How The Electoral College Saved The Day. Again.

How The Electoral College Saved The Day. Again.
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An average of once every hundred years, the Electoral College count in a presidential election does not correspond to the so called "popular" vote. And after every such election, supporters of the popular vote winner often decry the federalist system enshrined in the Constitution and calls for abolition of it.

For example, in 1960, after the Congressional Quarterly declared Nixon to be the popular vote winner even as Kennedy won overwhelmingly in the Electoral College, aggrieved Republicans demanded that the federalist system of presidential elections enshrined in the Electoral College be abolished. Now, as Hilary loses the Electoral vote, but ekes out a win in the popular vote count, cries for abolition of the Electoral College can be expected from those who support the losing candidate.

Of course in parliamentary systems such as in the UK, where parliament serves the same purpose as the Electoral College in the U.S. by voting for the prime minister, it is not unusual for the popular vote to not correspond with the vote in parliament. For example, in 1974, the Labor Party lost the popular vote by 1%, but nevertheless won three more seats in the parliament, with the result the Labor was able to form the government.

But the Founding Fathers, in the interest of separation of powers, created the Electoral College to insure that no president would be beholden to the executive as in Parliamentary democracies. Thus they incorporated in the U.S. Constitution the Grand Compromise that united a loose confederation into a stable form of government that, by insuring a peaceful transition of power over more than two centuries, has become the envy of the world. That compromise brought together those state delegates who at the Constitutional Convention demanded a legislature and executive based purely on represensentation by popular vote, and those who insisted that each state have equal representation (as had been the right of states under the Articles of Confederation.) This Grand Compromise, upon which the U.S. was created, had two component parts: 1) the creation of both a House of Representatives based purely on popular vote, and the Senate based upon equal representation of each state; and 2) the creation of the Electoral College in which each state's electoral votes were based on both representation in the House, and representation in the Senate.

For the past two hundred years, the cyclical partisan demand for abolition of the Electoral College has been the same for the argument in favor of abolishing the U.S. Senate--namely that citizens of smaller states have greater representation in the Senate than those in large states. But as a young Senator John F. Kennedy stated in 1956 in opposing a knee-jerk Republican proposal to abolish the Electoral College, "(I) f it is proposed to change the balance of power of one of the elements (of the Grand Compromise), it is necessary to consider the others". In other words, if were are to abolish one prong of the Grand Compromise (the Electoral College), then we must consider the other element as well--namely the existence of the U.S. Senate.

Thankfully for the Republic, John Kennedy was successful in defeating the Republican proposal to abolish the Electoral College, and by implication also preserving the existence of the U.S. Senate. The wisdom of defeating such a proposal was reflected in the election of 1960, in which the popular vote was so narrow (within seven tenths of one percent), that had the Electoral College been abolished and a so-called "poplar vote" system been in place, the narrow margin of popular votes would have triggered re-counts in almost every state. If one recalls the national trauma of recounts in but one state in the 2000 election--Florida--one can imagine the national nightmare of recounts and court challenges in all 50 states under a popular vote system. Indeed, it has been estimated that without the Electoral College, it would have taken at least 6-9 months before a popular vote winner could be declared, if then. Thankfully, the wisdom of the Electoral College was vindicated when John F. Kennedy was declared the winner by virtue of an overwhelming Electoral College victory. Nixon didn't even bother to contest the election, despite substantial evidence of vote fraud in Chicago, and despite winning the popular vote, because he knew that even if he won Illinois, Kennedy's margin of victory in the Electoral College would still have resulted in Kennedy's election. Indeed, without the Electoral College, Trump would almost certainly have had a claim to countless recounts in every state because of the narrow margin of popular votes in favor of Clinton.

As the centuries pass, and Americans have become accustomed to almost instant winners in the Electoral College (except in the once in a century election in which the Electoral vote is close, as in 2000), the wisdom of the Founding Fathers has been vindicated again and again. One of the purposes of the Electoral College was to insure that support for a candidate be broad as well as deep. For example, if in the 1950's an overwhelming popular vote support for segregationist candidate in the Deep South had resulted in a narrow popular vote margin in the country as a whole, that candidate could not have won in the Electoral College given the opposition to that candidate across the rest of the country.

It remains to be seen if another John F. Kennedy will rise to the occasion to fend off the inevitable demands by the losing party in the resent presidential election for abolition of the Electoral College because it did not result in a win for the candidate which eked out a thin majority in the popular vote. But history will not be on the side of those who seek to destroy the federalist system created by the founding Fathers. In the last 200 years, there have been more than 200 aborted attempts to undermine federalism by doing so, including 100 proposals for a so-called "popular vote". All have failed once the catastrophic implications of such an undermining of our federal system have been understood.

Students of history may recall that Alexander Hamilton even proposed abolishing states entirely, to be replaced by arbitrary regional lines crisscrossing the new United States. Despite his great feat of stabilizing the national financial system, for which the country owes a great debt, we can be grateful that at least this proposal, along with his proposal that a president be appointed "for life" along the lines of royal succession, was wisely rejected by the Founding Fathers.

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