The U.S. Electoral College: Are American Citizens Qualified to Elect the President?

The U.S. Electoral College: Are American Citizens Qualified to Elect the President?

Many Americans uphold the U.S. Constitution as a visionary document: drafted in a spirit of equality and encouraging the maximum democratic participation for all voters. The Preamble’s introductory line, “We the people of the United States, in order to establish a more perfect union,” seems to imply that all citizens of our Nation would be involved in the process of creating and directing the government. In reality, however, the framers of the Constitution only provided a small voting role for the general electorate. The drafters intended that only members of the U.S. House of Representatives would be subject to direct election by the general voting population. In contrast,federalistpapersauthors U.S. Senators and the U.S. President would be indirectly elected for longer terms of office. What reasoning did the Framers cite for withholding direct electoral rights to citizens? 

Tempering Passions with Reason

In The Federalist Papers,  James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, wrote against the concept of direct elections of the President and Senators. In his papers #49 and #63, Madison argued that giving ordinary citizens the right to elect their president would mean that “the passions, therefore, not the reason, of the public would sit in judgement.” Moreover, the indirect election plan would protect the American public against “their own temporary errors and delusions,” “their violent passions,” and “popular fluctuations.” Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Paper #68 advocated for indirect elections as a means to avoid “tumult and disorder” and “violent movements.” Ultimately, the authors’ indirect voting philosophy informed the drafting of the U.S. Constitution, which outlines the method of selecting in the President in Clauses 2, 3, and 4 of Article 2, Section 1. 

The U.S. Constitution’s Requirements for Electing the President

Article 2, Section 1, Clause 2: Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to theUSConstitution whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States, shall be appointed an elector.

Under the U.S. Constitution, by means of a constitutional grant of authority to the State legislatures, the President and Vice President are chosen by electors. This system allows each State to determine the means by which it will create its State College of Electors. In current practice, State legislatures create their panel of electors by indirect popular vote.

Article 2, Section 1, Clause 3: The electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot… they shall make a list of all the persons voted for, and of the number of votes for each; which list they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates, and the votes shall then be counted. The person having the greatest number of votes shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such majority, and have an equal number of votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately choose by ballot one of them for President… (Note: This clause was changed by the Twelfth Amendment in 1804).

Each individual State chooses its electors in the popular election. Once chosen, the electors meet in their respective states to cast ballots for the President and Vice President. In the case where no Presidential candidate receives a majority of electoral votes, the House chooses from the top three candidates.

Article 2, Section 1, Clause 4: The Congress may determine the time of choosing the electors, and the day on which they shall give their votes; which day shall be the same throughout the United States.

Congress determines the national Election Day, which has been determined to be the Tuesday following the first Monday in November in the year before the President’s term is to expire. Then, the Electors cast their votes on the Monday following the second Wednesday ElectoralCollegeElectorsSwornin December of that year. The votes are then opened and counted by the Vice President, as President of the Senate, in a joint session of Congress.

The Electoral College 

The political philosophy that ordinary citizens were not qualified to choose their leaders was common practice in the early years of popular voting. Instead, nations made use of indirect voting, whereby the voters would elect a group of representatives to select public leaders on their behalf. The Electoral College is the last vestige of this arcane system still operating in the United States. Thus, when Americans go to vote for the President on Election Day they are not voting for the President, they are choosing representatives who will vote on their behalf. In each State, the voters are technically choosing between the groups of electors who have been elected or appointed months prior to the election. The electors are then pledged to support their own party’s presidential candidate. 

The Electoral College operates on a system of 538 total electoral votes for the 50 states and the District of Columbia. To win the general election, 270 votes are needed for a candidate. Each state is entitled to a number of electoral votes equal to the combined number of Senators plus the number of U.S. Representatives for that state. For example, Montana has a single member of Congress and two senators. Thus, Montana receives three electoral votes in the Presidential contest. In contrast, California has 53 members of Congress and 2 Senators, receiving 55 electoral votes.

Following the general election on the Tuesday after the first Monday of November, the winning balloted electors travel to their State Capitol to formally cast their votes on the Monday following the second Wednesday in December. While rare, electors have, in the past, broken their pledges and voted for a different candidate. Although most states have passed statutes binding their electors to their pledges, constitutional authorities have raised doubts as to whether these state laws would be enforceable in the National electionElectoralCollegeMap2016. In a case where no candidate receives a majority of Electoral College votes, the names of the top three candidates are submitted to the House of Representatives for a vote. Then, each state is given one vote to elect the President.

While the popular vote usually correlates with the election of the President, there have been exceptions in American History. In the 1824 election, there was no majority winner in the electoral college. Four candidates split the vote: John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, and William H. Crawford. The election was sent to the House of Representatives who chose John Quincy Adams despite Andrew Jackson winning the popular and electoral votes. The choice was the ultimate result of what is historically referred to as “The Corrupt Bargain,” devised and executed by Adams and Clay. In 1876, Samuel Tilden was chosen by the popular vote, but a special commission overruled this vote, electing President Rutherford B. Hayes instead.  In 1888, Grover Cleveland received more popular votes, but the Electoral College elected President Benjamin Harrison. Most recently, Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000 with 48.4% of the vote, but President George W. Bush won the Electoral College with 271 votes. 

