Obedience is for dogs, not for American voters.

This Friday at 6pm Alaska Time, author Jesse Wegman will join the Homer Public Library to discuss his book about the Electoral College. Click here to join the Zoom conversation.
The book is available from the Homer Bookstore.

[My February 2020 review]

Never mind the elections of 2000 and 2016, I’ve disliked the whole notion of the Electoral College since learning about it in civics class in high school. In his book, Let the People Pick the President, Jesse Wegman writes

…the Electoral College…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 dislike. 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 natural 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.

I read here 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 second impeachment trial.

In a word, they were obedient.

Book Review Monday Chatter

Dana View All →

Author and founder of Storyknife.org.