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Letter to the Editor: Majority vote rather Electoral College not that simple

Dear Editor,

Regarding previous discussion of the Electoral College, the 1787 Constitution established the mechanism for presidential selection in America. At that time, two persons were voted for without differentiation between president and vice-president. If there was a majority of votes for one of them, then that person would become president and the other person would become vice president. Sounds simple, but it wasn’t always. Even though George Washington, our first president, was elected unanimously, with John Adams then becoming the vice president, such ease of procedure was not always the case. So the framers of the Constitution devised ways to reach a decision when a majority for one person was not reached in the vote. Although the framers preference was to avoid formation of political parties that is what shortly came to pass. When Adams and Jefferson ran against each other in 1800, both were associated with a different party and had their own running mates. Federalist Party electors decided not to vote for both of their candidates because, if it created a tie majority for Adams and Pinckney, his running mate, the outcome of the election would be decided by the House of Representatives. Their opposition chose to vote for both of their candidates, Jefferson and his running mate, Burr. That created exactly the situation the other side was trying to avoid and the House had to choose between the two men. This was the glitch in the 1787 system. Then, the procedure in the House was one-state/one vote. Essentially, this gave a state with one representative, for instance, Bayard of Delaware, the same voting power as Virginia, not only the largest state with the most representatives, but also home to Jefferson. Remember, there were only 16 states in the Union. At least nine states would have to agree on their choice. For any state with an even number of representatives that evenly split their vote, it would be as if they hadn’t cast a vote, at all. The outcome? It took 36 ballots to break the deadlock, when Bayard finally agreed to vote for Jefferson.

What to do? What was the “fix”? Well, they could have just harkened back to the suggestion of Pennsylvania’s James Wilson, at the Philadelphia Convention in 1787 that presidents be elected by national popular vote. Instead, to keep the Electoral College, they chose to have future electors cast a vote for only the president and then, only cast a vote for the vice president, without the two being confounded. That is the nature of the 12th Amendment, which was ratified by fourteen of seventeen states on September 25th, 1804. So, all subsequent elections have been carried out under these guidelines. Although this law seems somewhat arcane, it is only because the House has not had to decide a presidential election since 1824. With just a shift of a few votes in key states, however, this outcome could have happened in 1948, 1968, and 2000. Today, this means that Wyoming, with 600,000 people, would have the same say in choosing a president as California, with a population 70 times larger! Likewise, a popular vote winner might lose to a runner-up because of gerrymandered delegations in the House. The number of electors for each state is determined by counting the senators, which is always two for each state, and their representatives, which accrues based on the population in each state. More representatives would mean more state electors in the Electoral College. Slavery was always the elephant in the room, and an ever-present consideration, once it became clear that counting them in some way could swing an election. Both Washington and Jefferson, among others, owned slaves.

The current president won under the Electoral College system. So, Vinton, Urbana, Atkins, and Belle Plaine have had their say in his election. How is that workin’ out for y’all? What with Trump’s tariffs, sanctions, and subsidies that stifle innovation? Just the tariffs on Mexico could cost American families up to $900 per household. The trade war with China involves $360 billion worth of goods that flow between the China and the U.S. Has the president lost us long term markets with his egotistical shenanigans? In retaliation for Trump imposed tariffs, China, who is the world’s largest importer of soybeans, targeted this and more than 600 other commodities. Now, U.S. taxpayers could be paying for $12 billion, and then an additional $15 billion in subsidies in an effort to protect farmers from Trump’s own trade war. How about the heavy rains and flooding of climate change during the administration of a man who chose not to support the Paris Climate Agreement? Now, with the Mueller Report out and in bookstores, it has become clear that there was Russian interference in the 2016 election. Obviously, it doesn’t take hacking “50 discrete elections” to sufficiently tamper with an established election process throwing the election to the candidate that was not popularly chosen by the people. If the Russians or other foreign entities are prepared to do this and be successful when the Electoral College system is in place, then it is hardly a very good argument for keeping it. We can do better and we deserve better than this!

Susan Wilson

Leicester, NC

A Benton County, IA native