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Majoritarianism vs. the U.S. Constitutional System

We Romney voters might find ourselves on the winning side of the national popular vote and yet lose the electoral college, whereby President Obama would be re-elected. 

If that happens, I imagine a lot of Republicans who favored keeping the Electoral College after the 2000 election would change their minds. Some would change for partisan expediency, while others would argue that once a century is tolerable, but twice in four elections is too frequent. And many Democrats who hated the Electora…

  1. Cornelius Julius Sebastian

    I have been thnking about a 2000 election in reverse electoral win for the Dems.  That has to be what they are banking on now.  As a small state citizen I support the electoral college system.  GOP ground game has got to dominate in the swings.  The Dems are going to pull every cheating strategy they have out of their dirty bag, you can count on it.

  2. Brian Skinn

    The United States Is … Or Are?

    We now have a ‘national’ identity that’s associated with the entire United States; once upon a time, ‘national’ identities were with the individual states, not with the federated states as a whole.  It’s a natural development — my family and I just moved from MA this past January, so technically we were both Americans and Massachusettsians in 2011, but now are both Americans and Ohioans in 2012.

    The dual affiliation, as well as the fluidity of the state-level affiliation, are both unnatural to the tribal instinct.  I would submit that despite instinct, maintaining the tension of that duality is important in sustaining the Founders’ experiment.  The EC, the former appointment of Senators by state legislatures, and so on — all served to maintain the attachment of state citizens to the political machinery of their state of residence and that of the federal government, whereas now everyone focuses almost exclusively on Washington.

    To answer your question: I suspect an argument could be constructed for retaining the Senate but discarding the EC, but if one rejects the original intent of the latter, the justification for the former evaporates with it.

  3. Schrodinger

    Get rid of the EC and the Senate and we will be a socialist country within a decade. The Founders were right to fear “majority rule” by the mob. Once the ‘takers’ outnumber the ‘producers’ majority rule becomes majority tyranny.

    How can we decry  the concept of a “living constitution” and then suggest gutting what the Founders created?

  4. Mendel
    Crow’s Nest:

    the intention behind both institutions was to limit the immediate impact any particular faction, including a faction of the majority, could have at any given time, and to attempt to broaden the view of citizens beyond the contingencies of any particular moment.

    I think this is spot on.  The Electoral College, as we currently practice it, might do a decent job of letting all voices be heard and balance interests.  But the downside to a de facto popular vote is politicians who focus on the “shiny ball” issues that captivate the public while ignoring the less visible issues that often matter much more.

    As democracy has increased, that deliberative element has been reduced in character.

    To some extent it has been replaced by the rise of a professional bureaucracy,

    In addition to the bureaucracy, I think our creeping majoritarianism can explain much of the increase in the power (and importance) of both the presidency and the Supreme Court.  We might rejoice at the notion of congressional gridlock as a brake on the progressive agenda, but the US is not immune from the truism that power abhors a vacuum.

  5. Mendel
    Brian Skinn:

     I would submit that despite instinct, maintaining the tension of that duality is important in sustaining the Founders’ experiment.  The EC, the former appointment of Senators by state legislatures, and so on — all served to maintain the attachment of state citizens to the political machinery of their state of residenceandthat of the federal government, whereas now everyone focuses almost exclusively on Washington.

    I agree.  Federalism cannot thrive if individual citizens only feel loosely associated with their state of residence.

    I also wonder whether the Framers envisioned the way many western states would be created.  The original colonies sprung up fairly “organically” and had their own unique populations and cultures, but many western states were more or less centrally planned (sometimes with political objectives in mind). 

    Even though conservative policies profit from our numerous, lightly-populated western states, I can’t help but imagine that the Framers would have set up the Electoral College somewhat differently had they anticipated our expansion as it actually happened.

  6. Foxman
    Brian Skinn: The United States Is … Or Are?

    We now have a ‘national’ identity that’s associated with the entire United States; once upon a time, ‘national’ identities were with the individual states,  · 1 hour ago

    Have you ever been to Texas?

  7. Amy Schley

    For all those who would like to see the 17th Amendment repealed, I have a question:

    How would you address the very real problem that the 17th Amendment was designed to fix — namely, that becoming a senator was a matter of strategic bribes and backroom mutual-back-scratching sessions? I fail to see how being elected by a majority of the voting public in a state is significantly more corrupt than being elected by a majority of state legislatures.

  8. Richard O

    If we win the popular vote but lose the electoral college, we will have lost the election.  The electoral college needs to stay. 

    The founding dads were smarter than we are.

  9. Foxman
    Amy Schley: For all those who would like to see the 17th Amendment repealed, I have a question:

    How would you address the very real problem that the 17th Amendment was designed to fix — namely, that becoming a senator was a matter of strategic bribes and backroom mutual-back-scratching sessions? I fail to see how being elected by a majority of the voting public in a state is significantly more corrupt than being elected by a majority of state legislatures. · 0 minutes ago

    Bribes to individual state legislators did not generally come from the Federal treasury.  No person has the money to bribe an entire state, so our current system consists of the incumbent bribing the entire state with public moneys.  This costs ME

  10. Amy Schley
    Mendel

    I agree.  Federalism cannot thrive if individual citizens only feel loosely associated with their state of residence.

    I also wonder whether the Framers envisioned the way many western states would be created.  The original colonies sprung up fairly “organically” and had their own unique populations and cultures, but many western states were more or less centrally planned (sometimes with political objectives in mind). 

    It is interesting though, Mendel, that despite being “planned” western and mid-western states do have distinct personalities and cultures.  I live in Kansas and work in Missouri, perhaps the two states most clearly planned with centralized political objectives — and on so many levels, it’s very obvious which state was settled by busybody Yankee progressives and which state was settled by cantankerous Southern hillbillies.

