Silent Archimedes

Posts Tagged ‘Al Gore’

Why the founding fathers got it right with the electoral college

Posted by silentarchimedes on November 8, 2008

The crisis from the 2000 presidential election continued to leave a bad taste in the mouths of the voting public during the 2004 election and even the recently removed 2008 presidential election. To the outsider, the hanging chads and the recount after recount in Florida gave the impression that every person’s vote must count. However, everyone knew that it was one of those rare instances in American presidential politics that a single vote could actually make such a dramatic a difference. A single vote that could potentially give Florida’s electoral college votes to the winning candidate, and thus the presidency. When Florida and the presidency finally went to candidate George Bush, people were at least somewhat happy that the judicial and election systems of America had held its ground.

However, another interesting statistic left the Al Gore camp more perturbed. Candidate Gore had won the popular vote over George Bush. That means more people in the country had voted for Gore over Bush. But due to the electoral college system, Bush won the presidency. Mathematically speaking, each vote cast for Gore was actually worth less than one vote. Or, each vote cast for Bush was worth more than each vote cast for Gore. “This doesn’t seem fair”, the Gore supporters argued. Bush supporters responded, “Well, that’s the system for hundreds of years and it’s always worked.  Stop complaining.”

Presidential candidate Party Home state Popular vote Electoral
vote
Count Pct
George W. Bush Republican Texas 50,456,002 47.87% 271
Al Gore Democratic Tennessee 50,999,897 48.38% 266

Why did the founding fathers use an electoral college instead of a popular vote to determine the winner of the presidential election? In short, the founding fathers were skeptical of the will of the people or their ability to intellectually vote for the candidate of their choice. By inserting a safeguard, the electoral college, the founding fathers believed that if by that rare chance the will of the people was either misguided or that some populated region in America dominated the popular vote, the safeguard would protect American democracy.

Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska

Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska

Which leads me to why I think the electoral college, although in many cases a frustration and hints at unfairness, it is a necessary safeguard. Let’s look at one Senate race this year that could have used something like an electoral college. The Alaska Senate race between Republican incumbent Ted Stevens and Democratic challenger Mark Begich. Ted Stevens was convicted of seven counts of making false statements and taking bribes worth more than $250,000 to make renovations on his personal home. The evidence was overwhelming. After the announced conviction, bipartisan calls for Stevens removal were prominent, reaching up to federal level, including John McCain and Barack Obama. Even the governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin said at the time that he had broken his trust with the people and she planned to ask him to step aside. However, the news of the corruption did not affect Stevens attempt for an eighth term in the Senate as he won the Senate elections in November! This is a man who epitomizes the corruption in government and the Alaskan people still voted for him!!! He won by a 1.43% margin (roughly 3200 votes) over Begich. To make it more interesting, Sarah Palin switched her tone and declared that the will of the people had spoken and she would not ask him to step aside. In other words, she was okay with supporting the first felon elected to the US Senate in history!! What about the 46.61% of the people? Is the 48.04% that voted for Stevens the “will of the people.” It is not even a majority. However, the question that really needs answering is why did the people still vote for Ted Stevens? Had they no shame that they were electing a felon to the US Senate for the first time ever?

The corruption scandals associated with Senator Ted Stevens and Representative Don Young. The inexperience and ethical issues of Sarah Palin. The hilarious attempt of Mike Gravel to win the Democratic primary. The Bridge to Nowhere. And finally, the “will of the people” voting for convicted felon, Stevens.  What is going on in Alaska?? I just think the people there live their own merry little lives and are disconnected with reality or don’t care for it. If the presidential election was ran the same way Alaska is, this country would be in big trouble. Are you telling me that if McCain or Obama was convicted as a felon, that they would still win the general election?

This example clearly demonstrates that the will of the people or the ability of the public to vote with due diligence and conscience is not always dependable. The electoral college works for an overwhelming majority of the time. It is only at times of a close race that it has the potential to rear its ugly head. However, if a race is that close anyways, theoretically it won’t really matter who wins since there is no  definitive will of the people.

In the case of Ted Stevens and Alaska, I wish the founding fathers put the electoral college into Senate races as well. But of course they wanted to separate representation at the federal and state elections. Then again, I don’t know if I would trust the electoral college in Alaska either.

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