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December 22, 2016

Federalists, Fences and Fascists Part 1 of 4

Ken Kellar

[Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a four part series on the Electoral College and its meaning and its effect on the national psyche following the Election of 2016. This is likely the best explanation of this institution you will ever find.]


“One man one vote” is all you need to know about democracy right? That might be true if we lived in one. However we do not. We live in a republic.


A key feature of a republic is the representation of the people by elected representatives. The power of those representatives is not always proportional to the fraction of the population they represent. Let’s look at the Senate.


Every state gets two senators regardless of their size. Wyoming has about 580,000 people and two senators. California has over 38 million residents and they have…..two senators. So, for every one person a Wyoming senator represents, a California senator represents over 50. This imbalance has been that way since the founding. It is built in on purpose.


So, is the imbalance in senatorial representation unfair? Should the practice of two senators per state be abolished? Before you give your answers, I suggest you consider G.K. Chesterton’s fence.


In 1929 he wrote:


“In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”


The Founders designed our nation’s legislature with two houses. The House of Representatives democratically represented the “mob.” It was anticipated to represent the pulse of the people. Our Founders respected that pulse, but also realized it could be driven by momentary passions that might result in undesirable proposals and actions.


The Senate was devised to be the mature, wise, calm balance to the passionate House of Representatives. For over a century, our senators were chosen by the state legislatures, not the popular vote. In 1913, in what I believe was a violation of Chesterton’s fence principle, the 17th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, which required senators to be selected by a state’s popular vote.


Reasons for the change appear to be centered on some extended senator vacancies due to deadlocked legislatures, charges of corruption, and claims senators were part of a “millionaires club.” So, we have no more Senate vacancies, but what about the other two problems?


I think we lost the Senate’s removal from the passions of the “mob.” Now we have two houses representing the mob. The only difference is one group gets a six-year term. Would any legislature choose a popular football player or comedian as their Senate representative had the 17th Amendment never passed? Maybe, but I’m guessing they would generally pick from proven citizens who not only represent the state legislature’s interests but have proven credentials to succeed, not popular celebrities.


With Mr. Trump winning an Electoral College victory with a significant majority of electoral votes, but without gaining the majority of individual votes, his opponents are demanding elimination of the our presidential election process and its replacement with a national popular vote.



[Editor’s Post Note: In the next installment, Mr. Kellar breaks down exactly how the popular vote broke in this year’s election.”


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