Friday, November 18, 2016

A Discussion on the Electoral College and the "Good Life"

Below is a link to a Hillsdale college video clip that begins the kind of discussion I would enjoy having with each of you... The kind my Dad helped my 8 siblings and I begin having around the dinner table of our youth.  The question here is "How do you personally define the 'good life' and is your definition the best or only  one the country should have?  

Watch the clip:  (It is only a few minutes).  

For me,  I most highly prize a private life where I am free to focus on my own family, community, Faith and work, with just enough awareness/involvement of the public or politics of my community and country to serve others in need and make choices that will most closely allow me to continue to pursue my chosen "good life".  In other words, I define my good life as one in which I feel most free to "pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness", with as few political distractions and especially interferences as possible.

Why am I writing about this?  Good question.  Here is the answer.  

I have twice since the election had thoughtful discussions with one of our children and an elderly friend, who, while not necessarily disappointed with the outcome of the election, think it is likely "unfair" that the "majority" did not get their chosen candidate, as it appears the popular vote did go to the losing candidate.  I invite us now to "counsel together" on the following topic.

Should the Electoral College be eliminated?  

Take your time to read it.  I hope it will invite consideration, research and especially discussion in your own homes.  BYU-Idaho, a private church university where all of our 5 children studied, has invested much in what they call Foundation Classes, where many topics are discussed "Socratic" style. It is a tool for learning that I believes has great value in both true learning and understanding and which I believe is emulated when we "counsel together".

Certainly this would be a good research topic and paper for many of our children. 

I love reading history and have been studying the American Constitution on and off much of my adult life.  Somewhere along the way I studied about this very topic.  Unlike my brilliant husband who retains details of countess books and subjects, my brain holds on to only the "jist" of many...or the viewpoint that the study led me to hold.  That is the case here.  I was left with a conviction that it was an inspired form of voting but could not pull out the details with which to defend it. I encourage us all to research it better for ourselves.

However, for those who are less interested in this than that study might require, the "jist" of those past studies, as I have pondered on the current circumstance, has over the past days and nights, began again to distill with just  enough clarity for me to begin to defend my position in a basic way that may be helpful for some of you.  I hope it will begin to plant more firmly in each of you the belief and knowledge that nearly every aspect of our original founded government was penned in ink after months of just such discussion as we could have here, and guided by divine inspiration, and then ratified by eventually EVERY one of the states/colonies then in existence.  Every state added since, has joined of their own free will and choice, feeling that the best chance for the most free "self governance" came in cooperation and alliance with the larger protections of a limited federal government. 

There are numerous side questions we could get side-tracked on here... Why not just have each state be its own "country"? Or why have states at all, and not just be one huge 'state' encompassing our whole country?

Answers in part at least are encompassed in the general discussion we will have, but largely those will have to be for you to discuss on your own.  I will stick as closely as I can to the question of electoral votes.

That begins by clarifying the great misnomer that has been perpetuated by our public education system:   The United States is NOT a democracy. 

I hope that does not shock you.  But it is true.  Every True democratic government (where one man = one vote) throughout history failed miserably, and our founders knew it.  They wanted something more fair (WHAT?!!  How can you get more fair than every vote being equal?) and more enduring. 

They provided for us a REPUBLIC.  This is a Representative form of democracy, where the public, selects from among their local, known, trusted, peers, someone whom they trust to go and represent them at decision making times and places, and make laws and policies that will be in the best interest of the values of those they represent, leaving the citizens more free to go about the business of providing for their families and being involved in the things that are of most interest and value to them.  It is in this way that our populace has been free to go about creating the largest and most successful economy in the world that then has been the most peaceful and generous with its resources to bless the rest of the world.  This does not mean Americans are perfect... But freedom to pursue our own goals has largely brought good things for the world. 

