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Why We Need the Electoral College (Now More Than Ever)

Family Policy Matters / NC Family Policy
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November 16, 2020 9:50 am

Why We Need the Electoral College (Now More Than Ever)

Family Policy Matters / NC Family Policy

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November 16, 2020 9:50 am

This week on Family Policy Matters, host Traci DeVette Griggs sits down with Tara Ross to discuss the beautiful singularity of our nation’s system of government, including the Electoral College.


Welcome to Family Policy Matters, an engaging and informative weekly radio show and podcast produced by the North Carolina Family Policy Council. Hi, this is John Rustin, President of NC Family, and we're grateful to have you with us for this week's program. It's our prayer that you will be informed, encouraged, and inspired by what you hear on Family Policy Matters, and that you will feel better equipped to be a voice of persuasion for family values in your community, state, and nation. And now here is our host of Family Policy Matters, Tracey Devette Griggs.

Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. As we transition from election season back into our more normal routines, whatever that is in 2020, we thought it would be a good time to reflect on some of what makes America so great and so unique as an experiment in self-governance, as a democratic republic, and look at some of the nuances of the American electoral and governing systems. We thought it would be interesting to speak with Tara Ross. She's a retired attorney and prolific writer who's nationally recognized for her expertise on the Electoral College. A retired lawyer, her online video, Do You Understand the Electoral College, has received more than 60 million views. Oh, my goodness. Tara Ross, welcome to Family Policy Matters. Thank you.

Thanks for having me. We'll start by reminding us, please, in case some of us have forgotten, what is so unique about the American system of government from a historical perspective? Well, you know, our founders, the delegates at the Constitutional Convention, met at a really unique moment in time. We don't always think about it today, but back then there were no political parties, right?

I mean, there was there wasn't even the United States at that point. There were just a bunch of men gathered in a hall in Philadelphia, and they were there to represent their states. And to the degree that they had a bias, by the way, it was not in favor of a political party.

It was a bias in favor of a large versus small state bias. But these were men who were well read. They had studied history. They had studied different political philosophies.

These were men who were sitting there without the kind of partisan entanglements that we would think of today. And they were just sitting there trying to figure out how can we put together the best form of government? What can we learn from the failures of the past?

How can we take the best of the past democracies and use that, but then avoid their failures and avoid the pitfalls that they fell into? And so they literally sat there the whole summer and they had a philosophical discussion, you know, the likes of which you can't even imagine Congress today having. And they sat there and discussed how to create a new form of government. And that's what they did. And I don't think that could ever be replicated again today.

You know, you mentioned a couple of terms. They were well read and they studied history. And I know that they also studied philosophers. And we are not well read these days. I mean, certainly we don't have to be as well read as our country's founders. But is this a danger that we're not keeping up with history and some of these things that founded our country?

I mean, it's a huge danger. Right. And maybe in 2020, we've seen so much of how that can undermine us, not to bash any particular person. But we've we've watched all year long. We've watched governors or local executives on both sides of the political aisle seize power that's not really theirs.

Right. They just they're ignoring checks and balances. We normally have a system of we have a Congress or a state legislature or a city council and they work with a governor or a mayor or president.

And we we sort things out and we have hearings and debates and we talk about things. But we've lived this whole year as if one man or one woman can just say, well, now now lockdown, you know, or now whatever. The reason I mentioned is because the problem is that we are so uneducated in our own form of government that it's almost like nobody even stops to think about whether this was permissible or whether this was a good idea. And of course, some of the changes that were made were unilateral changes to election law. And again, it's the job of a legislature plus a governor to change election law in a state. It's not the job of a governor acting alone to do that. So maybe it's no surprise after a whole year of ignoring checks and balances and and our constitution and separation of powers and all of these things that we're we've got an election and there's a bunch of upset, you know, and nobody can figure out what's going on.

