A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Electoral College: Long may it last

Written December 19th, 2016 by Hasso Hering
The legislature's video setup enabled people like me to watch the Salem ceremony in the Senate chamber from afar.

The legislature’s video setup enabled people like me to watch the Salem ceremony in the Senate chamber from afar.

As a fan of the Electoral College, I watched Oregon’s part of the proceedings Monday on the legislative website. The ceremony has no speaking parts for any of our seven electors, but one chose to pipe up anyway, demonstrating his apparent disdain for what the Constitution provides.

As scheduled and expected, the seven cast their votes for Hillary Clinton, who won the general election in Oregon with 48 percent of the vote over Donald Trump with 38 percent. Other candidates split the remaining 14 percent of the more than 2 million votes cast.

Whatever his views of the nationwide outcome or the process of the Electoral College, Albany elector Sam Sappington, representing the 5th congressional district, did not feel it necessary or useful to share them at the ceremony. His fellow elector Frank Dixon of Portland, chairman of the Oregon Democratic Party, however, spoke up.

Dixon felt it necessary to express the electors’ objection that the Russians had interfered with the election. This has become a refrain among people upset with the outcome. But there’s no evidence that anyone “interfered” with the election. All we know is that according to media reports, Russian hackers gained access to private emails among top Democrats and contrived to make them public.

If making public the confidential email traffic among politicians is “interference,” we should have more of it. Voters should know what politicians say in private, not just what they feed a gullible public. Also, those email releases would have been ignored if the American media had not feasted on them like sharks on a herd of wounded seals. So if there was interference, the networks and major papers made sure it took place.

More significantly, the chairman of Oregon Democrats complained that the constitutional process of the Electoral College did not honor the principle of one person, one vote. That’s true, but it’s the way the authors of the Constitution designed the system. The framers were aware of the principle, as their writings make plain, but they intentionally settled on another way of choosing presidents.

They devised a system that preserved the voice of smaller states in the presidential election. It also represented a compromise between states that allowed slavery and those that didn’t. The system reflects that ours is a country woven together of separate states. The choosing of a president is done state by state, not as one giant nation. This federal arrangement is in danger if being obliterated, but the Electoral College, firmly anchored in the Constitution, keeps it alive.

Among citizens of all political persuasions, this ingenious system should be admired, not be the subject of objections and complaints. (hh)



39 responses to “Electoral College: Long may it last”

  1. Lisa Farnam says:

    How can you possibly say that the EC preserves the voice of the small states? I am sick of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida being the ones who decide the election!

    • Hasso Hering says:

      They don’t decide the election. They are called swing states only because they habitually switch back and forth on which party’s candidates they support. (hh)

  2. Bob Woods says:

    “They devised a system that preserved the voice of smaller states in the presidential election. ”

    No one has ever heard a state say anything. That’s because states are arbitrary divisions of land mass, not people. Whether Conservative or Liberal, no state ever goes to jail, is lynched on a tree, or takes a breath of air or drink of water.

    What all politics is about is the use of communal power. The ostensible goal is to use politics to insure a level of harmony (lack of killing each other) and the preservation of the rights of people.

    Albany had a recent level of controversy over marijuana, where the “will of the people” by their vote ran smack into the cultural principles of members of the city council. The result was, in the end, a measure of compromise between the parties, exactly what democracy is supposed to accomplish.

    But it was NOT about whether the vote of the majority of council wards, as independent entities, decided. It was about what the people themselves decided.

    Those who have studied Political Science understand that the compromise of the Electoral College was primary about slavery, and who would be allowed to vote.

    Slavery was a major driver in the formation of the Electoral College combined with the 3/5 of a person count of slaves for the purposes of the census that would set the voting power of the individual states. But most people forget some of the other reality of what the Constitution also held: That most people were not trusted to vote at all.

    Only land owners could vote. If you rented your home or land you were excluded

    Negroes could not vote until slavery was abolished in 1865 by the 13th amendment, but did not have the right to vote even.

