[POL] Interesting take on the Electoral College

From: Russell Whitaker (russ_whitaker@yahoo.com)
Date: Sun Nov 12 2000 - 13:09:09 MST

Bearing in mind Max's plea to go light on the
conventional political discussion, I'm forwarding
this piece by my friend Jim Bennett, an
American journalist friend, a libertarian, living
in England.

I'd never thought of the College in parliamentary

The following comment piece was ditributed as an
election special by UPI

©2000 by United Press International

James C. Bennett


Now that we are facing the possibility of a winner of
the popular vote
being the loser in the Electoral College, we will have
yet another round
of proposals to eliminate this constitutional "relic".
 It is true that
the Electoral College does not function today as the
Founding Fathers
had expected it to. Then again, our lungs evolved
from a fishís swim
bladder, but we donít hear any suggestions that we
stop using them just
because we donít use them for their original purpose.

I would hold that this election demonstrated, rather,
the usefulness of
the Electoral College. The razor-thin popular vote
balance is
converted into a definitive victory. If we were
electing the President
by a popular vote, we might be finding ourselves
facing a nationwide
recount that could take weeks, and accompanied by
lawsuits in dozens of
jurisdictions arguing that this or that practice or
action invalidated
the entire vote. Under this system we know that only
Floridaís vote is
worth re-examining.

But since we will be discussing changing the system,
maybe itís worth
examining the proposition that the Electoral College
does not have too
much power, but rather too little. During the course
of this election,
I was explaining the function of the College to my
English wife. I
described it to her as a sort of special-purpose
Parliament that, as in
the English parliamentary system, met to confirm the
national leader.
Unlike Parliaments, however, it did not continue to
meet. Electors,
like bees, sting once and then sting no more.

Then this got me to thinking. Why shouldnít the
Electoral College
continue to function after it ratifies the
Presidential choice? After
all, it is a rarity in the American political system,
because like a
Parliament, it cannot by definition be controlled by a
different party
than the Presidentís. Perhaps we can take advantage
of this somehow.

Just in the past Presidential term we saw one possible
use for such a
body. All three exercises in use of the impeachment
power against the
President, the cases of Andrew Johnson, Nixon, and
Clinton, suffered
from the mix of judicial and political considerations
in the process,
and the fact that the impeaching body was in all cases
controlled by the
Presidentís political enemies. And in each case the
resolution was political rather than judicial.

Why not consider amending the Constitution to provide
for assembling the
Electoral College in Washington when circumstances
suggest the need for
a vote of no confidence in the President? This could
be done on
petition of a certain number of Congressmen, at the
request of the
President himself, or possibly by petition of some
number of Electors.
Failure of the vote of no confidence (which might
require a two-thirds
majority, so that it would not be undertaken lightly)
would result in
the removal of the President and the elevation of the

This would provide a mechanism for holding a president
accountable for
actions which, although not criminal per se, might be
inappropriate, ill-considered, or otherwise such that
the nation might
wish to see his removed from office. Using the
College of Electors
would assure that the Presidentís own party would
always control the
majority, so that it could not be easily exploited for
partisan gain.
And it would end the dilemma of whether an unwise
action could be
construed as criminal for the purposes of impeachment.
would remain, but in practice it would be resorted to
only when the
lesser sanction had failed.

One might argue that any Presidential candidate would
seek to insure
that Electors (now often minor political hacks) would
be chosen
exclusively for doglike personal loyalty to the
President. But even
today the Electors themselves are chosen by the state
parties, not the
Presidential candidate. And the parties would, I
suspect, see the
advantage of having that tool around in the event of a
President who chooses to stonewall rather than heed
the partyís call to
leave for the general good. The Electoral College
might become a final
honor for retired (voluntary or otherwise)
officeholders who are
generally respected and could be counted on for their
judgement. The
way to get serious people on a body is to give it
serious powers, even
if rarely used.

Gradually, I suspect that other uses might be found
from time to time
for a body of such composition. Perhaps it might even
become a
deliberative and reflective body, somewhat like the
House of Lords after
it lost most of its power but before Tony Blair packed
it with his
cronies. In any event, it is a unique
quasi-parliamentary body in the
American political structure. Before considering its
abolition, itís
worth thinking about what else it might be good for.


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