Pickerill: Electoral College for Dummies

December 15, 2015

by John Pickerill

Some claim that the Constitutional system (the Electoral College) for selecting the President. It was never the intent of the Constitution, however, for the President to be elected by direct popular vote — and for good reason.

Part of their confusion is due to today’s state law code and how it circumvents the original purpose of the Electoral College. The intent was for Indiana voters to go to the polls in November and cast their votes, not directly for a candidate running for Presidential but instead for the candidates running for Indiana’s 11 Presidential Elector slots. Then in December these 11 would gather in Indianapolis and each would freely cast their vote for the presidential candidate they thought best. The results of their votes would be sent to Congress and counted with the results of the other states to determine the next President.

Why such a confusing system?

First, most people are too busy living their lives or simply have interests other than closely following politics and civics. Most base their choice for President on a snippet of news here and a sound bite there. Few have the time to do research beyond the headlines, to look into a candidate’s voting record or to check his campaign finances to see which special interest is funding each candidate (economists call this “rational ignorance”).

Another way to look at it is that most people are low-information voters. This doesn’t mean they’re bad citizens or stupid. It just means they’re too busy with other things in their lives. So by using Presidential Electors, such a voter in Indiana can elect 11 of his fellow Hoosiers who he trusts are well-informed. They would be fellow citizens he knows who are capable of analyzing the qualities needed for a good President, and who won’t let themselves be easily swayed by sound bites from MSNBC, CNN, FoxNews or talk radio,and therefore someone who will see through a smooth-talking candidate making lofty promises.

Second, Presidential Electors only hold that office for a month, which means there is little opportunity for anyone to corrupt them. There’s little time for lobbyists, political-action committees, opinion-makers, talking heads and media corporations to target and manipulate them. Choosing free-thinking Presidential Electors would be an effective campaign-finance reform.

Third, it gives small states and rural interests better representation. The danger of the straight popular vote is that Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles will dictate who our next president will be. The choice isn’t based on a hard-working farmer (tax payer) in rural Indiana who will take responsibility to provide for himself and his community. Rather, it tends to be based on big-city interests and their higher dependency on government programs.

This makes the election of President more susceptible to so-called community organizers skilled at getting welfare recipients to the polls to ensure the next president will continue to give them free stuff.

Even though the Framers considered the Electoral College essential to preserving our republic, it has failed to work as they intended. In Indiana’s case, state law circumvents the process.

First, it actually forbids the names of Presidential Electors to appear on our ballot, and instead puts the presidential nominees themselves on the ballot. Then it distorts the will of the voter. It specifies that a vote cast for a nominee for president of a political party is legally interpreted as a vote for all 11 Presidential Elector candidates from that party.

So if you marked “Mitt Romney” on your ballot in November 2012, you weren’t really voting for Mitt Romney. You were voting all at once for the 11 Republican presidential electors. If you marked “Barack Obama” you weren’t voting for Barack Obama, but instead for the 11 Democratic presidential electors.

You, like most Hoosiers, had no idea who those 11 people were. But, they were the ones who actually elected the president. You were deprived of your right to individually choose the 11 people you thought would make the most informed choice for President.

The method by which someone becomes a candidate for Presidential Elector is also flawed in Indiana law. Normally, a political party will choose its Presidential Elector nominees at its state convention several months prior to the general election. The idea is that its state delegates will gather from all over Indiana and, as one of their duties at the convention, will vote to nominate their party’s Presidential Electors.

But it never really works that way. For instance, Instead of the bottom-up process just mentioned, the Indiana Republican Party’s top leadership handpicks a slate of names and expects the state delegates at the convention to rubber-stamp it. The names on this slate are not revealed to the delegates ahead of time. There is no opportunity for the Hoosier delegates to make an informed vote. And so the will of the average Republican voter has practically no effect on who the Republican nominees for Presidential Elector will be. I suspect there’s little difference in the Democratic Party’s process.

A political party, being a private entity, should be allowed to decide its own nominating process without government interference. Anyone who doesn’t like their party’s nominating process is free in theory to reject it and shop around for another political party.

A person really isn’t free, however, to participate in the political process with just any political party. State laws have given the Republican and Democratic Party preferential treatment over all other parties. Their legal designation as “major political parties” puts them in control of the entire election process. And so we’re pretty much stuck with whomever the Republican and Democratic Parties nominate in their dysfunctional processes thanks to flawed state election laws.

Presidential Electors essentially don’t exist anymore in Indiana other than an honorary title. The major political parties each make sure they choose 11 people who will be loyal to the party above all else.

Yet, if Presidential Electors won’t exercise their individual best judgment, it destroys the most important feature of the Electoral College. They go to Indianapolis in December and, like robots, with blind loyalty, cast their votes for whatever candidate bears their party’s label.

How do we fix this mess? Andy Horning, a former candidate for the U.S. Senate, has filed a lawsuit charging that the special privileges of Indiana’s “major political parties” violate both the Indiana and U.S. constitutions.

The U.S. Constitution specifies that states get to decide how their Presidential Electors are chosen. So, the judicial system willing, we don’t have to wait for Congress to change it. Indiana would be able to institute reform by itself.

John Pickerill, chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party, wrote this for the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. A graduate of Purdue University and the Navy Nuclear Propulsion Program, Pickerill retired from the U.S. Navy with the rank of Commander. The views expressed are his own and are not intended to reflect the position of his county’s Republican Central Committee.


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