If we had a true democracy, we would have a president, and no senate or congress. We would each need to be involved and informed on the details and discussions regarding every law ourselves. While there may be laws we do not like, our state representatives are at least in part accountable to us in our locations to generally represent the values of the areas in which we live and if there is enough we dislike, we have the opportunity every few years to make our voice heard about who we’d prefer to represent us, or even run ourselves.  But for each of us to understand all the details of every possible law ourselves would take us away from the production of this country, damaging significantly the amazing "production" Americans are known for, that have built a vast economy unheard of in civilizations of the past.   When Senators or representatives vote for laws that we do not like, we have the opportunity as counties and states to UN elect them every two or four years and select ones that more closely represent our values.  It's a wonderful system that on the whole, MOSTLY does a great job of representing the MAJORITY view points or values. (It may be interesting to note that living in Washington State, whose electoral votes have gone entirely against my personal votes all the years I have voted here, I still vote with passion, as my local votes here in the southeast corner of the state, do succeed in representatives that largely represent me well.  The farther from me my representatives live, the less they represent me well... even within my own state, much less the continent sized country!)

The miracle is that our system also protects the minority view points, even mine, in a small but economically huge contributing community to the coffers of our state.  This is why America has been so attractive to immigrants from its very beginning, and continues to be so today.  Every one of us at some time and in some way are in the minority.  It may be our race, origin, gender, religion even our occupation.  It may be any number of things. 

Today we have lost some of the founders loyalty to state.  We are less aware today that people usually do live and gather and work in ways that show shared values.  Perhaps we think now that we simply live where we can get work, and afford to live, but that is not really completely true.  We have freedom to choose the kind of work we do and where and how we choose to do it... (in a city, or the suburbs, or in a small rural town).  Additionally, we will choose where we live to do that work... (a long commute so we can live in the country and have land, or in a high-rise apartment so we don't have a yard to care for etc.).  So many choices and the answers to those choices gather us together with people of largely shared values.  It is just the way humans are, and Americans are so free that it is especially true here.  We gather as neighborhoods, communities, counties, and states, largely of shared values.  That is not to say we ALL share ALL values with our neighbors and states, but largely it can be true. 

Each of our states was formed in some part by people who shared some common interest in and value of the particular resources of that state and the use of those resources.  Thus, northern states, were more industrial, southern states were more agrarian.  The industrial states were more populated, but the agrarian states, while small in people were vital to the feeding, clothing and trade of the north, while the south, also wanted supplies from northern states.  Even today, each state across the nation provides resources, and access that benefits the country at large.  We choose to work in, access, and enjoy, protect, and benefit from the resources we live in.  If we did not find them tolerable, we usually work hard to relocate to somewhere more in alignment with our largest values. 

Aware that they needed each other, and could be stronger, if somehow aligned, but not wanting to give up the autonomy of their own state governance, the Founders came up with a compromise that protected the values of small states... They created the Senate, a governing body that allowed each state regardless of population TWO senators... This represents values of people who gather in ways that may be in the minority... Small rural states, that provide resources vital to the country such as food, or oil, wood, or coal.  Not everyone wants to live in small towns, live without major arts, shopping or museums, but some highly value, even prefer open spaces, quiet and community that those kinds of locations provide and  are willing to do the hard work these locations and jobs require.  It does not mean their lives matter less or are less needful.  In several cases, they are vital to the wellbeing of the city dwellers and others.  They should be enabled, even protected and are, by this method. 

But should the values of the majority not matter more?  Yes.  The Founders balanced this with a Congress, that allowed a representative for every so many people in each state.  Thus, as the population of a state increases, its representation in Congress grows and grows through the ages. The majority is largely represented. 

In a remarkable way, local view points are represented by locally elected congressmen, and thus take a voice to the table of decision making in DC... It may be only one voice, or only a few, but it is a voice, and sometimes those few voices, even if a minority,  if loud enough, or eloquent enough, persuasive enough, patient or even crafty enough, can change opinion.  This can be a good or bad, positive or negative, but it has so much of overarching fairness in it that people from all places, religions, nationalities, and walks of life have sought out the opportunities of such a voice, provided in America.

What does this have to do with the Electoral College?  
Simply that the Electoral College is made up of those same Representative votes.  Each state gets the number of electoral votes equal to the total number of Senators + Representatives that each state qualifies for.  Each state may choose how to allot those electoral votes.  So far, all but two states, say that the popular vote, the candidate who wins the majority vote in the state, takes all the votes.  The remaining two have a system for dividing electoral votes based on the percentage of each candidate.  Once again the view of the state is manifest in their own rules, on the matter. The candidate with the majority of Electoral votes wins the election.

