Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Electoral College

As we are now just a week away from the election of the 44th President of the United States, I thought this would be an appropriate time to discuss the merits of one of our federal institutions that has come under fire in recent years, the Electoral College. Many have criticized the Electoral College saying that it has become outdated and obsolete in today's American society. However, I argue that the Electoral College is still a necessary part of our republican democracy that evidently embodies the ideals that the Founding Fathers thought most important when they were forming our government.

In Federalist Paper Number 68, Alexander Hamilton writes about the Mode of Electing the President:

THE mode of appointment of the Chief Magistrate of the United States is almost the only part of the [proposed new constitution], of any consequence, which has escaped without severe censure, or which has received the slightest mark of approbation from its opponents. The most plausible of these, who has appeared in print, has even deigned to admit that the election of the President is pretty well guarded. I venture somewhat further, and hesitate not to affirm, that if the manner of it be not perfect, it is at least excellent. It unites in an eminent degree all the advantages, the union of which was to be wished for.

It was desirable that the sense of the people should operate in the choice of the person to whom so important a trust was to be confided. This end will be answered by committing the right of making it, not to any preestablished body, but to men chosen by the people for the special purpose, and at the particular conjuncture.

It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.

Upon examination of this statement, we can see the Founders' reasoning behind the creation of the Electoral College and also examine the merits it still has today. Hamilton even goes so far in the first paragraph as to say that the system is as close to perfect as it could get and not many people at the time of the ratification of the constitution questioned it at all.

In the second paragraph, Hamilton gets right to the point as is the style of the Federalist Papers. He makes very clear the main reason for the establishment of the Electoral College. Based on their own knowledge of political theory and the history of governments all over the world, the Founders gave us a republican democracy. They recognized the problems associated with direct democracy as well as the size limitations that being a direct democracy places on a state.

Republican government (not to be confused with the GOP) is based on the principle of representation. We elect people to represent us and to voice our opinions because our country is too large for all of us to participate directly and because we want people who can devote the majority of their time to government and the protection of our interests and rights. As a consequence of having a republic, we have a representative legislature (i.e. the Senate and House of Representatives). Similarly, we have the Electoral College.

When reviewing Federalist Paper 68, we see that the original plan for electing the president was to let the legislature vote. However, they modified this because they thought the people should take a more active role in the selection of the chief executive. They created the Electoral College to allow for widespread involvement in the election. Yet, they did not go so far as to allow for the popular election of the president because it went against the ideals of republican government that were the basis for our whole system. To the Founders, the Electoral College was the best way to involve the people yet still hold true to our basic principles.

Most of the criticism of the Electoral College comes from a misrepresentation of the statements made in the third paragraph. Many people interpret this as a call for an elitist group of people who are well educated to decide who the president will be as a buffer against the "uneducated masses." However, I refute this position. The description of the qualifications for the Electoral College echo what the Founders say should be considered in members of the legislature. With a indirect democracy and a republic, you MUST have qualified and knowledgeable people. We would not want someone with absolutely no experience or knowledge of government to represent us in Congress. Similarly, we would not want an unqualified person on the Electoral College. Just because they stress this point, does not mean that they are afraid of the insolent and ignorant commoners. If this were true, they would not have placed so much emphasis on political equality in the new government they were founding. It just means that they believed more strongly in the republic. By taking away the Electoral College, we would be dealing a huge injury to our own republic by undermining the very political theories it was based upon.

One final issue I will discuss is not mentioned in the Federalist Papers and a major part in my favor of the Electoral College, but is still a relevant point to make. This issue is federalism and states' rights. In addition to creating a republic, the Founding Fathers also created a federal system and placed much emphasis on states' rights while taking great care to ensure that the powers of the federal government remain limited. The Electoral College was one of the essential checks against the national government that the Founders gave to the states. Each state gets the same representation on the Electoral College that they do in Congress and they can decide for themselves how electors are chosen and bound to the votes of the people. Without the Electoral College, the states have one less way to protect themselves and their citizens from the possibility of an oppressive national government.

In conclusion, as you are casting your vote in the upcoming week for the next President of the United States, remember that not only are you fulfilling your civic duty to be an active part of the government process, but you are also affirming the principles of republican government that our Founding Fathers held so dearly.

- The Apprentice Philosopher

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Local Autonomy in Alabama

As many of you may already know, I am a strong proponent of writing a new constitution for the State of Alabama to replace the current one that was written in 1901. The 1901 Constitution is one of the longest in the world with a word count of 357,157 and 798 amendments. There are many distinct problems with the current constitution that could be easily fixed with the creation of a new one. However, I only wish to address one of those today, County and Municipal Autonomy.

In the state of Alabama, most local authority is centralized and most of the decisions for the state come out of Montgomery. However, still having a little conservative blood in me, I believe in moving most decision-making down to lower levels of government. When the 1901 Constitution was written, the state legislators of the time (many of who were extremely racist and corrupt) sought to keep all control in Montgomery so they could dictate to the rest of the population and be certain that no one area moved too far away from their vision (especially in matters of racial discrimination). As a result, we have very little local autonomy in Alabama.

I have before me now my absentee ballot. Many of you have either already received an absentee ballot of your own or will get a similar ballot on election day in less than two weeks. On this ballot there are six new amendments to the constitution that are proposed for this year. Out of these six, five of them deal with specific localities. These are laws such as property tax rates, vacancies in local judgeships, local annexation, local court costs, and local utility boards. Only one of these actually deals with an issue that will effect that state as a whole.

The City of Madison and Limestone County can raise or lower their property tax rates to fund their schools or whatever else they want to do. I honestly do not care. I am neither a resident of the City of Madison or Limestone County. Their tax rates will not effect me in any way, nor will I shoulder the responsibility or reap the benefits of the services this tax money will provide. However, according to the 1901 Constitution, the whole state has to vote to pass this amendment that will only have consequences for a much small number of local residents. This, in my humble opinion, is absolutely terrible.

We need more local autonomy in this state. The hands of our county and municipal governments are often tied very tightly because they have to seek the legislative approval of Montgomery as well as state-wide approval on election day. So, I urge you to think of these things when you are voting this year and in every other election still under the workings of the 1901 Constitution. I further urge you to follow my example and not vote on any amendments that do not effect you. Let those people be the ones to decide for themselves just like you would want if it involved your hometown.

Let your silence on local amendments be a sign of your desire to have more local autonomy in Alabama and write letters to your state senators and representatives encouraging autonomy and a new state constitution.

The Apprentice Philosopher

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Beginning

I have been pondering the creation of my own blog for a long time. I have been blessed with many opinions on many different subjects and I now feel the need to discuss them in a more public setting. I hope to use my thoughts and comments to spur on the Great Debate with which humankind has lost a connection. So, feel free to leave you own comments. Just keep an open mind and show the same sort of respect to others that you would ask for yourself. Thanks for reading.

The Apprentice Philosopher