“I got the most votes for president, so I should win, right?” Wrong. You still have to win the states — though most of the time the winner in the states and winner of the popular vote actually turn out to be the same person. This emphasis on the states is not uncommon in our federal Constitution.
When I can hop in my car and be in Illinois in 20 minutes, or board a plane and be in California in a few hours, the fact that I live in a particular state is often given little thought. In fact, it is probably not on most people’s minds until perhaps tax time, when each state’s quirky tax provisions and rates come to the forefront. But this was not what the Founding Fathers had in mind. To them, the individual states were more like what we would now call countries. They even ratified the 10th Amendment to ensure that the powers not specifically given to the federal government were to be reserved to the states or to the people themselves.
What the founders recognized is that our country, though bound by the ideals of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution, is incredibly diverse. This diversity calls for a wide range of approaches to problems. For example, in a state like Indiana, we have fairly simple laws regarding the use and ownership of water. But in states where water is scarce, their body of law is much more developed. This same diversity extends to matters such as the death penalty, restrictions on abortion, and the role of individual responsibility. Indeed, if anything, the diversity of views among the various states is increasing, not decreasing.
Equally important, free states have the ability to, in effect, experiment. The experiments may be watched by other states to see what works, and what does not work.
Our founders were concerned that the small states might be made irrelevant by the large states. So what? Well, when you consider that today the city of Los Angeles and its bordering areas have about twice the population of Indiana, the problem begins to emerge. It is possible that if a candidate did very well in just a few states like California and New York, that they could conceivably dictate to the entire nation what was to be. Presidential candidates would focus their attention on the coasts and rarely visit “fly over country.” This could be a big problem.
The United States is huge. If a president lacks wide-spread geographical support, it is questionable whether they could maintain authority. The founders’ solution was the Electoral College.
Under the Electoral College system, each state is given two electoral votes automatically, just like each state receives two seats in the U.S. Senate. They also receive an electoral vote for each one of their U.S. congressional representatives, which are based on population. At a minimum, every state has at least three electoral votes. The total effect of this is to grant small states in population, but perhaps massive in size, a more significant say in who is to be president. Together with the “winner-takes-all” approach, which is maintained by all but two states, the Electoral College has proven to be a way to keep small states relevant — and when I look across the river at the fiscal mess that is Illinois, I can’t help but think this is a good thing.
Rep. Tom Washburne (R-Darmstadt) serves has chairman of the Courts and Criminal Code Committee. He represents Gibson County and portions of Knox, Pike, Vanderburgh and Posey counties.
A high-resolution photo of Washburne can be downloaded by clicking here.