The U.S. is a Republic, Not a Democracy, but Electoral College Abolishers Don’t Care

Jun. 19, 2019
Bob Adelmann

Don't call them popular vote supporters. Call them by their real name: Electoral College abolishers, and along with it, the American Republic.

The Founders knew their history. Said John Adams: "Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide." His eldest son, John Quincy Adams, agreed: "The experience of all former ages has shown that, of all human governments, democracy was the most unstable, fluctuating, and short-lived."

So did the "Father of the Constitution," James Madison: "Democracies have been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths."

Supporters of the National Popular Vote coalition don't seem to care. Instead they are promoting direct democracy. The group claims that such a move "would make every person's vote equal throughout the U.S. It would ensure that every vote, in every state, will matter in every presidential election."

It would do no such thing, according to Constitutional scholar and Gettysburg College professor Allen Guelzo. A week after Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, Guelzo wrote that complaints that Trump won only in the Electoral College but not the popular vote were understandable, but unjustified in light of the Founders' original intents: "The Electoral College is at the core of our system of federalism." He added:

The Founders who sat in the 1787 Constitutional Convention lavished an extraordinary amount of argument on the Electoral College, and it was by no means one-sided….

The Founders … designed the operation of the Electoral College with unusual care.

Guelzo noted that the purpose of the convention was to create a new governing document in an effort "to form a more perfect union," and, in order to do that, smaller states with smaller populations had to be recognized. Otherwise they wouldn't have ratified it. As Guelzo noted: "We probably wouldn't have had a constitution, or a country at all, unless the route we took was federalism. The Electoral College was an integral part of that federal plan. It made a place for the states as well as the people in electing the president by giving them a say … in the federal process and preventing big-city populations from dominating the election of a president."

He noted that the Electoral College made it possible to end slavery, "since Abraham Lincoln earned only 39 percent of the popular vote in the election of 1860, but won a crushing victory in the Electoral College."

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The dangers of abolishing it are profoundly threatening to the very basis of the republic, said Guelzo:

Abolishing the Electoral College now might satisfy an irritated yearning for direct democracy, but it would also mean dismantling federalism.

After that, there would be no sense in having a Senate (which, after all, represents the interests of the states), and further along, no sense even in having states, except as administrative departments of the central government.

Those who wish to abolish the Electoral College ought to go the distance, and do away with the entire federal system and perhaps even retire the Constitution, since the federalism it was designed to embody would have disappeared.

That's why it's gratifying to learn that Judicial Watch (JW) has entered the fray. It is suing Colorado's Secretary of State for working papers she drafted in support of the state's new popular vote law. She has failed to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request, so the public interest law firm is suing her to obtain them. They are a critical part of JW's planned suit to challenge its implementation.

JW explained the issue at stake:

Currently, most states award all their Electoral College votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote in that state.

But … when a state, such as Colorado, passes legislation to join the National Popular Vote Compact, it pledges that all of that state's electoral votes will be given to whichever presidential candidate wins the popular vote nationwide, rather than the candidate who won the vote in just that state….

The Electoral College … balances the interests of citizens in both large and small states by requiring candidates to seek votes in less populous states whose interests might otherwise be ignored.

Under [popular vote] a state could award its Electoral College votes to a presidential candidate who lost the state's popular vote.

Tom Fitton, JW's president, was much more direct about the threat of the popular vote movement to the republic:

Leftists in Colorado and other states want to undo the Electoral College and the U.S. Constitution in the hopes of guaranteeing control of the presidency. This attack on the Electoral College would give large left-leaning states … an unconstitutionally outsized impact on the outcome of our presidential elections.

At the moment, a similar law has been passed by 15 states possessing 189 electoral votes. Translation: 89 more Electoral College votes are necessary before these "popular vote" laws become effective in abolishing the Electoral College.

Perhaps no one has expressed the danger more clearly than Trent England, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Council on Public Affairs. In speaking recently in Washington, D.C., England said:

The measure of our fundamental law is not whether it actualizes the general will [of the people] - that was the point of the French Revolution…. The measure of our Constitution is whether it is effective at encouraging just, stable and free government….

The Electoral College is effective at doing this.



Founders quotes on the dangers of a direct democracy

Judicial Watch Sues Colorado for Documents on Electoral College Change, Files Suit on Behalf of Reporter Over State's New National Popular Vote Interstate Compact

Background on and history behind the United States Electoral College

Washington Post: In defense of the Electoral College by Professor Allen Guelzo

Background on Professor Allen Guelzo Judicial Watch sues Colorado secretary of state over records request "Agreement among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote" - one-page explanation of move to neuter the Electoral College by National Popular Vote organization


Preamble to the United States Constitution

Background on Jena Griswold

Imprimis: The Danger of the Attacks on the Electoral College by Trent England

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