Honor the Framers’ Electoral College vision
Two kinds of majorities are needed to govern in the United States — a majority of citizens as seen in the Framers’ creation of the House of Representatives, and a majority of states, as seen in the creation of the Senate. Power in the new system they created was based on both population and on state sovereignty, a geographic consideration.
Therefore, a system to award Electoral College votes based on congressional districts, as has been proposed by Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled Legislature, is best for assuring the representation of all people in a state.
Article II, Section I, Clause 2, of the Constitution declares that each state shall appoint electors “in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.” This has become known as the Constitution’s Elector Appointment Clause.
Each state legislature can decide how the state will appoint electors — by statewide popular vote, district popular vote or by the Legislature itself. So, distributing electors by congressional districts is clearly legal and one of the ways that was considered by the Framers.
Michael McLaughlin, in the Fordham Law Review in 2008, observed that the Constitution gave power to the state legislatures to appoint the electors so that all the people of each state would be represented. The best way for all people of each state to be represented and empowered is through the selection of presidential electors in individual congressional districts.
The Electoral College reinforces the compromises of the Constitutional Convention for federalism and for separation of powers. The system gives each state a number of electors equal to the state’s combined representatives in the House and the Senate.
Again, this arrangement dictates that the fairest way to distribute a state’s Electoral College votes is to award the two Electoral College votes for the U.S. senators based on the state’s popular vote but to also award the state’s remaining Electoral College votes by congressional district — one vote per district.
While distributing Electoral College votes from each state by congressional district is a useful step in improving our process of presidential selection in Pennsylvania, there has been a Trojan horse in this debate.
There is no concept or idea in this discussion that is more at variance with the Framers’ intentions than the National Popular Vote Initiative, which would give all of the states’ Electoral College votes to the presidential candidate who has received the largest number of popular votes nationwide.
This proposal clearly flies in the face of the Constitution. One would hope that all of Pennsylvania’s state legislators would be well versed in the attitude that the Framers had about different forms of direct democracy. Many of the constitutional protections that the Founding Fathers gave to small states would be eliminated by this proposal; smaller states and their citizens would virtually disappear from the presidential selection process.
Two concerns about choosing electors by congressional district have received great media play — that it would decrease Pennsylvania’s influence and power and that less campaign money would be brought into the state. While these assertions can be forwarded, the process of advancing them does not make them true .
One could argue that the adoption of the congressional district distribution method would result in more money being brought into the commonwealth as both candidates and parties seek to win each congressional district.
In fact, this method should result in campaign dollars being spent more evenly across the state than was true before. In addition, one can also argue that Pennsylvania’s importance will increase in the presidential race since both candidates know that they must contest all but two of the votes on the basis of congressional districts.
In order to have effective campaigns in each district, the candidates and their surrogates would need to have a personal presence in each district. Pennsylvania will see much more of both presidential candidates with the adoption of this proposal than if we leave our system untouched. The candidates will bring their war chests with them.
Finally, each presidential candidate will be campaigning for himself while visiting the respective congressional districts. While there might be some limited “coattail effect” from the presidential candidates for the candidates of their party running for Congress, it should not be strong enough to cause the defeat or victory of any congressional candidates.
Our Electoral College has served the nation well through the centuries. It has provided a stable way to choose our presidents through the states as our Constitution has stipulated. The Pennsylvania Legislature is within its rights under the Constitution to award its Electoral College votes by congressional district. And this method of vote distribution will allow the votes of all the people of the commonwealth to count — not just the votes of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Charlie Greenawalt, a senior fellow of The Susquehanna Valley Center for Public Policy, is a professor of government and political affairs at Millersville University. This commentary is a shortened version of testimony delivered last week before the Pennsylvania Senate State Government Committee.