Some extended thoughts on the value of America's Electoral College, how to relax the Turkish economic crisis... and MORE!
American Opportunity
A/O Global Intelligence Weekly: In Praise Of The Electoral College
Check back soon as AO's latest project will focus on preserving our Electoral College (Web site under development).....
The following is an essay by A/O Senior Fellow Michael C. Maibach on why the Electoral College deserves a hallowed and sacred place in the selection of the American president.  Worth the read.  

In Praise of the Electoral College

  • The US Electoral College guarantees a president with legitimate majority support and a broad base.
  • Without the US Electoral College, would the major parties just compete for different urban areas?
  • The US system is a federation of states. It is right that state-by-state majorities elect the president.
"America's Constitutional system aims not merely for majority rule, but rule by certain kinds of majorities... All 537 persons elected to national offices – the President, Vice President, 100 Senators and 435 Representatives – are chosen by majorities that reflect the Nation's federal nature."  -- George F. Will, Newsweek  (August 30th, 2004) 
"We are a very different country than we were 200 years ago.  I believe strongly that in a democracy, we should respect the will of the people, and to me that means it's time to do away with the Electoral College and move to the popular election of our President." -- Hillary Clinton, upon election to the US Senate (November 10th, 2000)

Americans elect their President through the state-by-state Constitutional mechanism known as the Electoral College, rather than by direct vote nationwide. Today, all but two states award all their respective electoral votes to the statewide winner.  

Ever since 1824, when the popular vote winner, Andrew Jackson, was denied the Presidency by the U.S. House of Representatives after the Electoral College failed to produce a majority for any candidate, some have called for its abolition.  

With another Presidential election now upon us, and more than 10 state legislatures having expressed their support for an alternative system, it is timely to consider the value of this vital and controversial 18th century institution. 

Typically, three criticisms of the College are made:  First, that it is “undemocratic.” Second, that it permits the election of a candidate who does not win the most votes. Third, that its winner-takes-all approach cancels the votes of the losing candidates in each state.

Is it undemocratic?

Those who call the Electoral College “undemocratic” often claim it represents the Founders’ fear of an imprudent electorate. The people’s choice for President is best confirmed by wise and dispassionate electors. 

This explanation ignores the great debate of the Constitutional Convention between the small and large state delegates.  The U.S. Congress similarly reflects this struggle, in its two chambers: one for proportional representation of the population and one for equal representation of each U.S. State. 

The Electoral College evolved from a similar compromise. Fearing Presidential domination from the populous states of New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia, small states proposed election of the President by the 13 state legislatures. Each state would hold a single vote. Large-state delegates such as Madison of Virginia naturally favored direct popular election. 

The Electoral College was an ingenious compromise, allowing the popular election of the US President, but on a state-by-state basis. Each state is allotted electoral votes equivalent to their combined proportional and equal representation in the two chambers of Congress. 

Even the least populous state thus gets at three votes – one for its representative and two for its senators – but the very populous states are not deprived of significant influence, either.

Thus, the Electoral College is no more “undemocratic” than is the U.S. Congress. Without it, however, the importance and influence of small states, such as Wyoming and Alaska would be reduced to virtually nothing. 

Against the will of the majority?

The second criticism of the Electoral College – that it allows a candidate to win the presidency with less than half the popular vote – is the most challenging to deal with. 

Indeed, in three instances (1876, 1888 and 2000), the first-place candidate by popular vote has finished second in the Electoral College. In all three, the popular margin nationally was very close, but the first-place finisher’s votes were too concentrated in a few states like California to win enough states.

Still, the Electoral College although imperfect, remains a better solution than direct popular election of the President. 

Rarely has this scenario transpired, and the rest of the time, this state-based system ensures that candidates build support across a broad range of states, not just a majority of citizens in a few large states. We are “a nation of states”, and this is a key part of American federalism.   

Moreover, it is unclear how a popular-vote-majority system would work out in practice, if the Electoral College were abolished. In the 57 presidential elections since 1789, no candidate received 50% of the popular vote on 18 occasions, including Lincoln, Wilson, Truman, Kennedy, and Clinton - to name the most famous “minority Presidents”. However, they did win a majority of the states’ Electoral College votes!  

The Electoral College creates a national majority for new Presidents, regardless of the popular vote margin and without requiring a run-off system. Reflecting the will of majorities in the 50 states, the College legitimizes the result.  

A sharply divided America gave Lincoln only 39.7% of the vote in 1860.  However, Lincoln won 180 electoral votes – more than double the second-place finisher, Breckinridge.  This gave his election legitimacy at a critical moment in American history.

Are votes wasted?

The third criticism is that the “winner-takes-all” provision for the awarding of Electoral College votes essentially throws out the popular votes not cast for a state’s Presidential choice.  For example, Virginia votes cast for Walter Mondale in 1984 were “thrown out” because all 12 of its electoral votes were given to Reagan. 

But one could obviously make that argument of the overall result: 37.6 million votes for Walter Mondale nationwide were canceled out by virtue of Ronald Reagan’s decisive 54.5 million-vote victory. There will always be only one winner in any contest for a single office like the Presidency.

One could also argue that votes are "wasted" in “safe” states, as well, particularly since both candidates often ignore those states and focus their time in the more competitive states.  In fact, in any electoral system, some locales will be overlooked. Here again, the alternatives to the Electoral College look worse.

