In turbulent years the Founding Fathers rose to prominence, within a nation faltering in its efforts to carry out safe trade and carry forth timely news between the former colonies. Each new state had long since developed unique regional interests and established a monied elite, as well as incubating its own darker provincial prejudices. And in the absence of a solid federal government, no national political parties had yet consolidated so as to represent concerns common to all the states. Not surprisingly, then, the smaller states needed special persuading that entry into a stronger federal system would not cost them the better part of their autonomy, as granted them by the Articles of Confederation.
At issue for the Framers, specifically, was how to convince the smaller and the more agricultural states that their lesser populations would not be routinely outvoted by the larger states, in effect leaving them underrepresented in this new federal system. And though the rule of one man, one vote is surely representative, irrespective of voters’ spatial relation to one another, for the smaller states, and for the sake of the new Union, the constitutional pot would have to be sweetened.
The Founders almost uniformly distrusted the common People at this time, in part due to the very absence of a stronger federal system — the consequences of which were a lack of an established national press and thus an uninformed populace, lack of a public school system, and no broadband.
Hence we have the electoral college, a Frankenstein system born of a Roman relic, a hybrid intended primarily to more equally represent the states in the presidential election by guaranteeing some minimum level of importance to all the states via their 538 electors.
The problem — beyond that of pragmatically pandering to smaller and rural states, affording them more electoral weight than their populations should warrant — is that the establishment of a strong federal government has since given rise to remedies for what then prevented the Founders from entertaining the notion of allowing the People to vote directly for their President.
We now have a somewhat pervasive and obnoxious national press, two hyperpartisan and quite entrenched political parties — and also broadband. The electoral college, furthermore, was designed without taking into account the pernicious influence wrought by a two-party system. In a winner-take-all electoral system, where the voters in each state vote, not for the President, but for their electors, the party of the electors who receive the most votes will carry all of that state’s electoral points, a majority of 270 required to win.
In a more parliamentary political system, where multiple parties were in fair competition for a share of all the electors, this would not pose a problem. But today, in our two-party system, it translates into an insurmountable barrier for third party candidates, who often struggle for a plurality of votes in any state, let alone the eleven or so more populous states necessary to carry the election.
Then there’s that other little problem. The Al Gore problem. Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000 but lost the presidential election all the same. Whatever one’s politics, the resulting Florida farce, the hanging-chad/Supreme Court-injunction parody of a vote count, hardly seems worthy of the Founding Fathers’ genius inspiration.
Finally, we are no longer the uneducated, isolated sodbusters that the Framers took us to be. These United States are no longer pitted, one against the other, like private regional interests; such that we ought jealously guard against the empowerment of the one over the other. And our two-party system no longer serves us at all. And then there is the broadband.
One person, one vote. Anything less is beneath us.