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OPINION | DANA KELLEY: Bring it to a vote

by Dana Kelley | January 14, 2022 at 3:23 a.m.

The timbre of the clamor to get rid of the Electoral College is growing more shrill. Last week a retired law professor echoed earlier assaults on the system, even going so far as to blame the storied constitutional process for the events of Jan. 6, 2021.

He applied the unambiguous adjectives "obsolete, useless and dangerous" in an effort to emphasize a sense of urgency.

Calling for action to "democratize" presidential elections, he said the framers couldn't have been more wrong in creating the Electoral College. To support that, he pulled select quotes from Federalist 68.

It's true that the framers couldn't foresee all the changes in our political landscape, and therefore couldn't build in the optimum remedies for hazards unknown at the time.

But what the framers understood and asserted with crystalline clarity over the previous 67 Federalist Papers was that election of the president by national popular vote was an exceedingly bad idea.

Popular POTUS election would negatively alter the federal nature of the position, defeat the compound ratio of states' votes, and upset the balance of power structure among the three branches.

The framers knew well the critical difference between a republic and a democracy--they celebrated the former and hated the latter.

Consequently, they ably structured our Constitution to withstand the inevitable infringement efforts of inherent factions, enshrining our system with the rule of law and not of men.

Direct democracy is little more than mob rule dressed in parliamentary clothing. It's the proverbial dinner vote among two wolves and a sheep.

That's why all calls to further "democratize" our system are entirely at odds with the framers' time-proven intentions. All were highly vocal enemies of democracy, and they weren't a crowd that backed down from calling a spade a spade. James Madison was blunt on the subject.

In Federalist 10, he wrote that pure democracies have always been "spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property." He then added the now-famous quote, that democracies have "in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths."

"Theoretic politicians" who favor "reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights" wrongly assume that democracy would deliver equality in possessions, opinions and passions, he wrote.

A representative republic promised the cure, Madison contended, and he committed the bulk of Federalist 10 to examining the myriad advantages a republic offered over a democracy.

He continued delineating democracy's inferiority in Federalist 14, and warned ominously against its predilection to tyranny in Federalist 48 and 58. Even Alexander Hamilton, author of Federalist 68, likened democracy to despotism in its extreme form.

It's easy enough to line up the contemporary detractors of the Electoral College on one side, and the genius framers who conceived it on the other.

Personally, my money stays on the framers.

But rather than bicker about it, why don't opponents to the Electoral College take action? The process to remove it is simple, and has been successfully completed 27 times: propose a Constitutional Amendment.

For all the loud-mouthed lamenting about wanting to "democratize" things, Electoral College critics seem very fearful about letting the people decide its fate.

Sending an amendment around to the states would spark real discussion and true debate on the subject, and much more education and consideration in a practical sense. We should let the idea's rubber meet the road, and see what happens.

Unfortunately, the last thing those who would kill the Electoral College really want is a national referendum on the issue. The anti-EC crowd is afraid that a proposed amendment would be suicide for their cause.

After all, a lot of people trust the framers more than they trust today's politicians and pundits. A lot of others simply like the Electoral College. And a lot more who haven't thought much about it would get informed in a big way about the cons and consequences for small and mid-size states if the EC went away.

Like it or not, there's no denying that the Electoral College is part and parcel of the complex and compound constitutional political system that is the envy of the world and has survived with amazing stability for 234 years.

The last two presidential elections--both with the thinnest of Electoral College margins--were products of the political parties' failures, not the Constitution's.

And changing the party processes requires no amendment procedure, no national ratification, no popular consensus. If the platform, primary and convention system needs reform (and it does), the parties' national committees can effect any and all improvements by themselves.

Indeed, what's evident beyond dispute is that the Constitution's mechanisms are far superior at managing and mitigating special interests (what the framers called factions) than the political parties have been.

It's time for EC-haters to put up or shut up. Either let the chips fall as they may in the constitutional process for ascertaining consensus across the Union, or pivot to address the basic fact that when parties figure out how to nominate better POTUS candidates again, that will result in better elections.

Dana D. Kelley is a freelance writer from Jonesboro.

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