As a result of this current election, there has been a great debate in this country whether or not it is acceptable for our nation to elect an individual to the position of president without them winning the popular vote, and what if any legitimate purpose could the electoral college hold in the modern American political system.
I will assert that the electoral college currently is unacceptable, while retaining the position that the popular vote should be largely irrelevant to who becomes president of the United States.
Before we go into the historical justifications for this position, I would like to first clarify my stance. I believe that the current system is better than a strict popular vote methodology, but would instead prefer a requirement that in order for there to be a President of the United States, that individual must win a majority of the sovereign states.
This would mean that in order to be president, you would be required to win the popular vote in 26 states, regardless of size. In the event of a tie of 25/25 the election would then be sent to the House of Representatives who would then appoint a president.
The reasoning for this seemingly bizarre position is the reason we have an electoral college, to reassert that states are in fact sovereign.
State sovereignty, was established by multiple amendments to the Constitution (10 and 11 specifically, implied in others) dictates that each state maintains some level of autonomy from others. If you eliminated the electoral college this would not be the case for determining the president who is the chief executive of the states.
The original intent of state sovereignty was that in early days of the republic, there were substantial concerns in regards to the level of supremacy the federal government would have over the originally autonomous 13 states/colonies at this time.
There was a severe fear in the hearts of our founders that the states would slowly become irrelevant and subservient to the federal government, and as a result the doctrine of dual federalism was established. The anti-federalists, however, believed that this was insufficient and as a result passed the 10th Amendment, which ensured sovereignty for the states from federal powers, by limiting them exclusively to those listed for the federal government in the Constitution.
If we assume as the founders would have us that states are in fact sovereign, we must conclude that sovereignty is independent of population size. If each state is in fact an independent actor, they must be granted equal legal powers to all other states, otherwise they are not independent or sovereign, rather subservient and dependent.
Just as Greece is deemed independent of the laws of France, despite their relative economic power and populations, so to must North Dakota be allowed to remain independent of California, otherwise it is impossible to claim that North Dakota is, in fact, sovereign as Greece is.
So what does the electoral college have to do with state sovereignty in the modern era?
Simply put, without an electoral college, you strip away one of the last two bastions which ensure the states ability to remain sovereign. Since the Supreme Court has ruled the 10th Amendment to be largely a truism, the only current defenses the States have .
As it stands today, however, the electoral college severely hampers the sovereignty of each state, by making the opinions of up to 75 percent of them irrelevant, should the correct combination of larger and more populous states rise against them.
Were the President merely a figurehead position, this would be irrelevant, but this is not the case. With current presidential powers, this is utterly unacceptable, since it allows the will of less than 15 sovereign bodies to override the will of roughly 2/3 of the others (through veto) and forces the agenda to revolve solely around the interests of these larger states.
In short, in order to maintain the traditions of dual federalism and state sovereignty, the electoral college much be reformed, but not in the way that many would like.
Each state must similarly to the Senate be given equal power when it comes to the selection of the nations executive. In this system, the president would be required to win 26 of the states, and only when the states disagreed should it come down to the relative populations by a vote in the House of Representatives.
In this case, we have allowed still for popular vote to be important should the states disagree, but we have stated that ultimately the sovereign states regardless of population are equals in determining the future of this nation.
Additionally, there are problematic implications for the lefts position of only popular vote matters for determining the president. If popular vote is all that matters in this country, why do we have a Senate at all?
As it stands the same argument could be used that the Senate artificially allows small population based states to block the overarching will of the majority, with potentially only 9-10 percent of the American publics beliefs being able to block the will of the remaining 90 percent of the country. Should we not then also abolish state power in the legislature, if we have abolished their power in selecting the executive?
Lastly, there is the concept of constitutional amendments, as it stands you could again be blocked by an even smaller population 6-9 percent, which is why almost universal consensus is required for an Amendment to currently pass. Again, we must ask if they cannot pick their executive, why should they be allowed to dictate the terms of the supreme legal document of the land, regardless of a potentially overwhelming majorities opinion.
The answer of course goes back to our original discussion, states are sovereign.
If you like the freedom of North Dakota to dictate its own policies and rules for the most parts within its borders, you must also permit a system like the electoral college to exist. By eliminating the electoral college, you are continuing the tradition of replacing the states with the federal government, and when the day comes that you oppose federal policy, it is perhaps a good idea to have a method of prevention of such policies.
Remember, should you allow government to reduce the power of those you stand against, you have reduced your own powers when the day comes for you yourself to stand against government.
Dave Owen is the opinion editor of The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]