November 11, 2000
by Connie White
Recent events re elections 2000 have shown that the "race for the Presidency" is not all that it is cracked up to be -- so to speak. The recent elections -- and the disputes arising from these elections -- have again brought to light that the American "presidency" is not decided by popular vote, but by the Electoral College, i.e., the votes cast by the each states' electors. In other words, your vote at the polls is not what directly elects the President of the United States.
The Electoral College was established by the "founding fathers," and currently consists of 538 electors (one for each of the 435 members of the House of Representatives and 100 Senators, and 3 for the District of Columbia). (NARA) Each state's allotment of electors is equal to the number of House members to which it is entitled plus two Senators. (NARA)
In Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, the method of selecting electors is delegated to the separate state legislatures, and the voting procedure to be followed by the electors is carefully defined. ("Electoral College," Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2000) What is not specifically defined by the Constitution is how the electors will be selected by each state. Most states currently adhere to the selection of electors based on the two-party system, in that electors are selected by the national conventions of the Democratic and Republican parties. The electors that ultimately make up the Electoral College for a given election year are the slates presented by the Democrats and Republicans.
The Democratic Party and Republican Party slates of electors are determined as follows. In the Democratic Party, each congressional nominee and each US Senate nominee (determined by the last two elections) designates one elector. In the Republican Party, the nominees for governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, controller, attorney general, secretary of state, United States Senators (again, going back two elections), the Senate and Assembly Republican leaders, all elected officers of the Republican state central committee, the national committeeman and committeewoman, the president of the Republican county central committee chairmen's organization and the chair or president of each Republican volunteer organization officially recognized by the state central committee act as electors. (Secretary of State website) The Constitution provides that no incumbent Senators, congressional representatives or persons holding an "office of trust or profit" of the U.S. can serve as electors.
Each state is responsible for the process by which state electors are selected. For example, in Florida, the Governor nominates the presidential electors of each political party. He or she is supposed to nominate only the electors recommended by the state executive committee of the respective political party, but the ultimate responsibility for nomination of the presidential electors for Florida lies with the Governor. (Currently, the Governor of Florida is Jeb Bush -- brother to presidential candidate George W. Bush.)
All states except Maine and Nebraska have a winner-take-all system for electors; in those two states electoral votes are awarded proportionately. During the 20th century, there is at least one recorded instance of "faithless electors" -- this was the incident when an elector voted for Wm. Jennings Bryan when the state went for Wm. McKinley (1900). Technically an elector may vote his or her "conscious" -- that is, his or her political interests -- and such votes have usually been vaalliddated by Congresss.
In other words, the Electoral College -- selected by political parties -- technically elects the president, and not the popular vote count on election day.
The "winner-take-all" system re elector votes for any given state makes it possible that a candidate could be elected president even though he or she polls fewer popular votes than the opponent. Under this "winner-take-all" system, if a candidate receives a minority of the popular votes nationally but carries a sufficient number of states to ensure a majority of the electoral votes, the candidate would be elected president, and the "will of the majority" would be frustrated through the legal and normal operation of the Electoral College. Critics point to the dispute caused by the election of 1876 and also to the election of 1888, in which Grover Cleveland, the defeated candidate, polled 5,540,050 popular votes to 5,444,337 for Benjamin Harrison. The "president" according to popular votes should have been Cleveland. However, Cleveland received only 168 electoral votes to Harrison's 233. ("Electoral College," Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2000)
Since the Electoral College was established in the Constitution by the "founding fathers," we must understand that the "founding fathers" had no intention of allowing the "will of the majority" to prevail as it relates to electing the president of the United States. Understanding the economic interests and political loyalties of electors in the Electoral College is not separate from understanding the political history of the U.S. Constitution, and the constitutional convention of the "founding fathers."
The "original intent" of the framers of the Constitution of the United States was to present limited, but largely symbolic, political power in the House of Representatives, while investing actual political power, and ultimate authority, in the Senate. The intentions of the "founding fathers" in framing the U.S. Constitution could easily be summed up in understanding that "the delegates to the federal Convention were selected in the same fashion as were United States Senators under the present Constitution.... This fact in itself removed the choice of delegates one degree from the electorate. ***** A further safeguard against the injection of too much popular feeling into the choice of delegates to the Convention was afforded by the property qualifications generally placed on voters and members of the legislatures by the state constitutions and laws in force in 1787." (Charles Beard, "An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States," MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc. 1913) The "founding fathers" did not "trust" the country to be determined by "mob-rule" that is, by direct, participatory democratic procedure. Slavery, the lack of enfranchisement of property-less men and all women of the populace, was written into the original Constitution. The question to be asked, and answered, is what people are represented by the U.S. Constitution and what people are proposed to be governed by it.
