Alexander's Column

If it ain't broke...

Mark Alexander · Nov. 17, 2000

“The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States. It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue.” –The Federalist Papers, No. 68

For all the prescient wisdom ascribed to the Founding Fathers, it can fairly be asserted that they never foresaw the day when the sitting vice-president would be laboring so intensely to steal the presidency. Predictably, after it became apparent that Al Gore could become the fourth person to win the popular vote but lose the electoral vote, the cries were immediate and furious for the abolition of the Electoral College.

Of course, before the election, Gore’s tone was markedly different. When asked about legitimacy if Gov. Bush won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote, Gore’s operatives cited that you “use the rules in play at the time of the election.” With the tables turned, people who should know better are now demanding an end to the system that seemingly favored them just two weeks ago. Leading the charge, predictably, is none other than Senator-elect Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Yale Law School graduate who must never have read either the Constitution or its definitive exposition, the Federalist Papers.

Rather than bemoan the Electoral College, there is more than ample evidence that it is working exactly as the Founding Fathers intended. Direct election of the president was something they intentionally labored to avoid. “The President is indirectly derived from the choice of the people, according to the example in most of the States,” states Federalist No. 39. This was because the Constitution was envisioned as the framework for a federal, and not a national, government, a republic not a democracy.

The rules governing presidential selection were established over 213 years ago, and are only now a point of contention to the potential losers. Some Gore operatives and members of the media (please pardon the redundancy) have asserted that the Electoral College is an “arcane artifact,” or an instance where “the Founding Fathers got it wrong.” In fact the Founders were in almost total unanimity about the College. “The mode of appointment of the Chief Magistrate of the United States,” states Federalist No. 68, “is almost the only part of the system, of any consequence, which has escaped without severe censure, or which has received the slightest mark of approbation from its opponents.”

Ironically, in his articulation within Federalist No. 68, Alexander Hamilton asserted that the Electoral College “was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder. The choice of several, to form an intermediate body of electors,” he continued, “will be much less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of one who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes.” This was before, of course, ABC News developed the capability to call and potentially intimidate electors in a number of states into switching their votes to Vice-President Gore.

Just as the Electoral College’s detractors betray a fundamental ignorance and detest of the Constitution, so too do they have little appreciation for what it will take to amend the Constitution to rid it of the device that they have now found, 213 years too late, so lamentable. Specifically, the Founders established two ways by which the Constitution could be amended.

One method was included which, seemingly, was designed so that it could never be used. This requires that two-thirds of the state legislatures call a convention for proposing amendments, which would then have to be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures, “or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress.”

The second method is much more familiar and straightforward, where two-thirds of the House of Representatives, two-thirds of the Senate, and three-fourths of state legislatures all vote in favor of an amendment of precisely the same language.

The Founders made it intentionally difficult to amend the Constitution. It is, in fact, much easier to prevent or block an amendment than to see it through to ratification. All it takes is the “no” vote or inaction of either 146 representatives, 34 senators or 14 state legislatures, and a proposed constitutional amendment is dead. It is for this very same math that a constitutional amendment banning abortion will not soon see the light of day.

If Gov. Bush wins Florida’s 25 electoral votes, he will have won the presidency by one electoral vote. For the first time in recent memory, every electoral and popular vote mattered. States with small electoral vote representation now have legitimate grounds, regardless of to whom their electoral votes were awarded, to maintain their leverage on the presidency, and they are several: Alaska (3), Delaware (3), Hawaii (4), Idaho (4), Maine (4), Montana (3), New Mexico (5), North Dakota (3), Nebraska (5), New Hampshire (4), Nevada (4), Rhode Island (4), Vermont (3), South Dakota (3), Utah (5), West Virginia (5) and Wyoming (3). That’s 17 state legislatures and 34 senators alone, and does not include much larger states that went into the Bush column.

In short, to call for the abolition of the Electoral College is not only constitutional folly, it is also being done without any sane or rational calculation of the constitutional math needed to enact the requisite amendment. Curiously, the calls for such an abolition have come from disparate quarters, such as the aforementioned Demo Senator-elect Clinton and Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, who rarely passes as a rational Republican.

Against this backdrop is also the very real possibility that, somehow, Al Gore could engineer the backroom machinations necessary to tip Florida into his electoral column. Examining what has transpired since Nov. 7, and studying the tactics of his henchmen, such as former Commerce Secretary Bill “Bring out your dead” Daley, we are being given a window into the actual conduct of a Gore presidency.

This leads to a very disquieting question, the answer to which is indeed troubling to contemplate. Given the sheer loathing of constitutional processes, as evidenced by the vice-president’s campaign over the last ten days, how could Al Gore say, with a straight face on Jan. 20, that he “will to the best of (his) ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”?

It's Right. It's Free.