My father was a collector. He collected old guns, coins, stamps and books. His favorite old gun was the Henry rifle, the predecessor to the Winchester. He said that at one time he had the largest collection west of the Mississippi, but I am not sure how he would have known that. It was designed in 1860 and was used in the Civil War, and approximately 14,000 were produced. It was a repeating rifle that could hold 16-17 shots. My dad sold his collection many years before he died. My mother was not as enthusiastic about his guns.
My dad also collected books. The third floor of our home was converted into a library. My dad brought several thousand books from a man who lived in Blue Summit who had stored them in his basement and garage, and my dad bought them all. My siblings, nephews and nieces are in the midst of an inventory of the books. After checking, most have little value. With the advent of digital books, the value of hard copies has diminished. My family will find that it is easy to get distracted during the inventory and begin reading some of the books.
My distraction led me to a book published in the year I was born, 1953: “But We Were Born Free.” The author, Elmer Davis, a preacher had preached sermons “defending the freedom of the mind.”
One chapter is based on a speech he gave at Yale University and it is entitled: “Improving on Founding Fathers.” He quotes William E. Gladstone, who described “our Constitution as the most wonderful work ever struck off at one time by the brain and purpose of man.” He also says that “many of (our) own citizens would regard criticism of the Constitution in general as no better than blasphemy.”
The sermon addresses parts of the Constitution that could use some improvement, and it should be no surprise that the Electoral College is one of them. It is still a hot topic 67 years later. Many believe the Electoral College should be eliminated. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 3 million votes but lost the Electoral College vote in the 2016 election. Davis referred to the Electoral College as a “vermiform appendix” which is another name for the human appendix which serves no useful purpose in the human body.
The point Davis and others have made about the Electoral College is that is outdated. Until the Constitution was amended with the 17th Amendment in 1912, United States senators were selected by the state legislatures and not by the citizens of the state. When the Constitution was adopted, the Constitution provided for two senators from each state to be elected by the legislatures. The original Constitution also provided for selection of electors for the electoral college by the state legislatures. That provision still exists as state legislation dictates how the electors in each state are selected. Most are by popular vote, but some are in proportion to the vote so the winner does not take all of the electoral votes. The number of electoral votes for each state is based on the number of representatives for each state in addition to the two Senate votes for each state, which is why Wyoming has only three votes.
The Constitution also provides that no state shall have more than one elector for each 35,000 votes. Legislation passed by Congress in 1912 provided that the number of representatives in the House of Representatives was capped at 435, so despite the constitutional restriction of 35,000, no state has less than one representative and the number of representatives is based on the proportional number of voters in the state which is how Missouri lost a representative and an elector after the 2010 census.
There is recent controversy as to whether the electors are required to vote according to the vote of the people. There were 10 renegade electors in the 2016 election, who were elected to vote for Hillary Clinton, but did not vote for her in the final vote.
A case pending in the Supreme Court considers the question of whether the elector is required to follow the results of the popular vote in their states. Forty-eight states, including Missouri, decide who the electors vote for by popular vote. Nebraska and Montana have one elector determined by statewide vote and then each congressional district selects an elector based on the popular vote in that district. The pending case could have an impact on the upcoming election.
The Founders of the Constitution adopted the concept of the electors to avoid the more popular states from dominating presidential elections. Two hundred and thirty-three years later, it is reasonable to wonder if the reverse is not now true. Wyoming has a population of less than 600,000 with one representative while California has over 39 million with 53. Thus, it is arguable that less populated states have more proportional votes than the most populated states.
It is difficult to predict the outcome of the case before the Supreme Court, but it is probably easier to predict that the Constitution won’t be amended to eliminate this appendix from 233 years ago. It is just one more thing to divide the country.
Bob Buckley is an attorney in Independence, www.wagblaw.com . Email him at email@example.com.