    The elimination of property requirements came in the 14th amendment in 1868 which guaranteed citizenship and that ALL MEN, but only MEN the right to vote.

    The 15th Amendment in 1870 finally guaranteed that Negro MEN could vote. But it was widely ignored in the South.

    Senators in the states were elected by the state legislatures, not the people, until 17th Amendment in 1912.

    Women could not vote until the 19th Amendment in 1920.

    In 1964 the 24th Amendment was adopted that poll taxes were abolished, guaranteeing that being poor was not a reason to prohibit people from voting.

    And in 1971 the 26th Amendment guaranteed that if you were 18 and older you could vote.

    A major portion of the history of out great Republic has been clawing the right to vote from the interests of land and slave owners and a succession of the politically powerful. It was a struggle to guarantee that every person no matter what economic status or race or sex could cast a vote that would be equally counted against all other votes in the running of the states and nation.

    The Electoral College is the last bastion of voter control, one that grants power not to the people but to the boundaries of land. It has only failed to follow the national vote 4 times: 1876, 1888, 2000 and 2016. Since it happens so rarely, it is impossible to see how the interests of the states, those boundaries of land, are effected at all.

    It’s not at all about “big states” states having control. It’s about stopping all the voters from having control.

    • H. R, Richner says:

      The Tenth Amendment says:”The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” It looks to me that these “arbitrary divisions of land mass” still have a major role to play in our public pursuits. I realize there is no longer that much attention paid to our Constitution beyond the phony oaths to protect it, but for what’s left to protect of our personal liberty the States are essential. I would prefer it if State legislatures were in charge of electing the president.

      • Bob Woods says:

        ” I realize there is no longer that much attention paid to our Constitution beyond the phony oaths to protect it, but for what’s left to protect of our personal liberty the States are essential”

        States have no liberty, only the people that inhabit the states have liberty. You position is like saying “All car companies are created equal, and they are endowed by their Board of Directors with life, liberty and the pursuit of profit.”

        Until such time that sentient machines are created, rights are reserved to people.

        To claim that the Constitution is “not paid attention to” is the kind of nihilistic claptrap that the fascists of this country seek to instill in the people in order to control, those unwilling to stand up for the “rights endowed by the creator.”

        You should be ashamed of yourself.

        Rights are not something any of us take for granted. That’s why we have the courts to ascertain the conflicts of our rights that come to bear by deciding the proper application of those rights.

        The existence of life in this country is bound to conformity to the Constitution. Rational, reasonable people that think a conflict exist go to the courts for adjudication of the grievances. The courts rule and law is established.

        You have every opportunity to try and change law. But to claim that the Constitution is not followed is an absolute lie.

        • H. R, Richner says:

          Fascists? They are the ones who rule by decree, and when people complain they say you can always go to court.

  3. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    I’m all in for direct democracy, but a constitutional amendment to eliminate the Electoral College has no chance of passing. The National Popular Vote plan, however, looks like a viable option.


    So far, 11 states with 165 electoral votes have agreed to allocate their votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote, regardless of who finishes first in each state. The agreement kicks in only when 270 electoral votes can be delivered. The plan needs to harvest 105 more votes before the 2020 election.

    After the fiasco we just experienced, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more states commit to this plan.

  4. Ray Kopczynski says:

    Even though “my” candidate didn’t even make it through the primaries, I very strongly concur about the electoral college. Admittedly, a not popular viewpoint, but I think a “pure” democracy aka one person = one vote to decide for POTUS would be a very slippery slope with potential for anarchy & mob rule..

    • Gordon L. Shadle says:

      Slippery slope to what? Currently, direct democracy determines the occupants of all 519,681 elected positions in the US. The sole position elected indirectly is the POTUS

      It’s time to right that wrong.

      Representative democracy is effective on policy matters, but not always. Occasionally we “the people” need to act directly when elected representatives lose touch with the will of voters. Witness the initiatives passed in Albany several years ago.

