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The Electoral College: Failures of Original Intent and a Proposed Constitutional Amendment for Direct Popular Vote

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NOTE: A SECOND EDITION OF THIS BOOK HAS SUPERSEDED THIS FIRST EDITION. SEE THE GOODREADS PAGE FOR THE SECOND EDITION HERE. The dispute over the Electoral College goes back to the beginning of the American republic. James Madison and James Monroe were among the delegates who attended the 1788 Virginia convention called to decide whether that state should ratify the United S NOTE: A SECOND EDITION OF THIS BOOK HAS SUPERSEDED THIS FIRST EDITION. SEE THE GOODREADS PAGE FOR THE SECOND EDITION HERE. The dispute over the Electoral College goes back to the beginning of the American republic. James Madison and James Monroe were among the delegates who attended the 1788 Virginia convention called to decide whether that state should ratify the United States Constitution proposed by the Constitutional Convention the preceding year. Monroe objected to what was later called the Electoral College, stating that this unusual institution would make the president dependent upon the state governments instead of the people. Madison, who had been a leading member of the Constitutional Convention, replied that the mode of presidential election adopted at that time was judged most expedient until experience should point out one more eligible. Far from being a firmly settled matter, Madison implicitly suggested that a constitutional amendment abolishing the Electoral College in favor of direct popular vote might someday be warranted. The present book asks whether that day has now arrived. The election of 2016 resulted in an Electoral College victory for Donald J. Trump. He lost the popular vote, however, by almost three million votes. Never before had there been such a disparity between a presidential winner's electoral and popular votes. Although popular votes cast in a presidential election are not purely representative of what a candidate's popular vote would have been in the absence of the Electoral College, that statistic is a kind of heuristic that provides significant information. Some commentators treat the Electoral College as the equivalent of holy writ. This book begins with the debates in the Constitutional Convention, showing the many different views that were expressed by the delegates and how the Electoral College evolved into the version embodied in the original Constitution. Their discussions indicated that this institution was designed to prevent demagoguery and foreign influence. The founders thought the electors, who were presumed to have more knowledge, wisdom, and integrity than the general voters, would independently deliberate and choose the president without reference to the views of ordinary people. This original concept was defeated by the rise of political parties and democratic politics, culminating in the fateful elections of 2000 and 2016, when the losers of the popular vote won the electoral vote and therewith the presidency. The book then evaluates the current operation of the winner-take-all Electoral College and explains why—contrary to the mantra of many of its defenders—it is essentially different from the Electoral College conceived by the American founders. Major alternatives, other than direct popular vote, are analyzed. The final chapter sets forth the legal text of a proposed constitutional amendment for direct popular vote with instant runoff voting and explains, in layperson's language, what those provisions mean. It also discusses the advantages of such a system and responds to anticipated criticisms of the proposed amendment. The argument is often made that a constitutional amendment abolishing the Electoral College has no chance of being adopted by Congress and ratified by the states. Times change, however, and what seems impossible today may not be impossible tomorrow.


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NOTE: A SECOND EDITION OF THIS BOOK HAS SUPERSEDED THIS FIRST EDITION. SEE THE GOODREADS PAGE FOR THE SECOND EDITION HERE. The dispute over the Electoral College goes back to the beginning of the American republic. James Madison and James Monroe were among the delegates who attended the 1788 Virginia convention called to decide whether that state should ratify the United S NOTE: A SECOND EDITION OF THIS BOOK HAS SUPERSEDED THIS FIRST EDITION. SEE THE GOODREADS PAGE FOR THE SECOND EDITION HERE. The dispute over the Electoral College goes back to the beginning of the American republic. James Madison and James Monroe were among the delegates who attended the 1788 Virginia convention called to decide whether that state should ratify the United States Constitution proposed by the Constitutional Convention the preceding year. Monroe objected to what was later called the Electoral College, stating that this unusual institution would make the president dependent upon the state governments instead of the people. Madison, who had been a leading member of the Constitutional Convention, replied that the mode of presidential election adopted at that time was judged most expedient until experience should point out one more eligible. Far from being a firmly settled matter, Madison implicitly suggested that a constitutional amendment abolishing the Electoral College in favor of direct popular vote might someday be warranted. The present book asks whether that day has now arrived. The election of 2016 resulted in an Electoral College victory for Donald J. Trump. He lost the popular vote, however, by almost three million votes. Never before had there been such a disparity between a presidential winner's electoral and popular votes. Although popular votes cast in a presidential election are not purely representative of what a candidate's popular vote would have been in the absence of the Electoral College, that statistic is a kind of heuristic that provides significant information. Some commentators treat the Electoral College as the equivalent of holy writ. This book begins with the debates in the Constitutional Convention, showing the many different views that were expressed by the delegates and how the Electoral College evolved into the version embodied in the original Constitution. Their discussions indicated that this institution was designed to prevent demagoguery and foreign influence. The founders thought the electors, who were presumed to have more knowledge, wisdom, and integrity than the general voters, would independently deliberate and choose the president without reference to the views of ordinary people. This original concept was defeated by the rise of political parties and democratic politics, culminating in the fateful elections of 2000 and 2016, when the losers of the popular vote won the electoral vote and therewith the presidency. The book then evaluates the current operation of the winner-take-all Electoral College and explains why—contrary to the mantra of many of its defenders—it is essentially different from the Electoral College conceived by the American founders. Major alternatives, other than direct popular vote, are analyzed. The final chapter sets forth the legal text of a proposed constitutional amendment for direct popular vote with instant runoff voting and explains, in layperson's language, what those provisions mean. It also discusses the advantages of such a system and responds to anticipated criticisms of the proposed amendment. The argument is often made that a constitutional amendment abolishing the Electoral College has no chance of being adopted by Congress and ratified by the states. Times change, however, and what seems impossible today may not be impossible tomorrow.

