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Jewish World Review Nov.16, 2000 /18 Mar-Cheshvan 5761

Cal Thomas

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Matriculating at Electoral College --
SENATOR-ELECT Hillary Rodham Clinton has, with characteristic bravado, proposed the elimination of the Electoral College. One must hand it to Mrs. Clinton. As with health care, on which she had little experience and no authority, the not-yet-Senator likes to think big.

Many people are discovering the Electoral College for the first time, probably because they were not taught the Constitution or never paid attention in school. Is the Electoral College a quaint relic, like powdered wigs, or did the Founding Fathers have something in mind when they created it that was, like other parts of the Constitution, expected to stand the test of time?

In apportioning electors among the states, the Founders wanted to give each state the same number of electors as its delegation in Congress (representatives plus senators). At first, they considered allowing Congress to select the president, but it was feared the president might fall under the control of that body, especially if he sought a second term. The popular election of the president, as now proposed by some, was rejected because, as Alexander Hamilton said, it would invite "tumult and disorder.''

Originally, a clause was attached to the provision for an Electoral College that would allow each elector to vote for two people. The candidate receiving the most votes would become president; the one who finished second became Vice President - regardless of whether the two were members of the same political party. The Twelfth Amendment superceded that so that the running mates with the highest number of votes get the lion's share of electoral votes for that state.

It was Hamilton who defined the purpose of the Electoral College in Federalist Paper No.68: "The process of election affords a moral certainty that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States. It will not be too strong to say that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue.''

In the same paper, Hamilton has a warning for people regarding the potential for shenanigans in the election process: "The business of corruption, when it is to embrace so considerable a number of men, requires time as well as means.'' Could this be why the Gore team is stalling on the voter re-count so that time will give it the means for electoral intrigue?

What are the advantages of an Electoral College? According to Hamilton: "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...''. In other words, the Electoral College protects us from the idiot vote, which appears to be overly represented among us.

Elbridge Gerry, who signed The Declaration of Independence and The Articles of Confederation, believed "A popular radically vicious. The ignorance of the people would put (the election of the president) in the power of some one set of men dispersed through the Union, and acting in concert, to delude them into any appointment.'' George Mason agreed: "It has been proposed that the election should be made by the people at large; that is, that an act which ought to be performed by those who know most of eminent characters and qualifications should be performed by those who know least.''

This was the common view of those who gave us our constitutional republic. Their work should not be repealed, at least until people understand what they did and can propose a better system that will save us from our petty squabbles and self-interest. That so many know so little about the Constitution is frightening. It is even more frightening that a soon-to-be senator from New York appears to be among the ignorant class from which the Founders sought to protect their posterity.

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