I would say if you ignore the rule of law or maybe you don't know the rule of law and so you ignore it, maybe some of these things are unsurprising. Talk about some of the safeguards which are in place or supposed to be in place to preserve the uniqueness of the American system of government. And which, of course, set it apart from other systems like a monarchy, a dictatorship or even a pure democracy, which a lot of people think is what we're under.

Right. I mean, so everything about our government, whether it's in the state constitutions, the federal constitution or the whole structure of our government. It assumes that there will never be a moment when all power is in one set of hands ever. There are always checks and balances. There are always separation of powers. The federal government can do some things that the state governments can't and vice versa. The legislature can do things that can make laws. The governor cannot make laws. I mean, maybe the governor can veto a law. So there's checks and balances.

Everybody's got their own job. And the idea behind that was supposed to be, you know, James Madison said, you know, if men were angels, no government would be necessary. Right. So you've got all these checks and balances. And then he also said the reason it works is because you set ambition against ambition.

Right. You're almost expecting people to be selfish, but you've got two selfish, imperfect human beings on opposite sides checking each other and it comes out right in the end. So our whole system is just a delicate balance that is set up this way.

And so, again, you know, not to harp on it, but we've been ignoring that all year long. And it's to our detriment because there is no person that has the corner on the truth. There's no person that's immune to the possibility of power going to their heads.

You know, even well-intentioned people. You can look at a situation like we're in today and how much better could some things have gone if we just had the opportunity for debate, for all sides to be heard. So it's just you get a variety of perspectives. You have a legislature that can with each of those members of legislature have 24 hours in their day to listen, as opposed to a single individual in the governor's mansion who has only one set of 24 hours in a day and just limited ability to hear. Even if they want to hear from everybody, it gives you more opportunities to be heard, more opportunities to make sure that the voice of the people, which is what makes government legitimate, the voice of the people is heard. And so the better we do at respecting these checks and balances, separation of powers and all of these safeguards in our Constitution, the more control we're ultimately going to have over our own lives and our own freedom. Just to be clear, though, we are talking about a democratic republic, right, as opposed to a democracy.

Can you explain the difference? Sure, absolutely. I mean, and you're right, the founders were deliberately trying to avoid the concept of just a simple democracy. They had just fought this war from Britain, which they did fight for the right to self-governance. They wanted to be self-governing. They did value some aspect of democracy in their government.

But they knew something that we had forgotten. Even if they had been given a seat at the table in Parliament like they wanted, right, like when the war first started, they said no taxation without representation. We have no seat in Parliament.

This is not right. But even if they had been given that seat in Parliament, they would have been outvoted time and time again by the majority of citizens at home in England. So they knew it's not always enough just to get a vote. The modern example is two wolves and a sheep voting on what's for dinner isn't fair, right? Like the sheep doesn't care that it got to vote.

It's still getting eaten for dinner. It doesn't care at all. So you have to have something better than a simple democracy. A simple democracy will result in tyranny of the majority. So the founders, when they were setting up our government, again, they thought, you know, look, we have to figure out how to reconcile these principles. How do you have a government that is self-governing?

The people do rule, but also you protect minorities. And so they did that by inserting all sorts of different principles in their government. I've been talking about checks and balances and separation of powers.

But at the end of the day, our government is a blend. It does have some democratic principles. We are self-governing. It also has some Republican principles, small R, meaning we're going to encourage deliberation and compromise and working together in our government. It also has some principles of federalism, which is a word that we don't hear that much. But it basically means state by state action or some responsibilities are delegated to the states and the national government has no control over it. The idea being that governance is fairest when it's closest to home because you have a better chance of influencing it. So I usually say, you know, I mean, you could say we're a constitutional republic or I guess you could say we're a democratic republic. I sometimes just say we're just a blend. We're a blend of three different kinds of governmental principles, federalism, democracy and republicanism.

And we've got the best of all of them. That seems like a very good introduction into talking about the Electoral College, because that's one of the ways, right? That was one of the things that was inserted to try to make it our country different from a democracy and fairer for all individuals.

