The Framers’ Electoral College

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Subtitle: If I Could Speak with Dennis Prager.

If I could get through to Dennis Prager’s radio show, I’d encourage him to read Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist No. 68 on Presidential elections. Should he do so, I’m confident he would give it airtime. I also believe he would edit his Prager U videos on the Electoral College (EC). While they are informative, his videos do not address the EC’s purposes, the first of which is to appoint men preeminent in their ability and public virtue. Of equal importance is that they arrive in office without political debts to pay.

The Framers’ President, like the ideal hereditary king, was above faction. No collection of factions, what we call political parties, financed his run for office. In fact, the Framers’ President didn’t run for office in the modern sense at all. If Dennis was better-acquainted with Federalist No. 68, his enormous influence among millions of followers just might reverse a dangerous movement called the National Popular Vote Compact (NPV). When more state legislators learn the purpose of the EC, there may be enough of them to stop the NPV. No one knows better than Dennis of the Left’s corruption of everything it touches.

This isn’t to say the Prager U videos aren’t fine as far as they go; they acknowledge the reality of a two-party system overlay of Article II § 1. Some noteworthy modern features of the EC are that it stymies majority-rule tyranny, limits the effect of ballot-stuffing and other frauds to single states, and encourages coalition-building. As Hillary Clinton learned the hard way, the wise candidate will not ignore smaller states and less densely populated areas of the country.

The videos examine the Framers’ design through the lens of dueling political parties as if the EC was purposely part of a modern power play between two antagonistic groups permanently engaged in quadrennial cage-fights. The viewer will learn battlefield tactics regarding swing states, electoral vote distributions, populous v. rural areas and flipping states blue/red. They note, that as a practical matter, the people in the polling place are limited to voting for one of two predetermined slates of electors – either Democrat or Republican, who in turn will vote for their party leader. America accepts this limitation, this horrid corruption of free elections, for granted. The existing system already limits the people’s voting options, and if the Left gets its way, states that pass NPV risk outright theft of millions of votes.

The Federalist Papers, as expounded by John Jay, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, do not remotely reference these concerns and benefits. Instead, we learn from them why the Articles of Confederation were inadequate and how the Constitution corrected their shortcomings. Toward these goals, the House, Senate, Presidency and Supreme court not only have distinct purposes, each institution had distinct electors.1 The Framers’ Constitution not only separated powers, it also separated the electors to each institution and for the same reason, to keep the factions natural to republics in check. In contrast, today’s EC incorporates that which the Framers abhorred: political factions into the very fabric of the Presidency.

Now, the Constitution doesn’t tell the states how to determine Presidential electors. The states are free to design elector systems as they wish. Republicanism puts enormous responsibility on its members, and the states are members, just like the people.2 Also, by assigning this function to the states, the Framers helped the cause of ratification. In Federalist No. 68, Hamilton assumed the people of each state would soon choose their presidential electors. He was right. 3

The system was supposed to work like this: You, Dennis Prager, go to the polling place. You vote for someone whose discernment you respect, to exercise his judgement as a presidential elector and vote for a President. Perhaps you vote for a local church minister, a businessman, or maybe a retired state judge. As long as you didn’t vote for someone employed in the federal government, your choice is up to you. Now, in the back of your mind, you might be prone to vote for someone known state-wide. Maybe others will do the same. In any event, after eligible people like yourself vote for electors, the votes are tallied and the requisite number of electors equal to the state’s congressional representation are identified according to state statute. Perhaps your state notifies the presidential electors by courier. They are told where and when to meet with fellow presidential electors on the day determined by federal law. Perhaps they meet in the state capitol. Their identity is not known to the public.

State electors meet nationwide on the appointed day and deliberate. Each of them vote for two people, at least one of whom is from outside their state. The votes are recorded, sealed, and sent to the President of the Senate. The word “seal” is a legal term, meaning the contents are secret. The slate of nationwide nominees wasn’t known until the President of the Senate opened and read the ballots aloud in a joint session of Congress.

If one nominee receives a majority, he’s the President. If there isn’t a majority, the House votes immediately by state from the five highest nominees on the list. They keep voting until one wins a majority. Today, most people would regard an election by the House as a constitutional crisis. This, of course, is nonsense. In Federalist No. 39, Madison almost off-handedly describes the immediate election as made by the state electors, and the eventual election as made by the House.

As opposed to elections/appointments to the House, Senate, and Supreme Court, there is little to no opportunity for anyone, from Dennis Prager at the polling place, to the state electors who meet on the same day across the country, to members of the House, to scheme, trade future votes for money or legislation, or otherwise corrupt and burden the new President with debts before he assumes office. In addition, and unlike electors to the House, Senate, and Senators who consent to Supreme Court nominees, the EC dissolves after voting. Poof! Gone. No paybacks from the President to state electors. With a clear conscience, the President can swear to faithfully execute his office. With the notable exception of Presidents Washington and Trump, few Presidents have not been the product of political parties, and did not have legions of supporters and camp-followers to gratify.

I am not naïve enough to imagine the two political parties will ever let go of the EC; there is too much power and money in the existing system. However, I am hopeful that people with wisdom and influence like Dennis Prager will educate Americans on the Framers’ ideal, and stop further corruption of the Framers’ Electoral College through the National Popular Vote Compact.

1. Alexander Hamilton Federalist No. 60. Since the house is elected by the people, the senate by the state legislatures, and the electors of the president chosen by the people, “there would be little probability of a common interest to cement these different branches in a predilection for any particular class of electors.”
2. The Constitution acts on the component members of the republic, the people and states. Both must have a seat at the legislative table. It is why the 17th Amendment is an outrage.
3. See also No. 64 by John Jay, No. 39 by James Madison, and No. 66 by Alexander Hamilton.