The Electoral College Enhances Majority Rule

The uproar in 2000 over George W. Bush’s “razor-thin” majority in the Florida balloting for President documented several serious deficiencies in our body politic, among them: the American people’s rampant confusion as to the proper role of the federal government, the eagerness of certain candidates to do anything to win office, and the near-total ignorance of the citizenry with regard to our Constitution and the electoral college it established. For most Americans, universal suffrage and the principle of “one man, one vote” are so manifestly just that they cannot even conceive of alternative approaches. But our Founding Fathers could, and did. If we want to preserve the marvelous system they established, we’d better figure out how to explain its virtues to our fellow citizens.

Suppose that you and your adult siblings are planning a family get-together, but some of you want to have the function at the beach and others want to have it in the mountains. What do you do? Take a vote, right? But wait, there’s a problem: Some of you are married; some aren’t. Some of you have children; some don’t. Should spouses and children get to vote? Is that fair to the siblings who are single or childless?

Voting may be the obvious solution, but deciding how the vote will be tallied is another matter. There are at least two ways to proceed, and reasonable arguments to be made for either approach. You can conduct a popular election, providing ballots to all who will attend the function, including spouses and children, and let majority will prevail. Or you can create an electoral-college system in which each of the sibling’s families has one vote — or a set number of votes determined by an agreed-upon formula (perhaps assigning a half-vote to each spouse and a quarter-vote to each child). Each of the sibling’s families then holds a popular election in its own household and uses that majority decision to cast a “family vote” for the beach or the mountains.

Remember the hilarious scene in It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in which Sid Caesar and the rest of the cast try to decide how to split the money they hope to find? Should the shares be divided just among the people who heard Jimmy Durante’s dying words about the hidden cash? Should shares be divided among the various groups of traveling companions? Or should they be divided equally among all present, so that Milton Berle and his wife and mother-in-law wind up with three shares? As the scene illustrates, “one man, one vote” is only one of many ways to resolve the question, and quite possibly not the fairest.

Don’t employees at large companies sometimes vote by department? Don’t students sometimes vote by grades or classes? There are plenty of situations in everyday life in which an electoral-college system is resorted to in preference to a majority decision. The important thing is that the system be agreed to beforehand, and abided by afterward.

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