Meeting on the Level: Equality, Tolerance, and Justice 

Does the American public still lack the responsibility and reasoning necessary to elect the President? Must we still be protected against our  “own temporary errors and delusions” and “violent passions” as James Madison argued? Freemasonry rests under the banner of the universality of all mankind and operates under the principles of tolerance, justice, and equality. When American Citizens are withheld the electoral power to choose our President, are we truly operating as, “we the people?” Can we form a “more perfect union” when we voluntary abdicate our voting choices to others deemed to be more rational and less ruled by passions?  Perhaps, we need to realize the responsibility inherent in acting as mature adults, subdue our unruly passions, and advocate for our equal voting rights in the election of the President. 

Benjamin Franklin: Founding Father and Freemason

Benjamin Franklin: Founding Father and Freemason

Most Americans recognize Benjamin Franklin as one our Nation’s most influential Founding Fathers, but many do not realize that he was also a Freemason. In 1731, he joined the Masonic Lodge of St. John in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1732, Franklin helped to create the bylaws of his Lodge. By 1734 his hard work and dedication led him to the highest rank within the organization: Grand Master.  That year, Franklin also published the first Masonic book printed in America, The Constitutions of the Free-Masons, which was produced in Philadelphia. Devoted to Freemasonry, Franklin remained an active member for over sixty years until his death in 1790 at age 84. In 1776, he was sent to Paris to serve as America’s diplomat to France.  In France, he joined and became the Grand Master of the Nine Sisters Lodge in Paris.

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Franklin’s Early Life

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin was the fifteenth of seventeen children of his father, Josiah Franklin, and his mother, Abiah Folger, who was Josiah’s second wife. Like all his siblings, Benjamin was raised as a Christian. He attended the Boston Latin School until he decided to pursue a career as a journalist. Ending his formal education, he went to work as an apprentice printer for his brother, James Franklin: the creator of the first independent newspaper in the American colonies.  At the age of twenty-four, Benjamin was hired by the Pennsylvania Gazette, where he was able to both publish and write editorials for the local community. One of Benjamin’s defining characteristics was his seemingly insatiable desire for knowledge. He was driven by a love of learning that ultimately led him to become one of the best writers, statesmen, and scientists of his day.

Franklin’s Role as a Founding Father

A political expert, Benjamin Franklin, was recognized for his great wisdom and ingenuity by other influential Freemasons of his day, including Paul Revere, John Hancock, John Paul benjamin-franklin-drawing-electricity-from-the-sky-by-benjamin-west-1816-wcpdJones, and George Washington. Franklin felt personally responsible for his role in shaping America’s future and devoted much of his life to U.S. politics. At the time of his birth the future United States. existed solely as a small and dependent British colony. Assisting in the drafting and signing of the Declaration of Independence at the age of seventy, Franklin took great responsibly in leading the colony through the Continental Congress. He also signed the Treaty of Paris and the U.S. Constitution. Franklin was a visionary who worked with dedication to create a more perfect society in America: an intellectual and humane civilization.

Devoted Scientist and Inventor

A celebrated inventor, he created many things including: the lightning rod, the glass armonica, bifocal glasses, a flexible catheter, and the Franklin stove. His renowned work with electricity earned him the Copley Medal from the Royal Society. In 1743, Franklin created the scientific-based American Philosophical Society, which was instituted to help scientists discuss their experiments and discoveries.  Describing the society, Franklin writes, “The One Society be formed of Virtuosi or ingenious Men residing in the several Colonies, to be called The American Philosophical Society, who are to maintain a constant Correspondence.”

Franklin’s Faith in Freemasonry

St.JohnsLodgeFranklin held deep respect for the institution of Freemasonry and Freemasons. He explained his trust of Freemasons to his skeptical mother in a letter: “I assured her that they are in general a very harmless sort of people, and have no principles or practices that are inconsistent with religion and good manners.”  He respected his Brothers for their peaceful ways, strong morals, and dedication to self-betterment.

Benjamin Franklin possessed a strong faith in God, “the Great Father,” and worked towards a universal Brotherhood of all mankind. He wrote, “Scripture assures me, that at the last Day, we shall not be examin’d what we thought, but what we did; and our Recommendation will not be that we said Lord, Lord, But that we did Good to our Fellow Creatures.”

Timeline of Ben Franklin’s Life

1706: Born on January 6, in Boston, MA.

1718: Apprenticed as a printer to his brother James Franklin

1724: Moved to London and worked in a London Printshop until 1726

1731: Became a Freemason joining St. John’s Lodge in Philadelphia

1732: Published his first Poor Richard’s Almanac

1734: Elected Grand Master of Pennsylvania

1737: Became Postmaster for Philadelphia

1743: Created the American Philosophical Society AmericanPhilosophicalSociety

1751: Elected to Pennsylvania Assembly; Published Experiments and Observations on Electricity

1753: Named Deputy Postmaster-General for North America

1754: Proposed a plan for Union of the Colonies

1756: Elected to Royal Society

1763: Sent to London representing Pennsylvania; Became unofficial spokesman for the Colonies

1766: Testified against the Stamp Act before the British House of Commons

1769: Elected President of the American Philosophical Society

1772: Elected to the French Academy of Sciences

1776: Assisted in Drafting and Signed the Declaration of Independence

1777: Negotiated French support for the U.S. War of Independence

1783: Signed treaty of peace with England

1787: Attended Constitutional Convention

1790: Died on April 17th in Philadelphia, PA.