Respect Diversity: The Electoral Vote is the Will of the People

Julie Ann Ponzi

November 1, 2000

The worst part about the political drama unfolding in Florida may be what the “experts” are saying about the Constitution. They tell us that the Electoral College is an outdated and outmoded form of calling presidential elections. They tell us that the only reason it was ever created was out of a fear of the stupidity of uniformed voters. As Hillary Clinton has put it in her calls for a Constitutional amendment to eliminate the Electoral College: “I’ve always thought we had outlived the need for an Electoral College, and now that I’m going to the Senate, I am going to try to do what I can to make clear that the popular vote, the will of the people, should be followed.”

The men who wrote our Constitution had greater fears than voter stupidity–something that ironically distinguishes them from the Gore camp in Palm Beach. In fact, their fear was not so much stupidity of the American voter as of the wiles of overly ambitious politicians who might demagogue large segments of the population. Pretenders who might promise them bread and circuses in exchange for their votes might also subvert the rational and considered opinion of the country at large.

The Constitution is designed to stand as bedrock in times of great change and turmoil. It reflects a rational and considered opinion of the American people. If the rule of law prevails in our hearts and minds, we will respect it as the representation of our solemn will. Opinions change and fluctuate for all kinds of reasons and with great speed. But our respect fundamental opinion, the Constitution, should stand and guide us through these tempests.

The Founders knew that a nation is composed of more than individual citizens. We are not now and never were intended to be a simple democracy. Such systems may work when there is a small homogeneous community in question but even in the time of the Founders our country was thought to be too diverse for such a simplistic plan. There are competing interests, geographical and regional differences, and in the case of rural versus city life, completely different approaches to day-to-day life. A President, when representing that nation, must reflect all of this–not just a segment of it. If he owes his election only to a popular vote energized and fueled by one set of interests, citizens not part of that segment cannot feel secure that their interests or rights will be protected.

Remember that the Founders drafted our Constitution but they did not legitimize it. It had to be ratified by the American people and, to the extent that we do not object through the channels therein provided, we are bound by it. If we choose to change it we may do so but an unconsidered opinion on changing our Constitution is as dangerous as a conscious disregard of the law. If we are going to have a debate about such monumental questions as the usefulness of the Electoral College, let us have it apart from the heated discussions that pre-occupy the nation at this time.

The irony not seen by those opposed to the Electoral College is that it is meant to secure a voice for the otherwise oppressed. It is meant to protect the rights of the minority in a national election. But above all, it is part of our Constitution and, as such, it is the solemn will of the American people. A refusal to acknowledge that is a willingness to cast a blind eye upon the tyranny that comes when the rule of law is ignored. But in the age of Clinton, should that really surprise us?

Julie Ann Ponzi is an adjunct fellow of the Ashbrook Center and former professor of American Politics. She is now a stay-at-home mother.