Enough already, Article II, Section 1!

Our Founding Fathers got a lot of stuff right with the Constitution: checks & balances, the amendment process, the Bill of Rights, awesome preamble. They also got stuff wrong, though: perpetuation of slavery / three-fifths of a person, particular voting restrictions, the weird $20 threshold for the right of trial by jury. Almost everything they got wrong has since been corrected. Almost. As luck would have it, two things that bother the hell out of me (one of which is a personal slap in the face!) reside in one place: Article II, Section 1.

1. “Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors…” The humble origins of the biased, misguided Electoral College. The Framers accommodated the little guys by creating the Senate, so why did they feel the need to pander to them further with the stupid Electoral College? For a so-called “democratic republic”, they set up the U.S. pretty representative-heavy. I know they wanted to keep government fairly elite, but what the hell? They already required voters to be white, land-owning males…wasn’t that elite enough? They had to layer on an Electoral College, too?

Given that the Framers screwed it up, how haven’t we corrected this after 222 years? We go through the arduous amendment process to allow an income tax, prohibit alcohol, reverse the alcohol one because we realized we screwed it up, change the presidential inauguration date by a few weeks…and we can’t correct this nonsense? Oh yeah, we need the approval of the little guys to take away their disproportionately large influence on presidential elections. Yes, I realize that only four presidents have been elected without winning the popular vote and that these little guy states make up just a small fraction of the total Electoral College. But the outcomes of two of those four peculiar elections significantly impacted this country (Hayes’s election in 1876 brought the end of Reconstruction which, in turn, ushered in the Jim Crow era; W.’s election in 2000…well, we all know what that led to) and given the closeness of recent elections, every single electoral vote matters.

Beyond that, though, is the notion that the president should be purely democratically elected…every person’s vote should have equal weight. It’s perfectly acceptable for there to be rounding errors in determining the distribution of a legislative branch, since a legislature is inherently representative. But to have an aspect of representation in a presidential election makes no sense other than to maintain power within a small set of hands. Aren’t we abstracted and controlled enough? For pete’s sake, let each vote count the same! And to those who say that eliminating the Electoral College would make their states less relevant and weight urban areas too much: T.S.! If your state were that good, you’d have more people. And eliminating the Electoral College wouldn’t weight urban areas too much…it would weight them exactly right. Why should you have disproportionately more pull just because you can’t see your neighbor?*

2. “No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President” As far as I know, this is the only currently applicable instance of “2nd class” U.S. citizenship.** Naturalized U.S. citizens should have the right to run for president, rather than be relegated to such lame public offices as senator and governor. I understand the original intent of this clause: a young, upstart democratic republic could easily be toppled by a rogue president who did not have true allegiance to its fundamental beliefs, so the Framers had to be extra careful about whom they allowed to run (not that it prevented some unscrupulous, harmful presidents from being elected). But with the mature power structures now in place, as well as the extreme depth and tenacity of candidate vetting, this requirement is no longer necessary. The public pretty much knows everything about your background by the time you get beyond the early stages of your candidacy…and the powers-that-be would never allow a threat to the country to be elected president (right?).

Furthermore, haven’t we seen plenty of natural-born U.S. citizens perpetrate terrible crimes against this country at all levels? What does your birthplace or your parents’ citizenship status when you were born have to do with your qualifications for the presidency? I’d argue that a person who isn’t a natural-born citizen (e.g., me), but who has been a citizen for many years, was raised in the U.S., and knows and agrees with the country’s fundamental principles of government/ethics is much more qualified than someone who happens to be born in the U.S., but lives abroad for the rest of his/her life in an environment completely different from the U.S. Granted, the latter example would never be elected president…but he/she could be elected president. How is that right? How is that good for the U.S.? There really is no reason for this clause these days other than xenophobic paranoia…against this country’s own citizens! That’s the same kind of thinking that led to the Japanese internment travesty during WWII!

Article II, Section 1, you meant well, but some of your parts need a little tune-up. I think the natural-born citizen clause will be corrected relatively soon — as soon as we have a really, really, really compelling candidate who was not born a U.S. citizen (please, not Schwarzenegger). But the Electoral College is unlikely to meet its demise without some creative horse-trading, like giving the inhabitants of the little guy states a complete pass on Federal income tax for 50 years or some other similar incentive to get people to move there. That kills two birds with one stone: you remove the bias and bolster the little guy states’ populations so that they become more influential in an egalitarian way. I’m sure there are better, more realistic ways to do this, and I’d try harder to think of such ways if I could be president.

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* For example, a voter in Wyoming had 3x the electoral power that a voter in California and New York had in the 2008 Presidential election.

** There’s actually one more example: the ability of the government to revoke naturalized citizenship under circumstances of fraud in the application process and allegiances to certain political philosophies. These reasons at least still make sense.

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2 Comments

Filed under Social/Cultural/Political

2 responses to “Enough already, Article II, Section 1!

  1. Jim

    Interestingly, the states themselves have the ability determine how electors are proportioned. In some cases like Maine and Nebraska, states have adopted systems that come closer to the ‘one person, one vote’ standard you argue for. Thus implementing part of your suggestion does not require a constitutional amendment. In the case of California, I’d argue that urban areas had more weight in the last election, not less as you propose.

    While I realize this isn’t a constitutional issue, you should take on the fact that residents of Washington DC don’t have any Sentors/Representatives at all. Yet they pay taxes. Wasn’t the Revolutionary war fought over this?

    • san mateo pete

      You’re absolutely right, states can choose to apportion the popular vote among electors, rather than employ the “winner take all” standard. While this makes for a more egalitarian vote within the states that choose to do this, it doesn’t correct the fact that Wyoming has a disproportionately large number of electors relative to California and New York — that fact can be corrected only by a Constitutional amendment.

      With respect to your comment that in California, “urban areas had more weight in the last election”, I assume you meant that overall, urban areas had more weight than rural areas. That’s true. But the point I am making is that urban areas are not weighted too much; to me, “too much” means that it has more weight than it should. Within California, urban areas have exactly as much weight as their number of voters indicate they should. Urban areas have more people, so they should have more weight overall; it’s when you start discounting the proper weight of urban areas via a mechanism like the Electoral College that you introduce biases.

      Your point about DC residents being federally taxed without Congressional representation is an interesting one that I’ve given some thought to. The philosophical argument against Congressional representation is that DC was built to be the national capital, a federal district for a fledgling federal government that wouldn’t be swayed by the powerful states. On the other hand, had it been made a state with Congressional representation, DC might have had an unfair advantage over the other states due to proximity and control. The more pedestrian argument is that adults who choose to live in DC know full well that they are federally taxed without Congressional representation, so there’s no issue. If they have a problem with it, they can move across the border to Maryland or Virginia.

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