How does that work? You know, when the founders got to the convention, it was really important to them to come up with a good system of electing presidents because they had been so abused by a king. Right. And they needed to have more protection against tyranny than they had had in England. So they had all sorts of ideas, but it came down to at the end of the day, they were talking about two major concepts. One was a national popular vote, just like you hear people talking about today. The other was legislative selection.

So imagine Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell try to fight it out right now as to who is going to be president, you know, at the head of Congress. So they did not like the concept of legislative selection. In the end, it was because they felt that they couldn't sufficiently separate powers between the legislative and the executive branch.

If Congress was in charge of choosing the president, then maybe the president would always be way too concerned with keeping Congress happy. And they wanted the powers to be separated better than that. But the other idea, national popular vote, couldn't really gain steam either. And that was mainly because the small states would have none of it. They were really worried. They felt like if you have a national popular vote, then the small states are going to get outvoted time and time again. This is ridiculous. One of the small state delegates is a guy from Delaware.

His name is Gunning Bedford Jr. And he says, I do not trust you, gentlemen. If you have the power, the abuse of it could not be checked and you would exercise it to our destruction. And that's how the small states fell. We will be destroyed if this is a simple, direct vote all the time.

Large states will pick the president and we will have no say in it. So at the end of the day, what ends up happening is there's a committee of unfinished business that goes. And we don't know totally what happened there because they didn't take notes in that meeting. But there was one delegate many years later who said that Mr. Madison, meaning James Madison, took a pen and paper and sketched out an idea. And then they came back and presented it to the full convention. And it was essentially our Electoral College. So that's how we got it. It's a compromise at the end of the convention between the large and the small states. Wow.

Very interesting. And it does make sense when you explain it like that. It does seem that it's becoming more frequent that presidential candidates will lose the election popular vote even though they win the Electoral College. And that makes some people very angry. They think it's time to change that.

What do you say to that? It's more frequent now. We've had a period like this in the past. What I've been saying is we're in a period of time that's much like that after the Civil War. Back then also we had just division and anger and election maps that looked the same over and over. Very close elections over and over again. Back then there were two elections pretty close together in 1876 and 1888 where the winner of the recorded national popular vote did not match the winner of the Electoral College vote, just like today. And what happened is I would argue that the Electoral College actually helped to bring us out of that ugly divided place.

Now it didn't happen right away because people are stubborn and they'll try everything else first, right? But what ends up happening is the Democrats and the Republicans both realize it was not productive to stay where they were. They had to reach out to people who are not quite like themselves. They had to figure out how to be more inclusive, how to listen to voters that maybe came from a different region or had different areas of concern.

And by the early 1900s what you find is that coalition building was so much better that you have Calvin Coolidge and FDR winning in huge, massive landslides. So what I would say about today is, yeah, this is a really ugly place. I don't like it.

None of us like it. But both parties are making the same mistake. They are too busy catering to their base or they're not busy enough building coalitions. And, you know, the first party to figure it out and to do a better job is going to start winning in landslides. But if we get rid of the Electoral College, we will have no incentives left in our system for this kind of coalition building working together. Let's remember what we have in common as Americans. Like these are the kinds of incentives that the Electoral College provides. What a hopeful note to end on. That was that was excellent.

So we are about out of time. Before we go, where can our listeners go to learn more about the Electoral College and to follow your work? Well, you can always go to my my website, which is just Tara Ross dot com.

And all of my books are listed there. The Prager University video that you mentioned at the beginning of this is also on the home page of my website. And I think the video is Prager University just did a fantastic job. But again, it's Tara Ross. All right. Well, Tara Ross, thank you so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters. Thank you for having me. You've been listening to Family Policy Matters. We hope you enjoyed the program and plan to tune in again next week. To listen to the show online and to learn more about NC families work to inform, encourage and inspire families across North Carolina. Go to our website at NC family dot org. That's NC family dot o r g. Thanks again for listening. And may God bless you and your family.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-01-27 10:21:30 / 2024-01-27 10:28:02 / 7

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