KFCF Executive Director Rych Withers adjusts the mic for Professor Jeffrey G. Purvis in advance of his annual Constitution Day lecture.
Constitutional Law Professor Jeffrey G. Purvis, San Joaquin College of Law

There are write-in advice and answer columns in hundreds of newspapers, magazines, and blogs, addressing every conceivable topic. But how many of these openly address fabricated e-mails from "audience" members who are admittedly imaginary? Only one! "Valley Views on the Law," San Joaquin College of Law's monthly legal information radio show on FM 88.1. KFCF, in Fresno, does just that. In the "Dear Professors" segment, I answer the pressing and topical legal questions generated by my own perfervid imagination (along with one actual e-mail from an actual listener) every month, for the edification of the audience. You can also send me an e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The October edition of “Valley Views on the Law” is a replay of my Constitution Day lecture on September 21st titled "Don't Vote! Let the rich people run America, as God and the Framers intended!” If you missed it, you can still hear it on the SJCL Multimedia Page at http://www.sjcl.edu/index.php/news/kfcf. Video of the event will also be airing on CMAC.

DEAR PROFESSORS:

I'm trying to figure out the Electoral College, which is as I understand it the mechanism by which the President and Vice-President of the United States are selected. Is it correct that the voters don't vote directly for the candidate of their choice, that they vote for "electors," who then get together and determine who will become President and Vice-President? Why would the Founders of the Constitution have set it up that way? What if the electors I vote for don't make the choice I want them to make? I think we should just scrap the Electoral College and vote directly for President--the person who receives the most votes wins. What could possibly be wrong with that?
--Bush Walker, East Rabbit's Foote, TX
Mr. Walker, to understand the Founder's actions in this regard, one must be aware of the political thinking that influenced them, and their own natures. Many scholars believe that the Founders were influenced by what has been called the Civic Republic Tradition, deriving in part from the Ancient Greek notion that politics was intended to instill virtue in its participants. The Civic Republican Tradition did not value participation by all adults in political matters. A small group of educated, propertied men would select from among themselves the best leaders at a local level, then these leaders would advance, based on their merits, to higher and higher offices, ultimately leading the nation. Women and non-whites were ruled by passions that would not lead to good decisions, and white males with no property could be controlled by the more powerful men via economic pressure. Thus, wealthy white males would control the government, and everyone one else would accept this either because they had no choice or they had been cowed into believing it was appropriate.

The original proposal at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 was for Congress to select the President and Vice-President. This plan was rejected, in part, because it was seen to give Congress too much power over the Presidency. Instead, a plan was proposed for the election of President and Vice-President to be by a group of people apportioned among the states in the same numbers as their representatives in Congress, but chosen by each state "in such manner as its Legislature may direct".

Some Founders were influenced by the Liberal Tradition, which emphasized individual rights, and suggested that direct popular election should be used, but the Southern states, with much smaller voting populations (many of their inhabitants being slaves), would have objected strongly. Since the slave states received representation in Congress for three-fifths of their total slave population, so those states would not be at a disadvantage compared to states without slavery.

James Madison felt that this system, which combined some aspects of popular vote with selection of officeholders by elites, would prevent the dangers of "factions" taking control of the government. Madison defined a "faction" as "a number of citizens whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community." The statesmen selected through the civic republican process, by their fellow elites, would have no self-interest, being independently wealthy, and would learn to act solely for the common good. By allocating "electoral votes" to each state, even states with small populations would still have influence in the Presidential election, since the states with large populations could not win outright by virtue of the number of ordinary votes they could produce.
I should also note that when the electors voted for President, it appears to have been assumed that they would exercise independent judgment--no requirement is stated in the Constitution that the electors must vote for any particular candidate. And if no candidate obtained a majority of the elector votes, then the President is selected from among the highest scoring candidates by the House of Representatives.

You can see, Mr. Walker, that this system was to avoid giving the rabble--the white men without property--from using their votes to advance their selfish passions, such as a desire for equal opportunity, fairer economic conditions, and equal treatment under the law--to the detriment of a stable and beneficial status quo. Imagine how important this buffer between the greed-crazed voters and government would become if women, and people of color should ever somehow obtain the right to vote.

If you doubt the wisdom of the Framers, consider the 2000 presidential election. Without the Electoral College system, our President would have been Al Gore, with 540,000 more total votes than George Bush. With a pusillanimous Democrat in the Presidency on Sept. 11, 2001, instead of a proven Republican war hero, the terrorists would now be wreaking havoc all over the world.

We should be hesitant to change a system that works so well.