    Most obvious: the downtown Kansas City Costco has the best beer/ wine/ liquor selection in town for the price.  The Overland Park Costco can’t sell any alcohol.

  11. Schrodinger

    How would you address the very real problem that the 17th Amendment was designed to fix — namely, that becoming a senator was a matter of strategic bribes and backroom mutual-back-scratching sessions? I fail to see how being elected by a majority of the voting public in a state is significantly more corrupt than being elected by a majority of state legislatures.

    I prefer corruption on an individual level to corruption of the public. Today, the supposed deliberative body is elected by people who have little or no personal knowledge of the candidate, only the lies that pass for campaign ads. Under the old system, those responsible knew what they were getting, for better or worse.

    Are we better off today because Presidential nominees are chosen by voters and not in back room deals? I don’t think so.

  12. The Mugwump

    The electoral college is the result of having a bicameral legislature.  It’s part of the Founder’s attempts to disperse power by establishing a system of checks and balances.  It’s a feature, not a bug.  If you want to discuss the dangers inherent in a small “r” republican system, we could make quite a list.  I’ll start:

    *  A loss of civic virtue in the body politic (aka dependency).

    *  A government bureaucracy that usurps legislative power unto itself.

    *  A “free” press that throws its lot in with the ruling oligarchy.

    *  A professional political class that rigs the system in favor of incumbency.

    *  The corrupting influence of money on national policy. 

    The American Republic is standing on the brink of a major crisis even as I type, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the electoral college.  Power may ultimately corrupt men, but it’s also true that corrupt men are drawn to power.  Therein lies the problem. 

         

  13. Mendel
    Amy Schley

    It is interesting though, Mendel, that despite being “planned” western and mid-western states do have distinct personalities and cultures.

    I agree that, political motives notwithstanding, midwestern and western states have much more coherent cultures and founding histories than, say, the average gerrymandered congressional district.

    Still, considering how much thought the Framers gave to preventing factions from gaming the system, it seems unthinkable that they would not have adjusted either the admission process or the Electoral College had they foreseen the potential for politicizing the establishment of new states.

  14. Frozen Chosen

    I have no problem with our system if Romney wins the popular vote and loses the electoral college.  I believe our current system is much better than direct election of the president by popular vote.

    Besides, Romney is going to get at least 300 electoral votes so this whole argument is moot.

  15. Crow
    Amy Schley: 

    How would you address the very real problem that the 17th Amendment was designed to fix — namely, that becoming a senator was a matter of strategic bribes and backroom mutual-back-scratching sessions?

    Amy–as in most things in politics, there is a trade-off here. There is no way, in any form of government so long as it is run by men and not angels, to remove any and all forms of corruption. One could argue that the interests in states today to which Senators are beholden for their election coffers exert plenty of corrupting influence and that the 17th amendment hardly solved that problem.

    At least if this system were devolved and fragmented to the States, it would be several local lobbies fighting each other, rather than a concentrated uber-lobby in DC exerting influence. 

    Unlikely as it would be to pass, the windfall benefits of selecting experienced, proven legislators who have already proven their worth to their constituents and state legislatures, and who are far more likely to be federalist in their instincts, would be an improvement over the current mess and help give some teeth to the 9th and 10th amendments on domestic issues.

  16. Brian McMenomy

    The electoral college is a very large part of our federalism; no matter how the election turns out, the electoral college is not on the table. 

    I understand your thinking about the parallels between the US Senate & the electoral college.  The structure of both is part of the balancing act between majority rule and protection of the rights of the minority.  Whether one can logically argue against one & for the other I don’t know, but I can say this; we shouldn’t mess with either one.  The federal government already doesn’t like the idea of states rights (New Deal/Great Society/Obama progressives especially); why give them an easier time?

    Besides, eliminating the electoral college would require more than a court decision; it would require a real, old-school Constitutional amendment.

  17. Devereaux
    Amy Schley: For all those who would like to see the 17th Amendment repealed, I have a question:

    How would you address the very real problem that the 17th Amendment was designed to fix — namely, that becoming a senator was a matter of strategic bribes and backroom mutual-back-scratching sessions? I fail to see how being elected by a majority of the voting public in a state is significantly more corrupt than being elected by a majority of state legislatures. · 22 minutes ago

    Corruption is found at all levels of government. You think not, come visit Chicago.

    The one thing that I think everyone actually understands but hasn’t mentioned (rather like some of the things the Founding Fathers thought) was that the Senate gave real power to states. Now, with this wishy-washy democratic election of senators, it make them mostly congressmen with more power and longer terms. States, OTOH, have been left with no recourse to affect legislation. So we get all the unfunded mandates from the Federal government onto the states. Much of that might be rebuffed if states had say-so in the process.

    Corruption may be bad, but democracy is corruption writ large.

  18. Arahant

    I think to be logically consistent, one would aregue for the elimination of the Senate.

    I, on the other hand, would keep the Electoral College and repeal the 17th Amendment.  Too much Democracy goin’ on ’round heah!

  19. Pig Man

    The EC system is not fair. Why should someone’s vote in Ohio count more than someone in Texas or any other non-battleground?  But the issue is moot, there is no way the small states are going to agree to change the constitution.

  20. Devereaux
    Pig Man: The EC system is not fair. Why should someone’s vote in Ohio count more than someone in Texas or any other non-battleground?  But the issue is moot, there is no way the small states are going to agree to change the constitution. · 1 minute ago

    It doesn’t. It’s just that we know how Texans will vote. Just as we know how Illinois will vote. So one goes in one column, the other in the other. ?You see a lot of campaigning in either California or New York – guess why.

    You’re still good. AND better than a lot of the NE.

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