Talking Electoral College versus NPV on Crosstalk


A big thanks to host Jim Schneider and the crew at Crosstalk radio for today’s discussion of the Electoral College versus National Popular Vote. It was my pleasure to be on the program and to talk with so many listeners from around the country.

You can visit the Crosstalk website for a description of the issue and links to listen in several formats or even buy a CD.

One thing we touched on is whether the Electoral College is “anti-democratic.” It’s important to remember, the very idea of a constitution is, in a sense, anti-democratic. We hold the laws passed today up to the Constitution, we test them against it and not the other way around. Why? Because American government isn’t just about doing what 50% +1 want, it’s about protecting individual rights. As the history of the 20th Century shows (and every other century, for that matter), sometimes big groups of people–even majorities–are willing to violate those rights.

The First Amendment, to take just one example, is anti-democratic. It restrains majorities from violating the rights of others to freedom of conscience, speech, press, assembly, and petitioning government. Should we throw out the First Amendment because it sometimes restrains the will of the majority?

The same thing is true of the Electoral College, which usually just influences majorities to be more national and centrist than might otherwise be the case. In pursuit of unity, moderation, and stability–all of which work to protect individual rights–the Electoral College will sometimes (only twice for sure) elect a President who received less popular votes than another candidate.

If all you want is raw majority rule, which is really just another way of saying “might makes right,” then the Electoral College isn’t for you. If, on the other hand, you believe that government exists to protect individual rights–if you think the First Amendment is a good idea–then the Electoral College is just another very good, very American invention.

Note: post updated with links to Crosstalk show archive.

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The genius of the United States of America: we are both United and States. The American system of states is Federalism. One part of it is the Electoral College, the state-by-state way we elect the President of the United States.

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