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YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS | Why does the Electoral College have the final say in presidential elections?

For the third time in the 21st century, we’re facing the very real possibility that the presidential candidate who receives the most votes on Election Day won’t be taking the oath of office on Inauguration Day. 
davidbetras032020
Attorney David Betras

I’ve always been an ardent admirer of the Founding Fathers. They drafted the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, two of the most important and profound documents in the history of mankind.

In doing so, they threw off the shackles of colonialism by beating the snot out of the most powerful nation on the globe at the time, and created the longest-enduring democracy in the world. 

You have to admit, that’s all pretty impressive.

But, let’s be honest, no one’s perfect. Even George Washington and the boys made mistakes. Two immediately come to mind: Acceptance of slavery and the Electoral College. We eventually erased slavery, although 620,000 people had to give their lives in the Civil War to get the job done. Unfortunately, the Electoral College is stuck to our democracy like a piece of toilet paper clinging to the heel of our collective shoes.  

And like TP trailing behind a guy wearing a tuxedo, the Electoral College is an embarrassment that elicits laughter from other nations and fuels divisiveness here at home. That’s because for the third time in the 21st century, we’re facing the very real possibility that the presidential candidate who receives the most votes on Election Day won’t be taking the oath of office on Inauguration Day. 

In 2000, Al Gore received 543,895 more votes than George W. Bush, but Bush won the electoral majority in balloting 271 to 266 — one more than the 270 needed to win. Four years ago, Donald Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by 2,868,686 votes but prevailed 304 to 227 in the electoral votes. And although Democrat Joe Biden is leading in the national polls and seems likely to win the popular vote, the will of the people could once again be thwarted if the president is victorious in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, where a total of 77,000 votes propelled him to the oval office in 2016.

Why did the Founders saddle us with this ridiculous system? Two reasons: First, they didn’t trust or respect the people who were about to become their constituents to directly elect the president and, second, to protect the interest of the smaller states. 

While it may further sully their reputations, the Federalist Papers reveal that Alexander Hamilton, while a great character on Broadway, didn’t think much of people like us so they gave the power to elect the president to  “…men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station.” 

In other words, aristocrats who looked and thought exactly like them.

The second rationale for the Electoral College is equally irritating and resulted from a compromise designed to mollify the smaller states to secure ratification of the Constitution. Under the Electoral College, each state has the same number of electoral votes as they have representatives in the House and Senate, which means no less than three. As a result, each elector from a state like Wyoming represents 70,000 voters, while electors from Ohio each represent 311,535 voters. If you’re feeling shortchanged, join the club.

While we can’t do anything about the Electoral College prior to this election, there are a couple of proposals for reform that should be seriously considered in the years ahead. 

I’ll discuss those in future columns.

Until then, remember to vote even though your vote won’t count as much as someone in Rhode Island.




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