      • Ray Kopczynski says:

        That’s exactly the “slippery slope” to which I alluded. Tell me, where do you draw the line where you do not have elected representatives making decisions? Every-single line item in a given budget? Simply because you don’t like a decision? Ludicrous…

        • Gordon L. Shadle says:

          That “slippery slope” you refer to (direct democracy) has existed in Oregon for over a hundred years. It has enabled things like voting rights for women and limitations on our property taxes. It also enabled voters to be the final voice on Albany debt and urban renewal plans.

          If these actions are examples of being “ludicrous”, then perhaps you should examine more closely your motives for asserting it.

      • Jim Clausen says:

        While there may be 519,681 elected positions in the US, the only position that officially represents the States – as well as the people – is the presidential position. All the other positions represent a State or people within that State.

        Since it was the States representing their varying populations that started the federal government, it’s only right that these States have some say in the election.

        If it were left to a popular vote, California, NY, Florida, and TX would be the only States with a voice. With an electoral college, each State – and their populace – has at least some form of recognition and say in who is elected for president.

        If the electoral college were abolished Oregon, Wyoming, Kansas, and the fly over States would have absolutely no say in how they found themselves governed. This state of affairs would leave us with a federal government ruled by the very populated States. I shudder to think how California and NY would want us run after looking at the way they have decimated their own States.

        The most ardent proponents of eliminating the electoral college are the ones who argue for more federal control. If it were up to them the States would subordinate themselves to the feds and lose their individual flavors and needs. This is exactly what a popular vote would create – and what the Founders fought to prevent.

        For once, I have to agree with Ray K. He appears to understand the shift in power from the States to the feds and finds it as abhorrent as I do.

        • ean says:

          In the current system the small states and flyover states have unequal power. Votes in California, Texas and New York are ignored.

          • Jim Clausen says:

            So you’d rather have California Texas and NY telling Oregon and the fly overs what they can and can not do? The sovereignty of each State would vanish…

  5. hj.anony1 says:

    HH, Don’t lose any sleep over your precious EC. It would take a constitutional amendment to do away with this relic. With all our “red” states of late, that won’t gain any traction. You are more likely to see a west coast state succession. Now that would be something to blog about!

    Couple points of interest (at least to me):

    1. It is difficult for republicans to win pop vote and EC of late. That’s been awhile!

    2. State of Washington is promising punishment for their “faithless” electors who did not go for Clinton today. But what’s 1K fine for the well to do. Slap on the wrist.

    Buckle up folks! The interesting times are just beginning.

  6. Catman says:

    Upol reading this, it’seems not hard to see why Hasson was put out to pasture. Journalism truly is better off without him in a position of responsibility. I guarantee you this; if it had been the GOP’s e-mails that had been released, he’did be screaming his head off. Hasson Herring is a miserable hack.

  7. tom cordier says:

    Thank you Hasso for clearly describing the reason for the Electoral College. Oregon’s Dems just can’t seem to figure it out. Too bad they form a majority for now, but the Trump wagon is coming here too

    • hj.anony1 says:

      Does the Trump wagon come with a group of jackbooted thugs all wearing those bright red MAGA ball caps (made in China)? Or will the uniform be different?

  8. Ted Salmons says:

    Well written Mr. Hering, well written. The sad thing is that over the last couple of days our lame duck president has been bemoaning how outdated he thinks the Electoral College is and how it doesn’t reflect the modern election process. As we can see it’s functioning exactly how the founders envisioned. Well Mr. President if it did indeed bother you so much then why didn’t you address that issue during the last seven plus years? But then again maybe that would have interfered with a vacation or tee time.

  9. centrist says:

    Without comment on the outcome…
    Let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water. The true winner this year was “None of the Above” since about 45% of the registered voters didn’t choose. Thing is that “no choice” doesn’t choose an elector.
    Here’s a reality — in multi-candidate elections, the winner at the electoral level hasn’t fared well in the popular vote. NOTA didn’t count.
    Further, the later registrations and votes didn’t fit with the electoral allocation and didn’t produce enough margin.
    So quite frankly, the rules were fine, but misunderstood.
    Don’t break what works

  10. Bill Kapaun says:

    I don’t know why the Dem’s are so upset with Trump, the EC etc.
    They are the ones that put up a candidate that couldn’t beat Trump.
    They must be SO PROUD!

