Reblog: Practically Historical on the Electoral College

A quick (and late) post today, as the Internet is still out at home (although this time it’s not entirely due to Frontier’s incompetence).  SheafferHistorianAZ of Practically Historical posted another classic piece yesterday defending the Electoral College.  Rather than rely solely on abstract arguments, he went to the primary sources:  in this case, the words of James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, and Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of Treasury.

Here is an excerpt from SheafferHistorianAZ himself, taken from before and after quotations from Madison (writing in Federal No. 39) and Hamilton (Federalist No. 68; emphasis is Sheaffer’s):

Plurality is part of the Federal electoral process, but integrated to meet the needs of federalism.  States matter in our compound republic.  Madison wanted them involved in the process of choosing the executive.

Think of the electoral vote this way…  In the 1960 World Series, the New York Yankees outscored the Pittsburgh Pirates 55-27  and out-hit the hapless Pirates 91-60.  Using the rationale of plurality as demanded by the national popular vote crowd, the Yankees were clearly world champs that year.  But runs are integrated into games, and in 1960, the Pirates won 4 games, the Yankees 3.  Runs and hits are part of a process, but the process integrates all parts of the sport into choosing a winner[.]

That sports metaphor is one that I think will resonate with many voters, and it’s one that is intuitive.  It’s probably the best I’ve heard.  It’s a tough pitch to say, “the States have rights in our system, and without the Electoral College, LA and NYC would decide every election.”

Anti-Collegiates (the best term I can come up with on the fly for the anti-Electoral College crowd) always argue that States like Wyoming would get more attention from presidential candidates, which is numerically ludicrous—what’s 600,000 Wyomans against millions of New Yorkers?—and disingenuous.  No one arguing against the Electoral College cares about the people in Wyoming; they just want progressive elites and their urban mobs to always carry presidential elections for progressive Democrats.

But the sports metaphors takes something abstract but important—States’ rights and accounting for regional differences—and puts in terms that are more concrete but trivial.  Everyone knows it doesn’t matter if you win every game by an extra point—what matters is that you win every game (college football fans may disagree slightly, but a W is a W).

One final note before wrapping up:  I’ve recently heard proposals to reform the Electoral College to conform with congressional districts, so that it’s more reflective of the popular will, while still retaining the essential “flavor” of the Electoral College.  It’s intriguing, but I also think it’s a trap:  it’s a compromise position for a side that has no leverage.  Engaging in that debate tacitly concedes that there’s something wrong with the Electoral College, when there really isn’t.

Don’t fix what isn’t broken.  Yes, we occasionally get distorted outcomes.  But those “distortions” act as an important break on mob rule and the tyranny it inevitably breeds.

3 thoughts on “Reblog: Practically Historical on the Electoral College

  1. The new idea of aligning a state’s electoral votes with the winner of the national popular vote is also a fool’s play. What if the people within such a state vote for the other candidate? The state ignores their votes to defer to the wishes of other states? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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    • Agreed. It astonishes me, too, how these States are willingly subverting their and their people’s power to the whims of _other_ States’ voters. What happened to guarding rights and prerogatives jealously?

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  2. […] “Reblog: Practically Historical on the Electoral College” – Gordon Sheaffer of Practically Historical delivers again with an excellent examination and defense of the Electoral College.  He has a great takedown for the anti-EC crowd, who argue that individual votes are all that matter:  he argues that we should think of the EC like a series of baseball games.  Yes, the highest score wins individual games, but the wins are what matter.  A team can win ten games by one run each, while another team can win nine games by ten runs each; what matters are the wins, not the overall scoring. […]

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