Electoral College--Flunking Out?
Thanks for Lani Guinier's superb critique of the election horror, "Making Every Vote Count" [Dec. 4]. Corporocratic America will never allow genuine democracy in this Republic.
New York City
Lani Guinier is right on the mark. We knew she was right when President Clinton bumbled her nomination in 1993. It was, perhaps, his biggest blunder. Given what happened in Florida, we now know what the problem was: Guinier was ahead of her (and our) time. George W. Bush won the election by suppressing votes. Suppressing the vote is an aspect of fascism. It is anathema to democracy, even as imperfect a democracy as ours.
FRED J. BERG
Lani Guinier's article is 100 percent convincing. Every Nation reader should be solidly in the corner for total election reform. That includes instant-runoff voting (IRV), proportional representation, state-of-the-art electronic voting equipment, weekend voting and the elimination of the Electoral College.
Speaking of the Electoral College: We have our fourth graduate with Dubya--the first since 1888. How does a person graduate? By losing the election! It's the worst college in America and needs to be closed down by the enactment of a Twenty-eighth Amendment to the Constitution. In our political adventure novel, The Oakland Statement, published New Year's Day 2000, we predicted that Oakland, California, would be the first major city to initiate IRV, and the citizens did it on November 7. We also predicted that Al Gore would lose the presidency, and that happened on December 12.
As we outlined the new amendment in our novel: All citizens shall have the absolute right to the most equitable methods of a representative electoral system. The specific language of the amendment is put forth in legal detail.
As Guinier said, "We must not let this once-in-a-generation moment pass." We strongly believe that if this does not happen, our democracy will implode in the elite corporate boardrooms. Barry Goldwater was condemned in 1964 for his famous quote, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." He was correct.
We believe that if the people are not given the absolute right to the most equitable methods of a representative electoral system, then, as the Declaration of Independence says, "Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive to these ends...it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it." Our interpretation of this founding revolutionary document grants citizens the power to take "extraordinary action" in order to save the democracy.
We challenge all Nation readers to focus on what Guinier calls a "national conversation," which must end with the enactment of the Twenty-eighth Amendment to the Constitution.
FREDERICK ELLIS and PAUL FREDERICK
Grand Forks, N.D.
Lani Guinier made some good points about abolishing the Electoral College, but I have to take offense at her math. Wake me up if I'm wrong, but I thought representation was determined on the basis of a census and not on the voter participation in a given state. Wyoming has three electoral votes. With a population of roughly 450,000, each electoral vote could be said to represent roughly 150,000 people--a factor of two more than Guinier claimed. Her point, however, was to mark the disparity between states like Wyoming and Florida--where roughly 13 million people have 25 electoral votes. In Florida each electoral vote represents 520,000 people.
Lani Guinier's argument declaring the Electoral College as immorally conceived because it promoted slavery is incorrect. The Electoral College was intended first and foremost to temper the "passions" of the citizens eligible to vote. Considering the electoral map of the 2000 election, it appears that without the Electoral College, much weight would be placed on the opinions of those living on the nation's coasts and northern urban areas. Is that demographic truly representational of the needs and values of the country as a whole? I think not. The reverse is true as well. The Electoral College is part of the fundamental checks and balances that provide approximate equal weight to all citizens of this country. Furthermore I would bet my house that this article would never have been written had Al Gore won the election.
JOHN HENRY SCULLY
Lani Guinier argues that the Electoral College was established by the Founders to increase the power of the Southern states, by way of the three-fifths compromise, in the election of the President. While it is true that the compromise increased Southern representation in the House, and thereby in the Electoral College, the assumption that this was intended to increase the powers of the slaveholding states in choosing the chief executive misses an assumption held by many of those who participated in the Constitutional Convention.
In the Convention's last comprehensive debate on the method of electing the President, several delegates expressed their belief that in most elections the Electoral College system would result in several candidates receiving electoral votes, making it likely that no one candidate would receive the required majority. In those cases, the House would choose the President, with each state having one vote. The three-fifths compromise would have no effect on a state's power in that eventuality.
Of course, the development of the political party system has resulted in the electoral votes being distributed between two major parties, thereby almost guaranteeing that the choice of a President will be made by the electors, contrary to the expectation of the Founders. The Electoral College system is rightfully open to criticism, but making a causal connection between it and the slavery system is a stretch.
Santa Clara, Calif.
Before we scrap our Electoral College, let's remember some of the people we would have gotten without it: Stephen Douglas, Samuel Tilden, Aaron Burr, George McClellan and Charles Evan Hughes. Does Lani Guinier think they would have done better? President Lincoln benefited from it in 1860 and 1864. Thomas Jefferson was also a beneficiary. The Senate, the Bill of Rights and the Supreme Court were all created to alleviate fears of states' rights advocates. Nullification, the prelude principle to secessionism, was put forth by Jefferson, the grandfather to neoliberals. So before we start attacking the Founding Fathers about parts of the Constitution that they got wrong, namely the inhuman equation that kept slavery, let's praise what they got right, institutions that may slow us down sometimes but at least help guard against Weimar constitutions.
Newport Beach, Calif.
Despite her inflammatory attacks on the Founders, Lani Guinier has some valid points. But a more feasible, less extreme step would be to modify the Electoral College system to allocate the "House" votes from each state by Congressional district and give the two "senatorial" votes to the winner on a statewide basis. As a resident of a large state, I recognize the unlikelihood of three-fourths of the states agreeing to abolish the Electoral College, but a reform to allocate votes by district would achieve many of the goals Guinier seeks and would be more likely to be acceptable to the small states. It would also make Congressional redistricting more important and perhaps mitigate the current emphasis on preserving safe districts for incumbents. It would avoid the balkanization that so often attends proportional representation and a proliferation of minor parties.
PETER J. TENNYSON
Lani Guinier's comments prove once again that her writings are within the best of the traditions and legacies left to us by the Founding Fathers. When our Founding Fathers met at the Constitutional Convention, the issue regarding the election of the President generated considerable controversy. The debates revolved around how much voice the people should have. Some thought the people were not capable of making a wise choice. Some wanted the states to determine the chief magistrate of the new nation. Many wanted to continue the practice in the Articles of Confederation of having Congress elect the President. Others, led by James Madison, argued for a very radical idea--a popularly elected President chosen directly by the people.
The result was the compromise that created the Electoral College. The Electoral College was, then, the mechanism developed to include the people. In Federalist 68, Alexander Hamilton wrote that the Electoral College would provide an obstacle to "cabal, intrigue, and corruption" by not making "the appointment of the President to depend on any pre-existing bodies of men [Congress or the state legislatures], who might be tampered with beforehand to prostitute their votes," but rather the Constitution has "referred" the election of the President "to an immediate act of the people of America."
In Federalist 10, Madison wrote that the Constitution was "the great desideratum by which" our form of government "can be rescued from the opprobrium under which it has so long labored, and be recommended to the esteem and adoption of mankind." Today, our form of government again labors under an opprobrium that has been, in part, created by the rulings of the Supreme Court and the actions of the Florida legislature. We again need "the great desideratum." Guinier, with her recommendations for more effective ways to include the people in the process of electing the President, has proven herself to be a modern-day Madison whose ideas, if implemented, will once again allow our government to "be recommended to the esteem and adoption of mankind."
I am heartened by the sheer volume of responses generated by my essay, the overwhelming number of which confirm my view that the time is ripe to build a pro-democracy movement out of the wreckage of our last election.
Lani Guinier and Our Readers