The electoral controversy in Florida has brought into focus some fundamental issues facing our constitutional republic, and facing the Congress of the United States especially. Within two days after the election, Senatorelect Hillary Rodham Clinton and others had called for abolition of the Electoral College. A more partisan observer might snipe that those critics had not been very vocal a few days before the election, when it looked like George W. Bush might win the national popular vote but lose the electoral vote. But we take Senator Clinton and her allies at their word. They genuinely believe that the Electoral College is a relic of our federalist past not well suited for our modern national democracy.
The battle over the Electoral College encapsulates a fundamental issue that the nation must debate: Will we remain a federal constitutional republic with a government of limited powers or continue our drift toward a centralized, national plebiscitary democracy with an essentially unconstrained national government?
The Electoral College reflects several compromises made by the members of the Constitutional Convention in 1787. It is by no means a perfect electoral system, and it would be difficult to translate directly to the constitution of a different country. But it has several essential strengths. It reminds us that the United States is a federal republic, not merely a unitary nation-state. It encourages political parties and candidates to pay attention to all parts of the country, not just a few population centers. It reflects our intention to be a constitutional republic under representative government, not a direct democracy.
Those who want the national government to run everything from our health care system to our local schools are quite consistent in wanting to replace the Electoral College. A national government unlimited in size and scope, committed to feeling the pain of every voter and responding to every whim of every voting bloc, should quite reasonably be selected by a single national electorate in a single national plebiscite.