The return of sectionalism?

While some states are predominantly rural or predominantly urban... every US state today has an internal mix of attributes. Nominally, then, all candidates must represent a mix of people and sub-cultures, no matter which specific states vote for them. 

However, without the Electoral College, it is probable that most candidates would concentrate their efforts on vote-rich urban centers of the country, no longer needing to “win statewide”.  The short-term effect would be to alienate millions in small towns and rural states such as Montana and Idaho.  

The longer-term effect of a focus on urban areas and away from statewide balancing politics may be to a major re-alignment of the major parties towards urban interests.  This is bad for national unity and neglects the interests of non-urban Americans. 

The two-party, winner-take-all system serves the United States well by comparison to the fractious, multi-party coalition governments of Europe.  A splintered set of regional and issue-oriented parties or factions would spring up. This might engender in the US Congress an urban vs. rural akin to the sectional gridlock that led to the Civil War.    

The Founders’ Electoral College is a mechanism unique to the American republic.  It creates national electoral majorities, engenders national Presidential campaigns, and maintains a robust federalism that operates most effectively within a strong two-party system.  It is not a perfect system, but the alternatives proposed to may bring political consequences that may be even more damaging than any perceived problem of the current system.  

Removing one gear from a watch affects the entire mechanism.  Let us keep the US Electoral College system!
Michael C. Maibach is a senior fellow for American Opportunity/Free Congress Foundation.

More after the jump. . .
Joim American Opportunity

Events in Turkey bear watching by the wider public, as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is playing an expensive game of chicken -- one that is using his own people as the bargaining chip.

In broad strokes, the Turkish economy is in a great deal of trouble.  With $220bn in foreign reserves debt and the Turkish property, energy, and construction sectors all in desperate need of restructuring, the massive devaluation of the lira by 1/5th combined with its slow slide over the last five years makes foreign investment much more likely... but hardly the investment needed to shore up Turkey's flagging economy or monetary system, much less serve as the catalyst for widespread reform.

The problem is magnified by geopolitical realities.  Turkey is a NATO member and a key European ally for the United States, with a unique ability to influence events in the Black Sea, Balkans, and the Middle East.  Turkey remains a key U.S. ally in Syria against ISIL and a moderating influence against militant Islam, as demonstrated by its bi-lateral ties with the al-Sisi government in Egypt.  Over parts of the former Ottoman Empire, the ghost of Turkish administration and its laws, the old millet system and Ottoman ideas of religious freedom (e.g. the right not to be proselytized) and above all else its position within Islam as a secular and modern state remain deeply influential.  

Thus the problem of renewed Russo-Turkish relations over the last three years, most notably the sale of Russian air defense system to the Turks and the visible warming after the abortive coup attempt that Erdogan blames on the United States, specifically by encouraging followers of Turkish cleric Fetullah Gulen within the police and military to orchestrate a rebellion that quickly failed.  Indeed, as the Gulenist movement has had the most success in the policy and judiciary system (and here that the coup plotters found the most support), Erdogan has focused the most on eradicating Gulenist sentiment within those ranks. 

Erdogan rose to power on a wave of populist sentiment in 2002, slowly replacing capable technocrats with party loyalists.  Yet as the Erdogan government is coming to grips with the result of the long-term and short-term house cleaning, its reliance on the West -- the EU and US specifically -- as reliable partners frayed considerably under the Obama administration.  President Trump has chosen to be firm with Turkey, as the gambit of playing off Russian interests against American ones in the Middle East is a condition that jeopardizes the American monopoly of force.  In short, Syria demonstrated why engaging upon a path of "democratic uprisings" without predetermined outcomes surrenders the initiative to outside actors.

One might assume that cordial relations between NATO allies should be a foregone conclusion.  Indeed, this might be the case if Turkey's economy were not in desperate need of painful reforms.  Yet the Turkish government has chosen the path of short-term reward, a nationalist surge of popularity in exchange for a suffering economy.  The longer the gambit lasts, the more harmful the results and the more likely the United States will be blamed for the fallout.  

This blame may not be so easy to place.  There is little conclusive evidence to suggest that the United States had any direct hand in the Gulenist coup other than the fact that Gulen himself -- who very quickly and early condemened the coup plotters -- has lived in the United States since 1999.  Erdogan may have found a useful foil, but one that could and should be the key to Turkey's economic salvation.  The Turkish lira should be thriving in an environment where American investment and American economic growth play a key role not only in sparking the necessary monetary reforms but touching off key investment in Syria proper as the nation emerges from its prolonged civil war. 

Rather than seeking for opportunities to sow division, Erdogan would be better served by settling accounts with its NATO partners and looking towards its future renaissance.  As the crossroads of continents, faiths, and geopolitical power, Turkey's potential deserves the far sighted leadership that Erdogan has promised in the past.  Whether Erdogan is willing to deliver on these promises is a question that can only be answered if (and only if) Turkey is willing to meet the United States halfway.

Some news and articles we recommend for information and discussion purposes, none of which necessarily represent the position of A/O:​

As always, American Opportunity is always looking for new resources and topics we can address in detail.  Please feel free to stay in contact! 


Jim Gilmore
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