  11. John Hartman says:

    The instant-metaphor is the Albany City Council which attempted to do an end run on the popular vote having to do with cannabis sales inside Albany city limits. The people voted overwhelmingly to allow for such activity, but the City-Council-as-Electoral-College attempted to undo the people’s will…not unlike Hillary’s nearly 3-million vote victory which was made moot by the Founding Fathers who wanted to find a way to get slaves counted. As many of the Founding Fathers were slaveholders and wealthy white males, we should not be surprised.

    Fortunately for Albany, the City Council does not have the constitution on it’s side. Ultimately, the Council/Mayor cabal was forced to admit defeat. Unfortunately, one-person one-vote doesn’t mean much at the national level. Fortunately, it does still mean something in Albany.

    • Ray Kopczynski says:

      You are continually wrong on this! That there would be recreational cannabis sales (and growing, processing, wholesale) allowed “inside Albany city limits” was a rock-solid done deal with the overturning of the ban There was zero discussion about that issue. Again — our serious differences of opinion were “where” inside the city those would be allowed. It’s those pesky “Time-Place-Manner” regulations. Compromise was reached very shortly after the election. All is quiet on the western front…

      • John Hartman says:

        We must continuously examine history, gleaning the errata of our ways so that we might avoid the same pitfalls time and time again. Councilor Kopczynski would have readers believe that the City fathers and mothers would have eventually compromised because of the “rock solid deal” the electorate created with their No vote. Perhaps he is right. On the other hand, we have all witnessed various levels of government as they stall, delay and otherwise impede because the people’s decision was viewed by the anointed leaders as incorrect. Don’t tell me that the Mayor and Kellum wouldn’t still be jerking Albany around if they could muster the votes. We’ve seen the technique employed before. Consequently, even though Mr. Kopczynski would have us believe otherwise, it is important to recall the actions of elected officials to remind ourselves as to their penchant for perfidy.

        • Ray Kopczynski says:

          “Councilor Kopczynski would have readers believe that the City fathers and mothers would have eventually compromised because of the “rock solid deal” the electorate created with their No vote. Perhaps he is right.”

          The vote to overturn the ban was Nov. 8th. Done deal. The “compromise” for locations was reached on Dec. 7th. I’d suggest that is rapid response.

          “Don’t tell me that the Mayor and Kellum wouldn’t still be jerking Albany around if they could muster the votes.”

          It always takes 4 votes for council to do anything. Compromise may not be pretty, but there it is. Convince your councilor to your ideas on specific issues…

  12. ean says:

    The beauty of the constitution is that it is a living document for which the framers allowed for it amendment. I think it makes sense to get rid of the outdated electoral college. Small states already get an unequally large say in Congress and the Senate. It is time to make everyone’s vote count equally for the president. Though this will likely never happen in our system as parties don’t care about fairness, they only care about winning.

  13. Tony White says:

    Well said, Mr. Hering. Thank you.

  14. Andy Jackerson says:

    This guy should stick to writing about bicycle paths.

  15. hj.anony1 says:

    Great to see a lively comment section! Plays right into my rollercoaster theme. Everyone aboard! Can’t wait to look back a year from now and re-eval. Interesting to say the least.

    Now tonight, trump is suggesting tariffs on China & Mexico. Yes, I know. He dropped this on the trail. SHORTAGES coming peeps. One can hope that US manufacturing can ramp up FAST. Surprise us all. Enjoy the ride.

  16. George Munson says:

    If the situation were reversed, and the Dems won the Electoral College while losing the popular vote, this guy would be crying his little heart out. He’s not objective; he’s a partisan hack.


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