Dick Sciaroni: Electoral College reform — it’s up to us
George Rebane’s column (“Democracy Destroys the Electoral College,” March 7), and the online comments it has generated, both raise complex questions about how America selects its foremost leader.
At the outset, it should not be surprising the proponents on both sides of the issue have different views of the Electoral College. The difference is by-and-large existential. Republicans support the Electoral College because their candidate secured the presidency in the last election through a majority of Electoral College votes. Democrats, meanwhile, seek to restructure the Electoral College because their candidate lost the presidency despite her garnering some three million more votes than her opponent.
Were it the other way around — had Trump won the popular vote but Clinton won the presidency through the Electoral College — who would now be bemoaning and who would now be defending the Electoral College?
If nothing else, an analysis of the utility of the Electoral College should be divorced from partisan politics … unfortunately, it isn’t.
Meanwhile, whether to retain or reform the Electoral College is not as simple as Mr. Rebane would have it. It is not simply a choice between a republic and a democracy.
Mr. Rebane views the Electoral College as the linchpin of republican governance whereby the people are governed by the representatives they elect. He deprecates democracy as “dangerous” — “a regress[ion] of America’s governance from what the Founders bequeathed us.” Yet what is so sacrosanct about a decision made some 220 years ago that it cannot not now be questioned? After all, it was the Founders who had sought a change from autocratic rule by England that gave rise to America. They changed the system; why can’t we?
Blindly deferring to the decision of a small cohort of wealthy white males 220 years ago about how America should be governed — a republic not a democracy — makes as much sense as treating today’s diseases with 18th century elixirs and bleeding. The Founders’ decision how they should choose a president should have no overriding claim on 21st century America such that we cannot change it. After all, we are talking about our government. It’s ours. Why can’t we change it?
On the other hand, there is much to be said for an electoral system that tempers the tyranny of the majority. But is it that simple? The Founders were concerned with the creation of a government that each of the 13 states would accept. Make no mistake, those 13 states jealously guarded their rights and prerogatives, and were not about to give them up without a guarantee that a cabal of more populous states could not infringe on those rights.
And much has occurred since the adoption of the Constitution to reshape our government and define how we Americans govern ourselves. The seminal event was a Civil War that denied to individual states the right to secede. As a result, for better and for worse, we became the United States of America. No one state, much less a group of states, should expect, much less be allowed, to exert such power over the governance of the United States that the rights of the citizens of other states, as Americans, would be infringed.
Again, we live in the 21st century, not the late 18th century. Ours is a society that commodifies almost every aspect of life, including the political. Most of us decry the role of money in modern-day politics. It was different for the Founders, whose power and influence were unquestioned not because of their wealth (they had plenty) but because of their preeminent social position. The Founders did not have to use their wealth to access political power. As white males they already had it. Times have changed.
The path to political power is not through social standing, but through money. Money means media access. It buys technology to mine data in order to focus on small cohorts of voters in so-called swing states who can throw the election of a president of 350 million citizens to one candidate or the other. In the final analysis, the downside of the Electoral College is that it works hand-in-glove with moneyed interests to give a small number of people – not surprisingly, white males – access to the presidency of a country in which they are the decided minority.
Is it time to reform the Electoral College system? Perhaps. It’s up to all of us, the citizens, to decide. That means dialogue, not diatribe.
Dick Sciaroni lives in Grass Valley.
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