Appeared in the CT Mirror: 3/24/2014
Majoritarian extremism is, once again, aiming its proverbial guns at the Electoral College in Hartford, this time through House Bill 5126, which seeks to incorporate a national popular vote to elect the president.
Under the bill, Connecticut would award its seven electoral votes to the candidate who secures the most popular votes nationally. This would be a radical change from our current system, in which Connecticut’s electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who wins the confidence of Connecticut voters.
One could begin to think America’s Founders had it wrong. Were they too concerned with accountability and balancing power when creating the system we use to elect the president?
The Electoral College, more than a national popular vote, produces an accountable president. The Electoral College makes it necessary for presidential candidates to learn the diverse needs, interests, and cultures of different regions and states in America. With a national popular vote, this necessity disappears, and all focus turns toward major population centers in urban areas in big states.
Under a national popular vote, presidential elections would become urban, big-state-centric with no accountability among the candidates to learn the issues that concern suburban, rural, and other lightly populated areas. A definite blow to federalism.
For example, if presidential contenders were to pursue only a national popular vote, Barack Obama in 2012 would have spent most of his time and resources campaigning in California and New York, with Mitt Romney doing the same in Texas and Florida.
If we want to hold presidential candidates accountable, they should continue to court many state majorities rather than one, single, national majority. A single, national majority simply doesn’t reflect the vast and very special diversity found in states like Connecticut. Connecticut is not Tennessee, and Texas certainly is not California. New England is not the Southwest, and so on.
The Constitutional Convention of 1787 voted twice on a national popular vote to elect the president. Both times the idea was decisively rejected. Professor and Author Gary L. Gregg II, in Securing Democracy: Why We Have an Electoral College, states:
The Electoral College also reminds us of an alternative to today’s dominant political ethic, which equates the immediate election of the people – pure and simple majoritarianism – with good government. The Founders held to no such simple and dogmatic formula. They insisted the new government they created be free and rest on the firm foundations of republicanism.
The Founders feared a single majority electing the president. They feared someone like Mussolini, a charismatic demagogue, who could mesmerize the populace while cloaking a dangerous agenda. This is easy to do with a national popular vote. It’s not so easy with the Electoral College vote, which is based on the individual, popular votes of the 50 states. Gregg continues:
The Founders realized that there was a tendency in democratic politics, a phenomenon recognized by Plato, for ambitious democratic politicians to resort to inflammatory, dangerous, and divisive rhetoric in order to win votes. And they realized that this was a particularly dangerous possibility with regard to the selection of a single national president.
Adolf Hitler not only murdered millions of innocent people and nearly exterminated the Jewish race but he also was able to convince most of Germany that his actions were necessary and even just. His ability to captivate German citizens through speeches and propaganda was astounding.
One critique of the Electoral College is that states like Connecticut receive little attention from presidential candidates and, as a result, are disenfranchised. Yes, Connecticut is not a battleground state, but that’s because Connecticut voters as a whole have demonstrated they are comfortable with the policy positions and party affiliation of one of the two candidates running for the presidency. When a majority of Connecticut voters are no longer comfortable with one of the two candidates, it will become a battleground state. Conversely, under a national popular vote system, lightly populated states like Connecticut will never be the focus of attention.
Would you like to discuss “real” disenfranchisement? While presidential candidate George Bush in 2004 won the national popular, his opponent, John Kerry, won Connecticut’s popular vote by almost 11 percentage points. Under the National Popular Vote law currently being proposed in Hartford, Connecticut’s seven Electoral College votes would have gone to Bush. Nothing against our former president, but that’s real disenfranchisement.
Before rushing to change our thoughtfully constructed Electoral College system, legislators in Hartford should take time to understand the purposes behind it and the significant and harmful ramifications of recklessly dismantling it. Candidates for the presidency should remain focused on states, which are closer and more accountable to the people. Only then will the interests and intents of Connecticut voters – and voters across the country – truly be protected.
Christopher P. DeSanctis is head of school at Gateway Academy in Staten Island, NY, and an adjunct professor at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut.