Stung by an outcome they didn’t like, Democrats have set out to abolish the process they blame for their misfortune — the Electoral College. Senate Democrats introduced an amendment that would abolish the constitutional institution, while at least 15 states and Washington, D.C., hope to form a political bloc that would hand their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote instead of candidate who won their state.
But Democrats didn’t always oppose the Electoral College. In fact, not too long ago some defended it.
The Electoral College was established “to protect the residents of the smaller states,” Cato Institute scholar Ronald D. Rotunda wrote six days after the 2000 election, in which George W. Bush won the majority (271) of electoral votes, though he lost the popular vote by about 500,000 votes. The founders built in the Electoral College because they also “rejected government by simple majority because plebiscites historically have been the tool of dictatorships, not democracy.”
Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation provides what is the most common explanation for the Electoral College’s existence: The framers “wanted to create a balance between the heavily-populated and less-populated areas of the country.”
Former Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle, who at one time represented South Dakota, one of the least-populated states, agreed with this nearly two decades ago, when he said “I happen to think” the Electoral College “may help the smaller states.”
Despite the Electoral College’s central role in establishing our republic, unprecedented and without rival in history, Democrats have come to loathe it in recent years because it failed to produce the results they felt entitled to in 2000 and 2016.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is a believer in “national voting,” which she is confident is a “means to get rid of the Electoral College.” New York Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, one of the Democrats behind the constitutional amendment to eliminate the Electoral College, complains it “has distorted the outcome of elections and disenfranchised millions of voters.” Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, and another one of the amendment sponsors, simply calls it “outdated” and “undemocratic.”
If the Democrats were morally and intellectually consistent, they would cherish the Electoral College. They claim to be the guardians of minorities, and, says Rotunda, “the Electoral College, in practice, gives a little more electoral power to racial minorities, such as blacks and Hispanics, and thus is important in helping to achieve racial justice.”
“Because these minorities tend to live in the large cities of the bigger states,” he adds, “their votes are important in tilting all the electoral votes of their state, thus encouraging candidates of both parties to appeal for their votes.”
Demonizing the Electoral College has not always been an objective of the Democratic Party. In 1956, while still a senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy said from the Senate floor the Electoral College “it is not only the unit vote for the presidency we are talking about, but a whole solar system of governmental power. If it is proposed to change the balance of power of one of the elements of the system, it is necessary to consider the others.”
Richard Goodwin, an adviser to both Kennedy and President Johnson, said that while the institution can be “clumsy,” it “has worked well for an ideal construction of political theory whose consequences can’t be foreseen.”
Decades later, long before the heat of the 2000 election began to cool, the New York Times, which could be legitimately called the house organ of the Democratic Party, editorialized in favor of the Electoral College.
“The nation’s founders sought in various creative ways to create checks and balances, both inside and outside government. The Electoral College was first and foremost a compact among states, large and small, designed to ensure that one state or one region did not dominate the others.”
The Electoral College is “one of those safeguards of a balanced federalism,” the Times continued, “much like the allocation of two senators to each state, regardless of size.”
The Times finished its defense thusly:
“The system has survived earlier instances in which the winner of the popular vote was denied the presidency. Wise voters and legislators will want to make sure that it survives this one as well.”
This wisdom hasn’t changed in two decades. The Democratic Party has.
— Written by J. Frank Bullitt
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