By Harold Pease, Ph. D
Those who understand the Constitution know that the election of the president does not actually happen until December, this year the 19th, and never in November. They also know that a popular vote has never been legitimized by the Constitution or any amendment to it. In fact, the people as individuals are actually excluded. We have discussed why in previous columns. The selection of a president was left entirely to the state legislatures and what is called the Electoral College.
The Constitution reads: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress.” Only indirectly were the people involved, more populated states having more members of the House of Representatives and thus more College Electors.
But these Electors (special citizens) sometimes referred to as “wise men,” because presumably their major function was to preserve the republic freshly created, were not to be Senators or Representatives, “or Persons holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States.” Those with a vested interest, outside the common good, were excluded. They simply wanted persons of seasoned integrity, stability, wisdom and achievement but actual qualifications were left to the state legislatures. Political parties did not then exist to confuse this process or promote special interest.
These “wise men” or Electors, as the Constitution refers to them, are “to meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President … they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President, and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate.“
Thus the “real” presidential election is held in the 50 state capitals plus the District of Columbia and the results sealed and sent to the President of the Senate. Sealed suggests out of public or media view, the results to be known at the same time as sister states when opened before both houses of Congress. Congress determines “the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.” This year it is December 19, as mentioned. The press rarely covers this election because they can’t spin or manipulate it.
When Congress reassembles, “the President of the Senate,” Vice President Joe Biden, “shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted;—The person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed,” today 270.
So how did the popular vote come about when there exists no language in the Constitution for it and it undermines state dominant influence in the process? The breakdown began in 1824 after the Electoral College denied the presidency to Andrew Jackson, the most popular man in America due to his success in the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812. His supporters, believing the denial to be an injustice, created a straw vote so that the people could participate in the election even though this vote had no power.
Over time the media empowered the popular vote, and itself, by treating it as the “legitimate” vote for the president belittling the College process as unfair and undemocratic. Seldom do they remind us that it works because we are not a democracy, but a republic, and that none of the branches of government are democratic, most especially the Senate and Supreme Court. Andrew Jackson had to wait until he could convince the seasoned citizen voters (wise men) of the Electoral College that he was not too emotional for the office. He did so four years later in 1828. Today the media seldom cover the real election of the president in December; such is their distain for it.
Political parties also contributed to the breakdown. Today instead of looking for Electors possessed with understanding of, and loyalty to, the concepts of a republic, loyalty to political party became primary. With winner take all legislation in most states, almost forcing electoral consensus as a state, even making it unlawful for Electors to deviate from the party line, the independence of the Electors to protect us from those who would destroy the republic in favor of democracy or socialism has been sacrificed.
Granted the “real” presidential election in December, when the Electoral College vote is taken, is the most difficult part of the Constitution to understand and is easy to oppose because it is so undemocratic. I ask my students how many months they spent studying the propositions on the last California ballot prior to voting? Months? Days? Hours? Seldom was it more than the least amount possible to give them a “gut” feeling. I then ask why they should have the same vote power as one who did spend months studying an issue? When put this way they better understand the principles of a republic, and why our system historically has gone to such great lengths to find those who do.
Dr. Harold Pease is a syndicated columnist and an expert on the United States Constitution. He has dedicated his career to studying the writings of the Founding Fathers and applying that knowledge to current events. He has taught history and political science from this perspective for over 30 years at Taft College. To read more of his weekly articles, please visit www.LibertyUnderFire.org.