson show the path to a better democracy: “I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical. . . . It is medicine necessary for the sound health of government.”

Or perhaps we should contemplate the words of Robert Kennedy: “A revolution is coming—a revolution which will be peaceful if we are wise enough; compassionate if we care enough; successful if we are fortunate enough—but a revolution which is coming whether we will it or not. We can affect its character; we cannot alter its inevitability.”

We should start considering the extra-constitutional changes we are assuredly going to face.

Hail, Hail Hillsdale (concluded)

(This entire essay will be posted again in order on Wednesday, April 1.)

The last two questions of the Hillsdale College survey on the Electoral College were not about the constitutional provision but were meant to promote Hillsdale’s outreach efforts. However, the last question about the Electoral College, was, in technical polling terms, a doozy. It said I could check any or all the answers to the question, “Why do you think the movement to do away with the Electoral College has been so successful as it is?” You might wonder about their definition of “successful.” The Electoral College is with us. No constitutional amendment to abolish it recently has even passed Congress and been sent to the states. The odds that the Electoral College will not be with us for our next presidential election are about as large as me winning the 100 meter race at the Olympics. Or me being mistaken for Marilyn Monroe. (I’ve been thinking about Rudy Giuliani again.)

The answers, however, were doozier than the question. First, I could pick that civics education has been neglected. I can’t tell if Hillsdale thinks American civics has always been deficient or if they think that is a recent phenomenon. If recent, then views about the EC should vary significantly by age, and those of us of a certain age should have markedly different views of the Electoral College from those whose knees still work because our civics education was not neglected. Although there are many reasons why views of the Electoral College might differ by age besides changing civics courses, Hillsdale might have found it useful or at least interesting to capture the age differences of the respondents. However, the poll, while asking for my name and email address (Why? They already have that information or I would not have gotten their poll. Or did they want my name and email for some big brother thing? Cue Jaws music again.), did not ask for my age.

The second choice for explaining why the movement to rid us of the Electoral College had been so successful is that because “too many Americans are so overcome with partisanship that they forget how the Electoral College works to unify the country” and ensures representation of all regions and interests. On the one hand, according to this answer, the Electoral College unifies; on the other, the country is split by forgetful partisans. They are going to need to explain to me that positive unification function again because they have told me in the same sentence that it is not working.

 The third choice offers me an explanation that all of the left-wing media and in particular “The New York Times’ ‘1619 Project’” has undermined “informed patriotism by promoting a biased distortion of our nation’s history and our Constitution.” I wondered how many Kevin Bacon degrees of separation it takes to get logically from The 1619 Project to efforts to reform the Electoral College. It can’t be a straight (nor logical) path. In addition, those Times articles are eighteen months old, and almost all adults surely must have formed impressions of our presidential selection process long before that. Efforts to change the Electoral College existed well before The 1619 Project was published or printed. And surely, if The Project caused this reaction to the Electoral College, Hillsdale must think that since the 1776 Commission report is now available to all, everything is looking rosy. (Cue “Put on a Happy Face.”)

I then came to the fourth and last option for an answer to why Electoral College reform proposals have been so successful. It allowed me to check off “Unsure.” There were no more responses. I was not given any options such as the movement to change the Electoral College has been “successful” because a) it is a good idea; b) because “the people” want a more democratic country; c) because the Electoral College was an unfortunate historical accident; d) because each vote in our country should count equally; e) because each voter in the country should have an equal incentive to vote; or f) any other reason. I was reminded of Stephen Colbert’s regular shtick a decade ago when he would ask liberal guests whether George W. Bush was merely a great president or whether he was the greatest.

The Hillsdale poll is not a serious one even though it purportedly “will help Hillsdale College more clearly understand the views of mainstream Americans concerning this issue—views we will make available to policymakers and opinion leaders.” Apparently if I fill it out, I can now count myself for one of the few times ever as a mainstream American. That is a mighty incentive to do so, but I need a few more options in the answers than the ones I am offered, and any American, mainstream, sidestream, slipstream, upstream, or downstream, should feel the same if they do a modicum of thinking or research about how we select our president.

