Why the Electoral College Is Bad for America.

Author:Madonna, G. Terry
Position:Book Review

Why the Electoral College Is Bad for America. By George C. Edwards III. New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 2004. 198 pp.

Why the Electoral College Is Bad for America is a splendidly and clearly written primer on the origins, history, and complexity of the electoral college system. But George Edwards is out for bigger game--namely, the dissolution of the electoral college and its replacement with direct election. His main argument is that the electoral college is fundamentally at odds with the principles of political equality and majority rule. Edwards makes the case that the electoral college may be unique as an instrument to select a chief executive, but its continued existence cannot be justified, in large part because the mechanisms of the electoral college at various points through its operation can defy the will of the people.

In order to make his argument, Edwards tackles the debates and activities of the Founders at the 1787 Constitutional Convention, contending that the Framers backed into the electoral college by necessity because of the need to deal with certain practical realities. Moreover, the final product was not the result of a well-designed or systematically thought-out presidential selection system. Critics of the Edwards case surely would point out that the thrust of the entire convention debate was to qualify or modify popular majorities and to enshrine limitations on the scope of the national government. Even so, notwithstanding those who might quibble with this analysis, Edwards's most compelling point is that the Founders' considerations are not relevant today: presidents simply are no longer selected by Congress, state legislatures, or electors.

Another part of Edwards's attack deals with the notion that the electoral college protects the interests of small states and minorities, and it preserves federalism. He argues that these three conventional rationales for the electoral college are not rooted in the arguments made by the Founders most involved in its design, and they do not operate today in the manner their supporters say they do: small states have little community interest other than their size, minorities are not concentrated solely in large or even competitive states, and the selection of the president bears no relationship to federalism in terms of its function or structure.

Edwards gives short shrift to those defenders of the electoral college who hold firm in the belief that the current...

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