Defending the Electoral College
Jeff Sessions, currently running to reclaim his U.S. Senate seat in Alabama, sent out an interesting and important tweet on December 21. It featured a photo of the top House Democrats who spearheaded the impeachment of President Trump; in the picture were Reps. Nancy Pelosi of California, Jerry Nadler of New York, Maxine Waters of California, Elliot Engel of New York, Adam Schiff of California, and Carolyn Maloney of New York. Underneath the photo were the words, “This is why we have the Electoral College.”
To underscore the point, Sessions added this comment: “Another reason to resolutely oppose the elimination of the Electoral College.”
The genius of Sessions’ tweet is that it highlighted the geographic skew of the liberal-left echelon leading the House Democrats, as well as the Democratic Party overall. That is, of the six figures in the photo, three were from California, and three were from New York. That’s it. There are 50 states in the Union, and yet the Democrats leading the impeachment of Trump hailed from just two of them.
Back in the 18th century, the ill potential of such geographic imbalance was a major concern for the Founders. In the words of Hans von Spakovsky, a former member of the Federal Election Commission:
In creating the basic architecture of the American government, the Founders struggled to satisfy each state’s demand for greater representation while attempting to balance popular sovereignty against the risk posed to the minority from majoritarian rule.
This is a key point in the creation of the Constitution: Our founding document is a blueprint for the protection of minority rights within a federal system—that is, the rights of the individual states. It was not, and is not, a plan for majority rule; the Founders were fully familiar with the model of majoritarian direct democracy in government—and they rejected that model. To them, direct democracy was mob-ocracy. The Founders had studied their history; they knew that mob rule was the dark fate of democracies in ancient and medieval times, and they wanted none of that for their new nation—which they were careful to define as a republic, not a democracy.
To be sure, the Founders did believe in free elections and popular sovereignty. It’s just that they wanted those elections filtered through a set of carefully crafted institutions that would mediate the results.
Thus, per Article One of the Constitution, the U.S. Congress is divided into two chambers. The House would be a direct democracy, while the Senate would be indirect; that is, two senators would be chosen from each state, regardless of the size of the state. Without a doubt, this organization of the Senate privileges the small states—since they have equal senatorial representation with the big states—and yet that was exactly what the Founders wanted.
In 1787, the author of the Constitution, James Madison, wrote in Federalist #10 that in a pure democracy, a “common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole.” And so, he added, an unchecked majority could simply crush the minority: “There is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual.”
Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.
That’s a scary prospect—that American democracy would be torn apart by “turbulence and contention,” stemming from run-amok majoritarianism.
Of course, not everyone agrees with Madison. For instance, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, describes the Electoral College as “a scam” and a source of “racial injustice.” And so, she declares, “The Electoral College has to go.”
We can observe that AOC is the sort of “turbulent and contentious” figure that the Founders worried about—and so it’s hardly a surprise that in all her radicalism, she also wants to junk the Electoral College.
Meanwhile, cooler and wiser heads have argued that we should protect our Madisonian constitutional inheritance. For instance, William C. Kimberling, a former top staffer at the Federal Election Commission, writes:
To abolish the Electoral College in favor of a nationwide popular election for president would strike at the very heart of the federal structure laid out in our Constitution and would lead to the nationalization of our central government—to the detriment of the States.
Okay, so we can see the two sides of the argument—on the one side, defenders of the familiar constitutional system; on the other side, attackers seeking to pull the system down. To put the matter more starkly, it’s Jeff Sessions vs. AOC.
We should also note a further point: The defense of the Electoral College is also the defense of the U.S. Senate. That is, if the architecture of the Electoral College is destroyed, then the architecture of the Senate, too, will be destroyed. And if so, we’d be looking at a truly radical change in the American system—the sort of change, of course, that AOC is working so hard to achieve.
Back in 2016, constitutional experts Alan Guelzo and James Hulme seemed to anticipate AOC when they wrote, “Abolishing the electoral college now might satisfy an irritated yearning for direct democracy, but it would also mean dismantling federalism.” (Which, of course, is exactly what AOC wants.)
And yet, Guelzo and Hulme continue, if the Electoral College falls, the Senate will fall:
After that, there would be no sense in having a Senate (which, after all, represents the interests of the states), and further along, no sense even in having states, except as administrative departments of the central government.
