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Populist #28

by Franklin Wednesday, May. 17, 2006 at 10:44 AM

On the Electoral College

Click Here to Read Previous Papers in this Series

America's presidential election system is clearly the most heavily debated part of the United States Constitution, as many people and groups complain about its anti-democratic leanings.  Calls have rung out from all over to change the system to a strictly popular vote method.

Although many organizations have long supported the abolition of the Electoral College, the recent protracted proceedings in Florida and Ohio, as well as the apparent disparity between the popular and the Electoral vote have added more fuel to the calls to abolish the Electoral College.  However, for all of the furious invectives against the College over the last few years, there has been a scarcity of explanations for why it exists, and how it was originally designed to work.

The current rhetoric calling for an end to the Electoral College generally exposes an overall misunderstanding of the purpose of the college. Therefore, a brief review of its intention is absolutely necessary before any informed discussion about its dissolution should proceed.

"Two principles sustain our Constitution: one a majority of the people, the other a majority of the States; the first was necessary to preserve the liberty or sovereignty of the people; the last, to preserve the liberty or sovereignty of the States. But both are founded in the principle of majority; and the effort of the Constitution is to preserve this principle in relation both to the people and the States, so that neither species of sovereignty or independence should be able to destroy the other." 
- John Taylor

My goal here is not simply to argue for or against the Electoral College, but rather, to examine all proposals and their propensity to ensure our liberty.  Let us, then, continue this examination united in the cause of rational liberty, which, as discussed in previous papers, is increased in proportion to the amount that the federal government is decentralized.

Sadly, we have forgotten that States in our Union created the federal government and not the other way around.  The Electoral College system represents an attempt, whether effective or not, to limit federal power, and preserve federalism and States' rights.  This is meant to be an essential part of our federal structure, and also represents an important reminder that both centralization and bureaucratic rule are antagonistic to liberty.

Federalism, as a political form, may be the least understood, both in theory and in practice.  We often hear calls of restoring federalism or reducing government, but we must be wary of any artificial versions of hierarchical "federalism" that will be contrived by politicians in their quest for power.  Federalism is not when the central government graciously allows the states the ability to do one thing or another.  True federalism is when the people, acting as sovereign through their States, set limitations on the central government.  Anything other than this is just a masked form of centralized rule that is hostile to the People!

Simply put, federalism means States' rights. The foundation of States' rights is the foundation of liberty; they rise and fall in unison. If we, as a nation, had been able to build the true union of sovereign individual States as was advertised by our nation's founders, then there never would, or could have been the imperial central government which we labor under today.

Federalism is an agreement between sovereign entities. Imagine ten family businesses working to build a new marketplace together.  The heads of the each agree to share space together, employ and pay for security together, advertise together at times, and a few other limited group tasks.  Otherwise, each family business works to meet their own needs independently; including advertising and operating their respective businesses.  The result is both a marketplace of businesses as well as ideas.  Each store in this new marketplace bears the responsibility of what results from both good and bad decisions.

Alternatively, centralized rule is an agreement to follow the rules of just one single, central leader.  In the example above, the ten businesses would have just one leader to direct them all; either elected or ordained in some manner.  Even if this leader is smarter than any other person in the group, the collective intelligence of all the rest far outweighs that of any individual.  The greatest problem is that the businesses themselves absorb the cost of errant decisions of the leader, who personally pays little to no price for imposing bad choices on the rest; and thus, there is little incentive to correct such actions.  In this situation we get a leader who isn't truly responsible.  We get a leader who will be motivated primarily by increasing, and remaining in power.  Centralized rule has the effect of both lowering responsibility in leaders, and reducing individual freedom.

Clearly, under a system of genuine federalism, governments would be forced to compete for population and businesses with moderate policies, including those of taxation.  If these governments were to impose bad policies on the People in their state, they at least would not be subjecting the entire nation to them.  People would be free to "vote with their feet" and simply leave an overly oppressive jurisdiction.  It is a widely-held maxim that governments are much more likely to be controlled by the People the closer they are to their constituents, and therefore, in a situation where people could escape bad policies by simply moving to another state, the population would have a much greater influence over the policies of their delegated government.

Although rarely followed in these days, the entirety of the Constitution rests upon its acceptance by the People acting as the sovereign through their states. The entirety of the government reflects this by the representation of the states in each and every lawful undertaking. There is nothing in our structure of government where a mere numerical majority in any branch of the federal government can do as it pleases, nor should there ever be.

Even today, three-fourths of the states can amend the Constitution.  They can fundamentally alter our government, including dissolution of the income tax, the Federal Reserve or the Supreme Court.  In no other way can it be clearly shown that the sovereign people of the United States have announced their firm and final position.  The right of the individual States of a nation is the essence of a free country, however much in dormancy such a practice has become in our country.

To add, in a proper federal structure, the collective position of the people through their states is more important than the position of the nation as a whole; as this keeps government reigned in to a more local presence.  In our current situation, the continual change in the balance of power towards the central, rather than the state government, is fundamentally altering the nature of our country, and is bringing about severe consequences that even those who are promoting it will come to regret. As noted above, as well as in previous papers, changing the location of government power from one single national authority to multiple, smaller, and local authorities, will serve to act as a strong bulwark for our liberty. 

The alternative to a strong state sovereignty is to give final authority to individual politicians and the lifelong deities of the Supreme Court, who convene and tell us what our Constitution means and what laws we must submit to, no matter how ridiculous their interpretation may be.  But, to do this would only abandon the sovereignty of the People!  To do this would abandon the principles of freedom and replace republicanism or democracy with oligarchy; and an oligarchy based on deification rather than reason and justice.  The sovereignty of the People, in which all reasonable people believe, can mean nothing to us except the People acting in their own sovereign Constitution-making capacity through their individual states.

Federalism was, therefore, an attempt to keep a growing centralized authority away from local life. There is no such thing as a perfect system of government, but by uncovering failures locally, the People can still have the freedom to escape bad governments and search out better ones.  No one can truly know what the outcome of our nation would have been if federalism would have genuinely grown, but one thing is undeniably certain; it would have been greatly better than the form of government which we have today!  Instead of having fifty sovereign states working together in limited ways, we have one behemoth state that invades our lives at every turn.  Instead of the People having a choice to live in any of fifty governments, they have only one; and one can never be a choice.

Reaffirming the federal nature of elections can only reaffirm the federal nature of government.  Doing so, therefore, can only increase the political strength of people locally, and create a better atmosphere for liberty to flourish!

Thus, I can think of but one source of right to government, all branches of it, as well as the final decision on its makeup; and that is The People.  They, and only they, have a right to determine whether they will make laws, or execute them; or do both in a collective body, or by a delegated authority.  Ultimately, those who love liberty must favor decentralization of power because it is the path towards greater individual freedom and the respect of rights.

The People of this country must either create a new ways of dividing power, or create a presidency as envisioned by the framers.  After the last one-hundred years of oppressive centralization, this is the only path to long-term peace and liberty.  If we, as a people and a nation, cannot or will not take such a path, we would be better off without a president at all.

In relationship to the Electoral College and our system of choosing a president, it is these radical thoughts, both old and new, that I will endeavor to examine in forthcoming papers.

"The way to have good and safe government, is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to every one exactly the functions he is competent to. Let the national government be entrusted with the defence of the nation, and its foreign and federal relations; the State governments with the civil rights, laws, police, and administration of what concerns the State generally; the counties with the local concerns of the counties, and each ward direct the interests within itself."
-Thomas Jefferson


In the spirit of liberty and prosperity,


Franklin

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