New York is the latest state to climb aboard the National Popular Vote (NPV) bandwagon that would effectively destroy the original purpose of the Electoral College.
The NPV compact is an agreement between the Electoral Colleges of different states to grant their votes to the presidential candidate who wins the national, not state-wide, popular vote. There are many people that do not recognize how important this subtle shift actually is. So let me break it down for you.
The Electoral College was designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the election of the president from a strict national majority. They believed that the President should be selected by knowledgeable and discerning “electors” chosen to represent each state. Most of the Founders were decidely against the idea that the federal government should have direct dealings with the people.
They enacted checks and balances so that the interests of states would be in competition with the interests of the national government, the interests of counties would be in competition with the interests of states, and the people would have the majority of their dealings with their local governments.
For this reason, a large number of the Anti-Federalists hated the famous first three words of the national Constitution. One of the biggest Anti-Federalist detractors, Patrick Henry, asked:
. . . Sir, give me leave to demand, What right had they to say, We, the people? My political curiosity, exclusive of my anxious solicitude for the public welfare, leads me to ask: Who authorized them to speak the language of, We, the people, instead of, We, the states? States are the characteristics and the soul of confederation. If the states be not the agents of this compact, it must be one, great, consolidated, national government, of the people of all states.
Responding to this criticism, James Madison explained that “We the People” meant the people of the states, which represented their own people in the national government:
Who are parties to it [the Constitution]? The people—but not the people as composing one great body; but the people as composing thirteen sovereignties. Were it, as the gentleman [Patrick Henry] asserts, a consolidated government, the assent of a majority of the people would be sufficient for its establishment; and, as a majority have adopted it already, the remaining states would be bound by the act of the majority, even if they unanimously reprobated it. Were it such a government as is suggested, it would be now binding on the people of this state, without having had the privilege of deliberating upon it. But, sir, no state is bound by it, as it is, without its own consent.
Why were both Madison and Henry, and really all the Founding Fathers—both Federalists and Anti-Federalists—so adamant that the national government should be a confederated republic rather than a consolidated pure democracy? Madison, in Federalist No. 10, offered this categorical criticism of democracy:
. . . Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.
Ain’t that the truth. Proponents of pure democracy only purport to serve the best interests of the people. In reality, pure democracies almost always devolve into tyrannies through the controlling influence of factions and demagogues. Note that it didn’t take even one generation for the pure democracy of the French Revolution to devolve into the despotic Napoleonic empire. Or the pure democracy of the Bolshevik Revolution to devolve into autocratic consolidation under Stalin. This is not a mere coincidence. It’s ever been the case. And it ever will be the case. Curiously, the republican form of government protects the people’s rights by making sure the people themselves don’t have the freedom to dispose of them. The sovereignty and independent power of the states is then of great importance to the function of any republic—and the protection of individual private citizens’ rights.
And that is the central danger of purely popular elections of all national representatives. Another debater of the national Constitution, Roger Sherman, explained that a popular election of national representatives would in effect abolish state governments:
If it were in view to abolish the State Governments the elections ought to be by the people. If the State Governments are to be continued, it is necessary in order to preserve harmony between the National & State Governments that the elections to the former should be made by the latter. The right of participating in the National Government would be sufficiently secured to the people by their election of the State Legislatures.
In other words, if we want to maintain the protections provided by the strength of the independent states, state legislatures must be relied upon to represent their people in choosing representatives in the national government. The Electoral College, non-direct election of Senators, and state sovereignty/independence were but a few ways the original Constitution attempted to prevent a slide into pure democracy.
Judge Edmund Pendleton, during the Virginia Ratification Debates, explained to Patrick Henry why his fears of the tyranny of the national government through the democratic consolidation of “the people” were unjustified:
But it [the government proposed in the Constitution] is represented [by Patrick Henry] to be a consolidated government, annihilating that of the states—a consolidated government, which so extensive a territory as the United States cannot admit of, without terminating in despotism. If this be such a government, I will confess, with my worthy friend, that it is inadmissible over such a territory as this country. Let us consider whether it be such a government or not. I should understand a consolidated government to be that which should have the sole and exclusive power, legislative, executive, and judicial, without any limitation. Is this such a government? Or can it be changed to such a one? It only extends to the general purposes of the Union. It does not intermeddle with the local, particular affairs of the states.
Sorry, Judge Pendleton. But it has in fact been “changed to such a one”! The War Between the States finalized the supremacy of the national government over the states, the 17th Amendment gave individual citizens the responsibility to vote directly for their Senators, and now the NPV compact aims to effectively destroy the Electoral College (without even bothering to amend the Constitution).
No doubt the Electoral College has already been weakened. The fact is that the winner-take-all method of selection at the state level is directly destructive to the Founder’s original intent. Electoral votes should be given per elector. Meaning that each state should be allowed to give votes for all the candidates in proportion to the varied support within its various counties. Rather than giving all the electoral votes to the most “popular” candidate in the state, each local elector should cast his vote in accordance to the opinion of his local constituency (whether the majority of citizens in that state agree or not).
But this would give back power to the lower population counties in rural communities. This would not be in the best interest of the status quo, especially not the demagogues at the top of the two-party system. Consider that a return to the original structure of the Electoral College would mean that the highly populated Manhattan County would have the same weight of electoral power as a sparsely populated farm county in upper New York.
People think that isn’t fair. But it is. Because political government should be local, and it should be connected to the land it governs. Why should the vast and liberal population of New York City be able to dictate how every other county of New York operates?
But in the end, we are probably already too far gone. The NPV compact is just the latest nail in the coffin. And to be honest, there aren’t many nails left.