Alexander Hamilton, a federalist, believed in the Electoral College system. He wrote in Federalist #68 that it was an important feature, allowing us to have confidence in the “choice of the person to whom so important a trust was to be confided.” It was intended to be both a safety valve and a feature that would ensure that not only “local darlings” would be voted for the presidency.
When the Electoral College was instituted in the Constitutional Convention, the fear was to prevent anything that would endanger the federal republic — whether that meant a further swing toward direct democracy or a movement toward despotism.
So important was this trust that in the final draft of the Constitution, no federally elected official or person holding “an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States” could serve in the capacity of a member of the Electoral College.
Too often, when looking back on the origins of the Constitution, we forget to look at the other side’s opinion–that of the so-called anti-federalists. This is only natural; the Federalists won their objectives and the victors tend to write history very well.
Yet in the Antifederalist #72, ‘Republicus’ gave us some clear warnings and thoughts we should still ponder today when we consider who controls the Electoral College.
First is the feature of the Electors being required to vote for at least one person not from their own state of residence. While this was designed to avoid collusion among the bigger states, Republicus noted that “…in other words, they shall vote for two, one or both of whom they know nothing of.”
Part of Hamilton’s design (and defense) was that these wise men of trust would know best and could see the bigger picture better than the ordinary voter.
We have to bear in mind that under the original design of the Constitution, only those in the House of Representatives were directly elected. Even those in the Electoral College were not directly elected (in most states) by the population.
And while the choosing of Electors was regulated to the states, the process has been taken over by the political parties.
Instead of people who hold no “Office of Trust or Profit under the United States,” the Electoral College is now made up of party bosses and leaders who have sworn their allegiance to one of two private political organizations. These party insiders are supposed to be our Electors of great trust.
This is where Republicus’ second point comes into play. We have become the “servant of servants” by a constitutional provision that is dominated by a party system that was never envisioned by the Founders.
Even the Federal Election Commission concedes in a public interest paper that the Electoral College “contributes to the political stability of the nation by encouraging a two-party system.”
So there exists the Electoral College after 225 years of the Constitution–a body of party cronyism that has never actually performed its “safety valve” function swaying the outcome of an election.
Is there any way to break the party cronyism’s death-grip on our political system?
The national party structure has so much power, held in so few hands, that even with a growing portion of people self-identifying as independent, the party bosses’ grasp can’t be broken.
Changing the Constitution is totally out of the question–as the very party system that benefits from the status quo wouldn’t allow any such thing to happen.
In nature, big trees are frequently felled by, at times, very small forces–and that is where voters need to start. Grassroots movements, starting at the local level and moving up is the only way to take back power from the parties.
Doing this doesn’t require the creation of a third party, but just the common commitment of independent-minded voters with a common goal: an America ruled by the constituents.
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