“Nothing but their obedience.”

So this is what I’ve been reading lately.


(It doesn’t publish until March 17 but thanks to Kelley Ragland at Macmillan
I scored an ARC.)

I’ve hated the electoral college since learning about it in civics class in high school. It has always felt to me like such an abrogation of the ideal of “one man, one vote.” In his book, Let the People Pick the President, Jesse Wegman writes

…the Electoral College. It too violates the core democratic principles of political equality and majority rule. We may all be eligible to vote for president now, yet all of our votes do not count the same, and the candidate who gets the most votes can lose…

There isn’t even one single body of electors. Instead, each presidential candidate has his or her own “slate” of electors tapped by local party leaders for nothing but their obedience.

“Nothing but their obedience.” There is no word in the English language more guaranteed to make me run amok, especially in this context. Obedience is for dogs, not for American voters.

It turns out I’m not alone in my hatred, though. Wegman writes

If we really thought the Electoral College was the best way to choose a president, we wouldn’t have tried to reform or abolish it more than 700 times.

That’s right; in the 243 years of our existence, we have tried an average of three times a year to do away with the Electoral College. Given the fact that said College has now twice in the last two decades utterly abrogated the popular vote, Wegman’s book is particularly apropos. He gives us a history of the Electoral College, beginning at the beginning

The final product–a system of specially appointed, state-based electors that we today call the Electoral College–was a complicated, half-hearted arrangement cobbled together in the [Constitutional] convention’s final days by a few exhausted delegates in a side room of the Pennsylvania statehouse. It ran to 346 words over two paragraphs, the longest, most convoluted clause in the whole charter.

and points out that the arc of American history bends toward that ideal of “one man, one vote” time and again–in women’s suffrage, in black suffrage, in the Second Founding, and more. Eliminating the Electoral College is the next step.

For those who insist that the Electoral College is a way for small-population states to have an equal voice in our national community, Wegman writes

Right now most states, and the voters in them, are forgotten, and for a simple reason: they are not electorally competitive in the presidential race…The last presidential candidate to visit all 50 states in a campaign was Richard Nixon in 1960, and he did it because he’d promised to…the underlying dynamic stays the same: a few lucky states duke it out in the ring while the rest of America sits up in the nosebleeds, passive spectators to the most consequential election in the world’s oldest democracy.

Further, once a president is elected by those handful of states (I’m looking at you, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, and let’s not forget Florida, which holds up every presidential election because they never learned to count), that president naturally focuses his official attention on those states, to the tune of federal dollars and personal appearances, which alone generates more investments and more attention. The rest of us? Who cares?

Thoroughly researched, well written, this book is the Electoral College soup to nuts, and if you aren’t convinced by the end of the book that it’s past time to end the EC, then you haven’t been paying attention. Wegman sums it up here

The challenges facing democracy in the twenty-first century are very real, which is why it is all the more urgent that we do everything we can to strengthen the oldest continuously functioning one in the world. A presidential election system that ignores 100 million voters and lets the loser win is not the way to do that. A democracy that doesn’t simply tolerate minority rule but encourages it is not a true democracy, and it cannot survive for long. [emphasis mine]

I read that senators — United States Senators with the full might and majesty of the US Constitution at their backs — admit privately that they were too afraid of Trump to vote guilty in his recent impeachment trial.

In a word, they were obedient.

Okay, fine. Time to make them afraid of the voters. Buy this book, read it, and take action. Start here:

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Book Review Monday Chatter Uncategorized

Dana View All →

Author and founder of Storyknife.org.

4 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I went to the link you provided and acted. I grew up just out of Washington, D.C. in Maryland. Back when MD was known to have lovely, corrupt politicians. Back when one managed to become Vice President and quickly resigned so he wouldn’t be jailed while in office. Yeah, kinda don’t have wonderful opinions of politicians. However, I am a pathological optimist and continue to vote. I might vote ‘lesser of evils’, but I vote! And of course now live in the Capital of MI.You would think I could get AWAY from politics.
    Thank you.

  2. First of all, let me remind you that we live in a republic, not a democracy. Secondly, you need to look at the Congress. The House of Representatives gives representation based on population, which means the states with greater population have more representatives, and hold sway over those with lower populations. In the Senate, each state has EQUAL representation, and no one holds greater control. This, too, is the purpose of the Electoral College. Without it, the big population centers dominate the elections, and the states with lower populations might as well not bother to vote at all. Consider Alaska vs New York. You might think that’s a good thing, but the citizens of AK, WY, NE, and many others certainly would not. It is a matter of balance and true fairness, which the Founding Fathers were wise to recognize. You all need to go back and study the Constitution and the Federalist Papers.

    • Thanks for the comment, Honor. I hope you will give Wegman’s book a chance, just to see what he has to say. The history of the Electoral College is fascinating.

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