It is in this way, that nearly always the popular vote will win the election.  However, it is possible if not common, that a candidate CAN win the electoral vote, but not the popular vote.  IT has happened only five times in over 200 years.  Interestingly, it has happened twice in my voting lifetime.

Usually, almost always, the majority or popular vote will also win the election.    But lets examine and consider the make up of our country, its states, and allotment of  electoral votes of the states they represent.

33 States, have less than 8 electoral  votes EACH, 7 of those having only 3 each, even with their 2 Senatorial votes included. That means that 7 states, if population were all that counted, they would qualify for only 1 electoral vote each, and the remaining 26 states having only between 2-4 votes.  But these 33 states,  represent the values and resources of perhaps MORE than 2/3 of the country (NOT population).  With this minimal representation in the vote, the values of a massive, even huge MAJORITY of land mass and its values would be nearly completely unrepresented. Would it be right for them to be so poorly represented?

On the other hand THREE states, together California, Texas and Florida, have between them 122 of 538 total votes or 1/4.  Does the populations of THREE states, truly represent the values and perspectives of the entire United States?  

It takes in fact 24 states (almost HALF of the rest of the states!)  with the lowest numbers of electoral votes .. (Each 7 or less) to even come close to matching the influence of those top 3 states... (116 electoral votes ALL together.). But again, these 24, equal a very large majority of the land mass, and resources that fuel and support the other smaller land mass and values of the country.  The inclusion of their senatorial electors, regardless of population gives a possibility that minority view points, may have an influence. Also, keep in mind, having two senators and thus two electoral votes, who are elected by the majority of their state, does NOT guarantee that they will represent a minority view point in the country.  They may well aid the majority view of the country, as is usually the case.  

If majority mattered more than any thing else the popular vote of the top 11 most populous states,*** could theoretically decided every value and decision that affects the rest of the country... 11 states... Barely 1/5 or 20% of our states,....Yes, it would be the majority of people, it may be the majority of view point. But do I want east coast, crowded city values to determine how I use my beautiful Columbia River, it's fish, and dams, power and irrigation?  Do you in Utah or Idaho want those same values to solely determine your access to wilderness, forests, or to develop mines, or grazing for cattle? Even those in California, Colorado, Minnesota or the Dakotas, I doubt would want all the influence to come entirely from some distant centralized place.  I suspect, if you studied it, or if it affected your business, your property or your invention, you'd want a bigger local voice than just your population may allow.  Is it fair?... It is when you see that the majority IS represented the MOST, but the minority always gets a chance to sit at the table and be an influence.

*** From largest population to least, the top 11 most populous states are California, Texas, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, North Carolina, and New Jersey.  Is it right that these states, largely separated by a continent from the climate, resources, and problems, concerns and thus values of the center, resource rich, and people few, states, choose and determine all our American laws, our policies and leaders because they contain the Majority?  To me it seems a miraculous protection from peasantry.

Lastly,  a note of interest, and reminders that the Majority DO get their way, the Majority of the time… ONLY 5 times in more than 200 years has an American president been elected without the popular vote.  As I mentioned earlier, two times have been in my adult, voting lifetime.  The first time was in the highly contested election of 2000 between George W. Bush and Al Gore, where the Supreme Court was involved.  With discord again about us, I recommend some fun reading as an informative distraction; an exciting history book for young adults called Lincoln’s Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin.  It takes place during another highly contested election that involved lots of rioting afterward etc.  Our time is not so unusual really, and somehow I find it comforting.  We have survived turmoil before and if we are informed, and wise and involved as good free citizens should be, we can contribute to the protections of our freedoms for generations yet to come.

I hope this is simple enough, yet complete enough for you to understand my perspective on the miracle of fairness the Electoral College system is.... or at least to pique your interest in studying it out for yourself.   

I love this great country and am awed by all that was done to lay a foundation for its success and greatness. 

Hope you enjoyed our "discussion" and that it begins some engaging and enlightening ones around your dinner table.


1 comment:

  1. Becky, this was eloquently written, well researched and quite persuasive! I think you should publish your views in a pamphlet for others to read! It would be a great history lesson for high school students! Bravo!!