The Electoral College

The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States has occasioned much discussion of the method of electing the President. That most of the opposition to the present method of election comes from those who would have preferred the other main candidate to be elected should not distract us from the unsatisfactoriness of the present arrangement.
The popular vote lost in the arithmetic of the Electoral College. Reading Federalist LXVIII, we see that the intention was that the Electors deliberate in their respective States and that they then vote individually. Nowadays in all states but two the Electors are bound by State law to vote all the same way, the way chosen by the majority of voters in the State (in Maine and Nebraska the Electors must vote according to the majorities in districts). There is no deliberation. Democrats are saying that the U.S. ought to have a direct vote for the presidency, as Austria, the Irish Republic and Mexico have, but that the Republicans would oppose this because they occasionally gain from the present system. More importantly, Austria, the Irish Republic and Mexico are a lot more homogeneous than the United States. Seriously, how should the U.S. elect its Chief Executive, who, unlike those of most parliamentary states, is also the President? Let us consider a new Amendment to the Constitution.
Let an Electoral College of 101 (an odd number, to prevent ties) be elected by the people of the Republic rather than by the peoples of the several states, using proportional representation. Let each party wishing to compete submit a list of 101 candidates for the College (with, presumably, the party’s candidate for Chief Executive at the top of the list, chosen in much the same way as the party presently chooses its sole candidate, and other members in the order the party’s convention chooses, presumably representing the various trends within the party). Let each voter choose a list, and the totals be sent to someone at the seat of government of the United States, perhaps the president of the Senate, who would assign places in the College from the lists in proportion to the votes cast for the different lists; he would probably use the d’Hondt highest-number procedure to do the arithmetic, as is done in some parliamentary states with pure or partial proportional representation in their parliaments. Let the College then meet at the seat of government to choose the executive, remaining in office for 4 years.
There would rarely be a majority of one party in the College: a typical pattern might be the two big parties each getting somewhat less than 50% and small parties getting a few percent each. The parties would, after deliberation in the plenum and otherwise, make some kind of agreement, e.g. small-party X agrees to support big-party A’s candidate for Chief Executive if small-party X gets some seat in the Cabinet, each Cabinet member – and some other office-holders – needing the consent of the College instead of, as at present, the Senate; there would also have to be policy agreements although, unlike in a parliamentary state, there could be no control of what Congress might do. During the term of office, the College could withdraw confidence in a Cabinet member and then try to replace him. For the Chief Executive, withdrawal of confidence would have to be constructive, as it is for the Chancellor in Germany, i.e. the Chief Executive would stay in office until the College chose a replacement. If an Elector died or resigned during the term of office he would be replaced by the next person on his party’s list not already in the College.
Federal judges are currently appointed by the president with the consent of the Senate. Let this remain unchanged. Similarly, the method of appointment of members of the Federal Reserve Board, and of other agencies where we need textualist or technocratic rule, should be as for judges. Exactly how to distinguish, in the Article of Amendment to the Constitution, which officers would be appointed by the College and which by the President with the consent of the Senate is something I am not sure of.
When the College is in recess, it should be liable to be called into session by the President or by the Senate. The present impeachment procedure for the executive (House before Senate), would be abolished, as the College would assume that function, but that for the judiciary would remain unchanged, and presumably that for the technical agencies also.
The constitutional office of Vice-President would be abolished, the Senate electing a permanent president for itself (perhaps not himself a Senator, as he is to break tied votes). In the case of a Grand Coalition, with two big parties sharing power, there might be a vice-president in the Cabinet, with functions assigned in the coalition agreement.
This seems to me a more satisfactory arrangement than the present one, with an attempt at greater consensus than we now have (note that there would have to be some consensus within each party about the candidates following the first in the party’s list). I am convinced that the most democratic method of electing an executive-choosing college is pure proportional representation, while the most democratic method of electing a legislature is multi-round voting in single-member constituencies (some parliamentary states have various more or less messy mixed systems because they fuse the legislature and the executive, but the U.S. has from its beginning rightly kept the two branches separate); I here propose fulfilment of my double ideal in the executive branch; a change in the method of electing the House of Representatives is desirable but not here discussed. The greatest danger in my proposal would be the giving of too much power to small parties, as, for example, the Liberals so long had in Germany, the Socialists and the corporatists (CDU/CSU) having to kowtow a little to achieve office. But I submit that that would be less unsatisfactory than the present arrangement.
The other original purposes of the Electoral College, as explained in Federalist LXVIII, are that the sense of the people should operate in the choice and that as little opportunity as possible be offered to tumult and disorder. Due to the development of the party system, the latter is as doable as it was at the founding of the Republic, but what I propose is surely no worse in this regard than what we have now, while the sense of the people is better catered to.
John A. Wills 2020.05.15


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