The U.S. government was originally not a democracy, but a timocracy a government by which a certain amount of property is necessary for office. Property qualifications were fixed by states and by rates that excluded small proprietors from full citizenship, as well as excluding yeomen farmers, women and children, slaves and property-less proletarians. The Constitution was framed by the original Articles, which ensured the political rule of the dominant economic classes, and it was written in secret by political pragmatists that represented the economic interests of American bankers, manufacturers and slave owning gentry, as well as commercial entrepreneurs.
The Constitution is not a document articulating "eternal rights" as the U.S. Declaration of Independence wants to do but an instrument that articulates class domination through the organization of the State. The Constitution is also an instrument of class domination. The selection of delegates to the Constitutional Convention excluded women, children, Indians and slaves, as well as excluded property-less "men."
The Constitution is the authority that gives legitimacy to the organs of state power, and it is the states' power that gives the authority for the selection of electors to the Electoral College. As mentioned above, these electors determine the President of the United States -- not popular vote.
Let's also take a look at the possibility that a third-party candidate could win the presidency. In fact, there is no possibility of a third-party candidate winning the presidency with actual presidential election residing in the Electoral College. "[t]he two-party plan is produced by the operation of the American voting systems, especially the electoral college and the single-member district plan of electing legislative representatives. The electoral-college method of electing the President would be undemocratic should a strong third party emerge." ("The American Federal Government," Ferguson and McHenry, Ninth Edition; McGraw Hill 1953) I posit that what Ferguson and McHenry are talking about here is the fact that the current two-party system is what selects electors to vote for the presidency and eliminates the possibility that a third-party candidate would ever win electoral votes to win the presidency. Since the election of the presidency lies with the Electoral College, and selection of electors resides in the two-party system, working people -- the working class -- should not believe in the "game" that is the "race for the presidency."
Even those who advocate the building of a third party to challenge the "two-party system" should recognize that "the importance of the Presidency is such that a third party secures adherents only with great difficulty, for band-wagon sentiment argues against 'throwing away your vote' by supporting a minor party. ***** If no majority is won in the electoral college, the election of the Chief Executive is thrown to the House of Representatives [already dominated by the representatives of one or other of the Democratic or Republican parties--CRW], which must select from the highest three, each state casting one vote." ("The American Federal Government," Ferguson and McHenry, Ninth Edition; McGraw Hill 1953) I posit that the focus of working people -- the working class -- should be in capturing state power, and that power currently lies in the U.S. Congress.
In understanding that even a strong third party could never win the presidency, we must be critical of the third parties who have "wasted" what could be called working class monies in running candidates for the presidency -- since the majority of these third parties have championed working class politics. For example, the SWP, Socialist Party, Peace and Freedom Party, Green Party, etc., have purported to be for "working people" in their presidential campaigns. Too much is at stake to waste working class monies, union energies, and working class votes for the presidency. There are too many unemployed, too many working poor, too many killed by ruthless state employees (police and prison employees), and too many killed through state-sanctioned murder (capital punishment) to waste our energies on "symbolic" campaigns for a presidency that we will never win in this two-party system of selecting presidential electors.
If we look solely at the current presidential elections in this year 2000, we see millions of dollars put into the candidacy of Ralph Nader, with no possibility that Nader could win a single electoral vote or that his winning five percent of the electorate (required to afford the Green Party federal funding for future presidential candidacies) would even have the possibility of the Green Party candidate winning the presidency in the future. It is just not possible. For example, Ralph Nader won in excess of two and one-half million popular votes, and he did not win a single electoral vote -- nor could he have won an electoral vote with the current process of selecting electors.
What would be possible is the working class winning seats in Congress and, specifically the House of Representatives. The monies put into a third party's "symbolic" presidential campaign could be better spent by supporting labor party working class candidates in a bid for actual power in the House of Representatives. (Note. . .even the override of a presidential veto resides in Congress) Let's put working class monies -- based in the trade unions -- and trade union members in the streets to support a real -- not symbolic -- bid for power.
But, do not misunderstand this strategy -- the strategy is part and parcel of the building of an independent working class labor party to represent the political interests of the working class. Parties govern, and classes rule. A political bid for power in the U.S. is not just in first winning seats -- and a majority at that!! -- in the House of Representatives, buutt iin having politiical representatives from the labor party win the majority in the House of Representatives.
Let's build a labor party and build a real movement for working class power in this country.
[I would like to acknowledge the contributions of my comrade, Lil Joe, in "hounding" me to do this article on the Electoral College -- as he also requested of others on the email listserves -- and his contributions in his commenntts to the drafts.]]
La lucha continua.
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