By Peter Lumaj
Candidate for Secretary of the State 2014
If Connecticut embraces the National Popular Vote (NPV), it would agree to throw its seven electoral votes to the presidential candidate with the highest popular vote, whether or not he or she got the most votes in Connecticut.
Since the passage of the 12th Amendment, there have been several federal and state statutory changes which have affected both the time and manner of choosing Presidential Electors but which have not further altered the fundamental workings of the Electoral College.
In order to appreciate the reasons for the Electoral College, it is essential to understand its historical context and the problem that the Founding Fathers were trying to solve. They faced the difficult question of how to elect a president in a nation that was composed of thirteen large and small states covetous of their own rights and powers and suspicious of any central national government.
The Constitutional Convention considered several possible methods of selecting a president, such as to have the Congress choose the president, have the State legislature select the president, or to have the president elected by a direct popular vote. They were all rejected.
Finally, a so-called “Committee of Eleven” in the Constitutional Convention proposed an indirect election of the president through a College of Electors.
Direct election was rejected not because the Framers of the Constitution doubted public intelligence but rather because they feared that without sufficient information about candidates from outside their State, people would naturally vote for a “favorite son” from their own State or region. At worst, no president would emerge with a popular majority sufficient to govern the whole country. At best, the choice of president would always be decided by the largest, most populous States with little regard for the smaller ones.
The structure of the Electoral College can be traced to the Centurial Assembly system of the Roman Republic. The similarities between the Electoral College and classical institutions are not accidental. Many of the Founding Fathers were well schooled in ancient history and its lessons.
They appreciated the ethical imperative that the government should be based on the ascent of the governed, but they also realized that the tyranny of the majority could be just as destructive as the tyranny of the few. That is precisely why they fashioned a limited government constrained by internal checks and balances and specific Constitutional limitations.
There are advantages to the electoral-vote system—particularly its tendency to produce a clear winner. Further, it insures that a president must have broad support over many regions of the country as opposed to popularity in a relatively few heavily-populated states. If presidents appeared to be solely regional candidates, it would tend to undermine the cohesiveness of the country. Given the current Electoral College, no person could become president without both the support of a substantial portion of the population and broad support over different regions of the country.
It insures that the voices of both ethnic and economic minorities will be heard because the effort to win the electors from these states compels candidates to address the concerns of these minorities. It strengthens broad consensus-building parties while diminishing the extreme voices of small radical parties and isolates potential problem elections to either a few states or a single state.
NPV would present a series of difficult questions: Will we give great leverage to third party candidates by requiring the winner to have a majority? Will we have a runoff, which might lead to depressed turnout for the second vote? Will we create a National Election Agency to run the vote and or leave it with the 51 governments who now run it? If those states report raw votes, will they somehow artificially increase the number of voters in the state or pad the totals—a temptation now avoided by having a set number of electoral votes for each state? Finally, would National Popular Vote Compact be constitutional?
Article 10, Section 10 of the US Constitution prohibits compacts among individual states without the consent of Congress. The provision has been largely dormant for years, but it offers the basis for an additional lawsuit if an attempt is made to elect a president by implementation of the NPV compact.
If the American people wish to do away with the Electoral College, the Constitution provides a path for amendment. It has been used successfully 27 times. We should proceed in the same way so as to assure a full understanding and open discussion by our entire country.