I have gotten and seen other polls that are equally as partisan as this one, but almost always these are from overtly advocacy groups. (I have been approached on the street by solicitors for the American Humane Association, for example, with, “Do you love animals?” They never seem to think mine is the right answer: “I love to eat them.”) I am not surprised when political parties or other partisan groups send me senseless, leading questions. Hillsdale College, however, claims not to be an advocacy group or a clown show. It claims to be an institution dedicated to upholding and promoting the standards of a rigorous education, and therefore it should be held to different standards from partisan or advocacy groups. It should be seeking to enlighten not indoctrinate with shoddy history and worse logic.

However, if this drivel on the Electoral College is meant as an example of the historical knowledge or critical thinking Hillsdale imparts, this conservative college is failing its students and, sadly, the country. And my ladies and lassies, perhaps you can join me in shedding a few more tears for the further dumbing down of America.

On the other hand, some of the Hillsdale online lecture offerings still intrigue me.

Hail, Hail Hillsdale (continued)

Hillsdale College, which had mailed me a free copy of the Constitution, sent me an email about an “urgent matter” that’s “vital to our nation’s future.” I could almost hear the Jaws music as I read, “A movement is growing, led by progressives—but supported by many well-meaning Americans—to change the way we elect our president. In effect, it seeks to do away with the Electoral College as devised by the Framers of our Constitution.” I immediately noticed the absence of “other” between “many” and “well-meaning” in that sentence, but I did not know if that meant progressives were not well-meaning or that they weren’t Americans, or both. The email warned that states were joining “together in an attempt to undermine this constitutional bulwark of liberty.” This dangerous movement “has grown largely because of the failure of America’s schools to provide young people with grounding in American civics—too many Americans simply don’t understand the importance of the Constitution, including the Electoral College, to liberty.” (Quick. Tell me how the Electoral College is essential to liberty.) Presumably, this lack of understanding would be corrected if schools started following the recommendations of the 1776 Commission.

The email urged me to take a survey on “Presidential Selection.” I was curious because I have studied and written about the Electoral College [see the end of this post for references to some of those previous posts], so I clicked on the link in the email. I knew from the very first of the ten multiple choice questions that I had a problem. It asked initially if I agreed that we “should continue to elect our president through the Electoral College as devised by the Framers of our Constitution.” There is no way to answer this. You can’t continue to use something that is not being used. Our present Electoral College is not the one adopted by the Constitutional Framers. That one was so flawed from its inception that it was changed by Amendment XII (classical education useful here) within fifteen years after the Constitution went into effect. We do not use the flawed Electoral College created by the shortsighted Framers.

The second question did not ask about presidential selection, but about American civics classes. The next query returned to the Electoral College, asking if Americans understood the Electoral College “and its role in preserving free and representative government.” Quick. Tell me again how the EC does that. If it does so, it is not obvious how, or at least it is not obvious to many well-meaning Americans.

The fourth question asked if I agreed that the EC’s elimination would “disenfranchise citizens in large parts of the U.S. and increase the intense partisanship that is already dividing our nation.” Of course, that is two questions, and I don’t understand the first one. I don’t think that any proposal to reform the Electoral College would prevent or even make it more difficult for any citizen to vote. In fact, the serious movement to prevent or make it harder for citizens to vote in all elections including the ones for the Electoral College has been coming from conservative state legislatures seeking to gain a partisan advantage and make government less free and representative.

Then I was asked if I agreed that the “Electoral College requires candidates and parties to form broad coalitions that represent the interests of many Americans rather than just those of particular regions or urban areas.” And I asked myself: “To be successful in any nationwide election system don’t the parties have to represent the interests of many Americans? It seems to me that if they fail to do that, they won’t get elected. However, it begs the question of whether the EC does that better than, say, a direct vote?” As I have written on this blog, the Electoral College makes it easy to disregard the voters of a minority party in a solid Red or Blue state, and that would not be the case with a direct election of the president. I also noted “urban areas” in the question. I wonder how those who take this poll would feel if they were asked if they agreed that the Electoral College should be retained because it enhances the political power of poorly educated rural whites. Of course, such tendentious questions should not appear in any serious poll.