We should note, even now, that the Electoral College is under assault. A full nine of the current Democratic presidential candidates—including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Pete Buttigieg—have pledged to abolish the Electoral College. And it’s the hot idea, too, among left-wing academics, as well as liberal think tanks in DC.
In fact, even now in Colorado, the Democratic state legislature and the Democratic governor have been working to bring the Centennial State into line with the National Popular Vote (NPV), which is a political scheme that would gut the Electoral College.
Rose Pugliese, a Republican commissioner for Mesa County, CO, notes that virtually 100 percent of the money for the NPV campaign is coming from California. In other words, rich Californians are financing the scheme that would pull apart Colorado’s place in our constitutional federal system. That might be a good, albeit cynical, deal for rich Californians, but it’s no good for ordinary Coloradans.
The anti-NPV group Protect Colorado’s Vote makes plain the argument about geography:
[The NPV] means that states like California, New York, Florida, and Illinois have a greater influence than other states, because large metropolitan areas like New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago have a disproportionate population, and therefore voice, over states like Colorado, New Mexico, Missouri and North Carolina in electing the President of the United States.
We might pause over the mention of the undue influence of California and New York in the above paragraph, and recall that it was the half-dozen representatives from those two states—Pelosi, Nadler, et al.—leading the impeachment effort that inspired Jeff Sessions’ December 21 tweet.
Defending the U.S. Senate
Thus we can observe: It’s one thing if these six bicoastalites are ruling the House; as we have seen, the Founders, in keeping with their complex constitutional design, intended that the House should be based on direct democracy. And yet they had a far different intention for the Senate; it would be based on indirect democracy.
So the House is its own thing; it would be quite another thing if the Senate operated the same way; if so, the likes of Pelosi & Nadler could be running that chamber, too.
Indeed, as we think about these intricate constitutional arrangements, we might recall a quote from Shakespeare on the importance of maintaining a carefully orchestrated harmony: “Untune that string, and hark, what discord follows!”
So what can we do to protect the Electoral College—and the U.S. Senate? One action is to support Jeff Sessions, since he has already demonstrated his keen understanding of the issue. Another action is to support Rose Pugliese and the efforts of groups such as Protect Colorado’s Vote.
And here’s another action that residents of small states can take—that is, those states most at risk of being crushed by the California-New York bulldozer. They can urge their elected representatives to sign a pledge to protect the Electoral College. Back in September, this author suggested a simply-worded, no-nonsense pledge to do just that:
I pledge to oppose any and all efforts to change or dilute the power of my state’s Electoral Votes. I will also oppose any change or dilution of the Electoral College as a whole.
That’s just 34 words—clear and to the point. Ideally, every official in every small state would sign this pledge, since it’s their state’s sovereignty that’s at stake. Of course, small-state Democrats might be reluctant to do so, lest they antagonize national liberals and national donors; if so, their unwillingness to defend their state would give Republicans a good campaign issue.
And there’s yet more possible action. In addition to taking a pledge to protect the Electoral College, small-state officials could also be asked to take a pledge protecting the Senate:
I pledge to oppose any and all efforts to change or dilute the enumeration of my state’s Senatorial delegation. Two is the right number, just as the Constitution states. I will also oppose any change or dilution of the U.S. Senate as a whole.
That’s just 45 words—it shouldn’t be hard to get behind that.
To be sure, the defense of our constitutional system should be important to all Americans, living in all the 50 states. Yet since we have to start somewhere, we might as well start with the small states.
The smallest state, by the way, is Wyoming. Its two senators, Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, have worked hard, served well, and so between them have piled up 34 years of seniority. Thus they have taken the helm of two important senatorial committees, Enzi at Budget and Barrasso at Environment and Public Works.
So folks in Wyoming have a lot riding on keeping the Senate’s power just the way it is. Indeed, Wyomingites should further know that if they aren’t fully vigilant in protecting their rights, they’re at risk of being swallowed by California and New York. So instead of choosing Enzi and Barrasso, they’d have Pelosi and Nadler chosen for them.
It’s one thing if Pelosi and Nadler are running the U.S. House. It would be quite another thing if they were running the whole of the United States.