31 review for The Electoral College: Failures of Original Intent and a Proposed Constitutional Amendment for Direct Popular Vote

  1. 4 out of 5

    Alan Johnson

    NOTE: A SECOND EDITION OF THIS BOOK HAS SUPERSEDED THIS FIRST EDITION. SEE THE GOODREADS PAGE FOR THE SECOND EDITION HERE. ERRATA TO FIRST EDITION (page references are to the paperback edition): Page 94: The words "in Congress" at the end of the third sentence of the first full paragraph should be deleted. (Context for ebook readers: "Worse, during the war hysteria of 1798, the Ultra-Federalists in Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts [deleting the second 'in Congress' at the end of the NOTE: A SECOND EDITION OF THIS BOOK HAS SUPERSEDED THIS FIRST EDITION. SEE THE GOODREADS PAGE FOR THE SECOND EDITION HERE. ERRATA TO FIRST EDITION (page references are to the paperback edition): Page 94: The words "in Congress" at the end of the third sentence of the first full paragraph should be deleted. (Context for ebook readers: "Worse, during the war hysteria of 1798, the Ultra-Federalists in Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts [deleting the second 'in Congress' at the end of the sentence].") Page 139, end of epigraph at beginning of Chapter 6: The date should be June 20, 1788, not June 29, 1788. Page 303, last line (index entry for "franchise, electoral"): add page "8," after page "7,". (Note: the Kindle ebook does not contain an index.) Back cover of paperback: The date at the end of the quotation should be June 20, 1788, not June 29, 1788.Alan E. Johnson (revised 3/16/2021)

  2. 4 out of 5

    Claudia Casser

    Alan E. Johnson’s new work is both timely and illuminating. His painstaking scholarship overwhelmingly proves the proposition in the subtitle of his book: that the Constitution’s method for electing the President of the United States has miserably failed in practice to achieve the Founders’ original intent for adopting it. The first three chapters of the book, plus the fascinating chronological appendix summarizing the debates over the best method for selecting a national executive, show that the Alan E. Johnson’s new work is both timely and illuminating. His painstaking scholarship overwhelmingly proves the proposition in the subtitle of his book: that the Constitution’s method for electing the President of the United States has miserably failed in practice to achieve the Founders’ original intent for adopting it. The first three chapters of the book, plus the fascinating chronological appendix summarizing the debates over the best method for selecting a national executive, show that the Founders were primarily concerned (i) to elect competent, experienced and ethical leaders who were beholden neither to foreign powers, Congress, nor state legislatures; and (ii) to provide the smaller states sufficient inducements to obtain their agreement to a system that favored larger states. The book further proves that present-day supporters of the electoral college demonstrate ignorance or bad faith when they cite original intent to bolster their arguments for continuing the electoral college in its current form. The rest of the book is devoted to supporting a thoughtfully crafted constitutional amendment to elect the president via direct popular vote with instant run-offs. However, whether a direct popular vote would be the best means to achieve the goals of the Founders, or whether those goals themselves should be re-examined in the context of modern society, are issues that Mr. Johnson’s book fails to consider in any depth. So readers are left to ponder these issues themselves. Nonetheless, Mr. Johnson’s fine work provides us the historical shoulders on which to stand to see beyond rhetoric to facts. He thereby elevates the platform on which to base rational decisions regarding alternatives to the electoral college.

  3. 5 out of 5

    T

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    Mr. Book

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