Friday, November 10, 2000 Volume 66, Issue 59



Don't trust the people: The Electoral College saves us from ourselves

Matthew E. Caster

By now, you've heard a hundred times that this was by far the closest presidential election in four decades. Neglecting the few absentee ballots undoubtedly lost in the mail, fewer than 300,000 votes separated the two candidates for the presidency.

However, the Electoral College vote, though relatively close this year, does not always reflect a tight popular vote.

In 1992, for example, Clinton led in the popular vote by only slightly more than a million ballots, but managed to win easily in the Electoral College. Candidates can win the popular election and still lose the presidency.

Results like those witnessed in the first election of the new century have many calling into question the need for the Electoral College in the American democracy.

In fact, as I watched the election coverage, I noticed that whichever camp was leading in the popular vote seemed to hint at the elimination of the Electoral College whenever they could.

I believe this would be a grave mistake on the part of all Americans. 

The Electoral College was included in the Constitution by the likes of James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and the other founding fathers for one reason: They were afraid the citizens of this nation would pick the wrong person to lead them. Sounds like a real expression of faith in the American people, doesn't it?

It was intended as a compromise between those at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 who wanted a chief executive chosen by direct popular election and those who believed it would be more prudent to use the state legislatures to fill the highest office in the land.

The idea behind the Electoral College was that the electors, chosen by the state legislatures, would take the results from the popular vote and use their best judgment to eliminate any potential stupidity on the part of the American electorate.

Many argue that "protecting the American people from themselves" is no longer necessary; that now, with our ever-accurate media keeping us informed, Americans are incapable of making a "mistake" in electing the president. These are probably the same people who gave H. Ross Perot 20 percent of the vote in 1992.

The fact is that America still needs this protection. My favorite quote was said to me by my father one day when I came home from kindergarten crying because a bunch of kids had made fun of me for one reason or another (back then, there were several reasons).

He said, "Matthew, any given person can be smart. Get a group of people together, though, and they're just as dumb as can be."

Then we went for ice cream -- but that's not important. What is important is the fact that my father's reasoning is applicable to the American people.

No, I did not just say that you were dumb. Don't take offense, but do take a moment to realize that even in the past decade many Americans have cast votes for some pretty strange things (Perot, for example).

Besides, no matter what our political beliefs may be, each of us is simply trying to pick the best person for the job. The Electoral College was designed to help us do that, and as long as it continues to assure we have a competent president in office, I have no problem with allowing it to keep doing its job.

Despite the recent outcry for the obliteration of the current electoral system in the United States, things really need to stay the way they are. 

The Electoral College is in place to ensure that the person serving in the Oval Office isn't any more stupid than the law requires for a life in politics. Unfortunate as it may seem, Americans simply cannot be trusted to always make the right choice for the most powerful office on Earth.

Consider this election as proof of two things. First, every individual vote really can make a difference. Second, the Electoral College is a necessary part of the American system of government.

Caster, a sophomore chemical engineering 
major, can be reached at

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