Friday, December 30, 2016

We need to learn to appreciate what America’s Founders gave us

Commentary by James Shott

Donald Trump was unofficially declared the winner of the 2016 presidential election early in the morning on November 9, and that victory survived the slow vote counting in some states, and challenges of voting irregularities. And last Monday that victory was finally verified when the electors of the 50 states and the District of Columbia that comprise the Electoral College gathered in their respective districts to officially cast their votes.

The integrity of the Electoral College survived both the illegal and legal efforts of Trump opponents to bribe, intimidate or otherwise persuade Trump electors to not vote for him, with unexpected results: While a few electors did not vote as they were instructed by the voters they represented, the vast majority did as they should have done. And Trump won this contest, too. Of the 538 electors only seven of them did not vote according to the voting in their districts. Five of the “faithless” electors withheld their vote from Hillary Clinton, while only two withheld their vote from Trump.

Democrats and liberals have been crazy since the election, and now want the Electoral College to go the way of those thousands of missing emails from Clinton’s private server, since she won the popular vote by 2.1 percent, but lost the electoral vote. However, the Electoral College did precisely what it was designed to do; it did not “misfire,” as the Clinton camp charges.

The opinions of scholars and other commentators uphold the value of the Electoral College. For example, The Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky explains: “In creating the basic architecture of the American government, the Founders struggled to satisfy each state’s demand for greater representation while attempting to balance popular sovereignty against the risk posed to the minority from majoritarian rule.”

In addition to those concerns, “as students of ancient history, the Founders feared the destructive passions of direct democracy, and as recent subjects of an overreaching monarch, they equally feared the rule of an elite unresponsive to the will of the people. The Electoral College was a compromise, neither fully democratic nor aristocratic,” writes Jarrett Stepman, an editor for The Daily Signal.

The University of Buffalo’s James Campbell explains that had the popular vote been the mechanism that chose the president, candidates would have focused their campaigns on the population centers, ignoring the rest of the country. And he further suggests that then voters probably would have behaved differently, too. Many in the less populated areas, for example, might have stayed home, feeling that their vote didn’t matter, effectively disenfranchising them.

California essentially provided Clinton the 2.8 million votes that comprised her popular vote victory. The Electoral College protected the interests of those millions of Americans who do not live in the population centers.

The other side of that argument is that under the Electoral College system, candidates would limit their campaigns to the swing states, producing a similar effect as the popular vote method does. However, swing states change from time to time, whereas population centers do not.

Looking at the final version of the electoral map, Clinton’s strength lay primarily in the coastal areas and a few spots in the middle, while Trump’s support covered a tall and wide swath across the area between the coasts. Clinton’s ballot power came primarily from New York, California and Chicago, the population centers, while the huge area of the country that went for Trump covers primarily small towns/cities and sparsely populated areas, the heartland of America.

And that is the value of the Electoral College system: it protects Americans in flyover country from the tyranny of big city dwellers, who generally have a much different set of values and desires. And remember that the president’s job is to act in the best interests of the entire country, not to satisfy the desires of a voting majority or of the big cities.

What if instead of the football team that scores the most points winning the game, the winner is the team that gained the most yards? That is a similar situation to electing a president: The number of votes – like the number of yards – is not necessarily the most important factor.

So don't do away with the Electoral College, as the spurned Clinton voters want. It provides the balance of national interests the Founders understood was necessary.

One change that makes sense is to stop having electors that must get together in a formal ceremony to vote. Since the results are known when the vote count is done, this step is unnecessary; it serves no useful purpose, costs money, delays the finalizing of the voter’s decision, and provides losing parties an opportunity for harmful mischief, as we witnessed.

And while the aggrieved are creating mischief, they are also building false hopes, which will cause even more grief when their mischief fails to change the results of the election, and generates bad feelings that will endure long after the election is over.

These days some group wants to change virtually everything about America that made it the unqualified success it has been since it was founded.

Stop trying to change it and instead enjoy its abundant benefits.

Cross-posted from Observations

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