I felt something similar about the next question which asked if I agreed that the movement to eliminate the EC by “progressives” was politically motivated to “give an advantage to one political party over another.” That is a perfectly fair question, or it would be if paired with the flip side: “Is the movement to retain the Electoral College motivated by the right wing to give a political advantage to one party?”

Then came a question that made no sense: Was I aware that Washington legislators had “introduced legislation to abolish the Electoral College and that 15 states and the District of Columbia have already voted to do away with the Electoral College as devised by the Framers of our Constitution.”  Your first reaction might be: Well, I am now. But hold on. No one is seeking to abolish the EC devised by the Framers because, as cited above, that original failure was tossed aside by the Twelfth Amendment more than two centuries ago. Moreover, the current Electoral College is embedded in the Constitution. It could only be abolished or done away with by a constitutional amendment, as it was reformed before, not by legislation.

(concluded March 30)

April 10, 2019 “What if We Abolish the Electoral College” What if We Abolish the Electoral College? – AJ’s Dad

March 4, 2020 “Democracy Indexed and Flawed” Democracy Indexed and Flawed – AJ’s Dad

October 28, 2020 “The Shortsighted Electoral College” The Shortsighted Electoral College – AJ’s Dad

November 13, 2020 “Voter Turnout” Voter Turnout – AJ’s Dad


Today is the Sixth of January

I had been thinking of various essays to commemorate today, January 6, often known as the Epiphany or Three Kings Day. Several topics came to mind.

First, I thought I might write about the bizarre time the spouse and I were ordered by a man to hide behind some columns in a dark crypt inside an Mayan pyramid in Yucatan, and then we think we were invited by this man (we think it only because we had such trouble understanding his English) to a neighborhood Three Kings party. P.S. We didn’t go.

            Then I thought I might write about how some traditions call the Magi Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar even though these names are not in the Bible. I would continue by noting that not all Christian faiths limit the Magi to three or agree that the wise men visited shortly after Jesus was born. Thus, s0me denominations have as many as twelve Magi and some have the adoration by them occurring up to two years after the birth. I might include that we refer to them as “kings” even though that designation does not appear in the Bible.

            And then I thought I might explore different gift-giving traditions observing that various cultures share presents on St. Nicholas Day, December 5, or 6,  some on Christmas Eve, some on Christmas Day, some on Boxing Day, and others on January 6.

            I have several times been in New Orleans on January 6 and have always been served Three Kings cake then.  I planned to write amusingly about that tiny plastic baby Jesus hidden inside the cake, which I think is tacky. The essay would have continued with a discussion of Mardi Gras.

            However, I have been distracted today from thinking about the religious, social, and cultural aspects of January 6. All such thoughts have recently been replaced by a new epiphany that January 6 is another important day in the selection of our president. For most of my life, I considered there to be only two crucial dates for our presidential picking: Election Day (the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November) and Inauguration Day, some day in January when, according to the Constitution, a new presidential term starts at noon. I was aware that we had an Electoral College, but I never knew the date that it “met” because it never seemed crucial, and it never garnered more than a paragraph in the news. (Of course, the EC does not really meet – at least not in Washington. Instead, electors in each state separately convene and cast their votes.) If I had thought about it, I might have realized that there had to be some sort of state certification process of the vote after Election Day, but until this year I had not thought about that process. Moreover, I learned that the date of certification varies from state to state.

            And then there is the day that Congress counts the electoral vote — once again a date I have paid little attention to because for a century-and-a-half it has been an insignificant day of routine bookkeeping. I could not have told you that it fell on January 6, but now I know that it does. It is still expected to have no practical significance. The electoral count will be the same number that has been in effect since a few days after the election. However, this January 6 will garner more attention than any congressional elector count since 1876, a shameful time in our history. We can hope that today’s count will not reveal a shameful time in our current history.  

            The day will get attention because several members of Congress will object to the electoral count, and that will lead to “debate” in each House. Other than reaping attention for themselves, the naysayers are not expected to affect the election results. At least some of the constitutional subverters say their goal is not to keep Trump in office, but to address the distrust that has built in the public. F0r example, Ted (Look! I can grow a Covid beard) Cruz, a leader in attacking the election, said, “We’ve seen in the last two months unprecedented allegations of voter fraud. And that’s produced a deep, deep distrust of our democratic process across the country. I think we in Congress have an obligation to do something about that.” (Hmmm. And what’s he going to do? Tell us that the fraud is real and the election results are invalid? Yeah, that’ll help.)

            So, while he is hardly the appropriate person to address this problem, he has a point. Even I have become distrustful of our “democratic” processes, not because I buy into the baseless claims of electoral fraud, but because so many of our political “leaders” are fanning the fraud flames and are advocating extraordinary, sometimes bizarre, and often illegal and unconstitutional measures that would sabotage the democratic process. While we can be cautiously optimistic that today will end as it should with Biden’s being declared President, the bombastic stupidity that will be on display is disheartening to say the least.

            The Trumpistas are winning. They have made me distrustful and fearful. May our country and our democracy and our republican form of government survive today intact.


How different would news reports and public perception of the Nashville bombing be if the bomber had been Black or if he had had a name that sounded as if he were a Muslim?

A recent news story said that only one professional football team had a former NFL player as its chaplain. The article did not make clear if all professional football teams had a chaplain, but it made me wonder what other businesses regularly employ clergy. How many lumbering or office-cleaning companies have a chaplain?

The op-ed headline said, “Will Trump Force Principled Conservatives to Start Their Own Party? I Hope So”. How large do you think a party of “principled conservatives” would be?

“Tyranny is always better organized than freedom.” Charles Pierre Péguy.

The two-note introduction to some Netflix productions makes me wonder if that streaming company has the same composer as Law and Order.

Trump has made appointments to a commission he created to promote “patriotic education.” I thought of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who said, “There is no patriotic art and no patriotic science.”

“The essential matter of history is not what happened but what is thought or said about it.” Frederic W. Maitland.

It is good to know that our society has something that is nearly perfect. A sports columnist, who I expect knows a lot more about football than most people including me, predicts the outcome of all the professional football  games against the point spread. To his credit, he gives the tally of how he has done throughout the season. The last time I looked he had been right 116 times and wrong 116 times. Damn, those point spreads are good.

On December 14, many news outlets had some variation of “democracy prevailed because the Electoral College functioned,” a platitude that may be repeated on January 6. Four years earlier, many said that we did not have a democracy because the Electoral College functioned.

Obama released his favorite books of 2020. Do you think Trump will?

A tiny tragedy of the winter: one small mitten on the edge of the sidewalk with no one around. Old joke: “I have never seen second-degree burns like that. What happened?” “Somebody called and I picked up the steam iron by mistake.” “But what about your other ear?” “They called back.”

Our Nail-Biter

The presidential race was a nail-biter. Or at least it was if one followed it hour-by-hour or even day-by-day as so many did. But now when it is clear that one candidate got 5.5 million more votes than the other and is entitled to more than seventy more electoral votes than the other, it does not seem particularly close. A “landslide” some might say. The “people” have spoken decisively, but, as we have commented often in this forum, the people as a whole do not elect the president. Instead, we elect the chief executive by states, and as we are aware from recent history, a person can become president even when receiving fewer total votes than an opponent. For at least part of the time over the last two weeks, it seemed that the minority candidate (irony intended) would become president again. I was curious about how the “people” would react to having a president that the voters had rejected by even a greater margin than last time but was relieved that I did not find out. But it also made me wonder how others react when a similar thing happens in their country, for example, Great Britain.

Of course, the UK has a governmental structure different from ours. My knowledge of their parliamentary system is admittedly incomplete (I have only watched the first season of The Crown), but it is my understanding that the candidates for Prime Minister do not appear on the ballot, as the U.S. presidential candidates do. Instead, the electorate in each district votes for a member of the House of Commons, and the leader of the political party that gets the most members elected to the House becomes the Prime Minister. There may be no nationwide tally for the Prime Minister’s race as there is in America, but even so, something similar to what can and does happen here must occur there—the election of a chief executive whose opponent won the nationwide vote. If, for example, the Tories win a 51% majority in the bare majority of districts, their leader becomes Prime Minister even if the opponent got 60% of the votes in all the other districts and, thus, got more votes than the Tory throughout the country. It is not exaclty like our troublesome electoral college, but is similar to our recent elections where the candidate getting fewer countrywide votes has become president. How have the British reacted to this?