The Electoral College is most certainly a unique institution created by our very wise Founders. It has in the past, handed the presidency to the candidate with fewer of the official popular vote. But that is a small price to pay for the enormous benefit it provides.
I say “official popular vote” because any statistician will tell you that there is likely to be a five percent error in the count due to honest mistakes and cheating – yes, cheating. Since in most cases — where the winner did not win the “official popular vote” — the margin was within a five-percentage point difference, only God knows who really won the actual vote. That is why any time a candidate wins by a slim margin we declare that he or she does NOT have a mandate from we the people – no matter if they claim one or not.
While we like to see the winner win, close elections mean that half the nation will be displeased with one outcome and the other half displeased with the alternative outcome. The views of one half of the people wind up unrepresented in the halls of government. In terms of a public consensus or mandate, it makes no difference which candidate wins because he or she will have the support – or opposition – of half the nation.
The value of the Electoral College is that it decides the election … period. It settles all conflicts. It reminds me of what an attorney friend told me about court decisions. He said that “court decisions are not necessarily correct, fair or just. They merely settle the issues.” That is kind of what the Electoral College does.
Two times in the past twenty years, the Electoral College put into office the candidate who lost the official vote count. Looking back on 2000, there was prolonged controversy and court cases for weeks after the election as George Bush the Second and Vice President Al Gore were duking it out in the courts. Gore did not finally concede until the day before the Electoral College was to meet and elect Bush as President.
Without the Electoral College, the Gore challenges could have gone on for additional weeks – even months. The presidential election might have remained unsettled long after Inauguration Day. That would mean America would not have a legitimate duly elected President to inaugurate on January 20th.
Who would have been President? Would the outgoing President remain by his own authority? Would the candidate with the highest vote claim the Presidency even as the votes were being challenged? Would Congress step in to pick the President? Or would the third in line – the Speaker of the House – claim the presidency?
We are again living in a time when political competitors are making separate claims to the office – both contending they won the election. There are requests for recounts and hearings looking into accusations of vote fraud. There is great division and consternation among the public that could go on for months and months except for one thing – the Electoral College.
They met and performed their only constitutional duty. They elected a President of the United States. And they did it based on a long tradition of voting for the candidate for whom they promised to vote when they ran as electors.
Many voters do not realize that when they mark a ballot for the preferred presidential candidate, they are NOT electing that person. They are electing the electors who have pledged to vote for that person in the Electoral College.
Election controversy, recounts and court battles are not what drives the Electoral College. Those individuals have an unbridled right to elect any American-born citizen who has attained the age of 35 years to be President of the United States. They do not even have to choose among the candidates.
Once they vote, the presidential election is over. Yes, Congress must certify their vote – but that is just a magisterial function.
Ironically, it is when the Electoral College is doing its best work, it comes under the most severe criticisms. Its role is most important in times of the greatest controversy of a presidential election. The Founders knew what they were doing when they incorporated the Electoral College into the Constitution.
So, there ‘tis.