U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, outgoing chairman of the Colorado Republican Party and congressman from Colorado’s 4th District, penned a guest opinion published in the Washington Post on Jan. 5 — the day before the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol as Congress met to certify the results of the Electoral College vote for president.
In Buck’s op-ed, he challenged his GOP colleagues who objected to the ceremonial certification of the Biden-Harris victory in the 2020 presidential election, and stood up for a proper interpretation of our Constitution’s allocation of authority over elections to the individual states.
Bravo! That said, the thrust of his piece was a defense of the Electoral College, which is under attack from nearly every interest group save one: conservative Republicans like Buck.
Why? Because they know, at least in the short term, that they cannot win the White House without it.
Representative Buck fell back on the intent of the nation’s founders, and correctly identified the Electoral College as a compromise. However, he over-simplified the competing interests behind it: (a) to “allow individuals across the nation to vote for president” on one side; and, (b) “ensuring that small states’ voters would not be ignored,” on the other.
While Representative Buck’s characterization may be technically correct, it is worth remembering which small states sought outsized attention back in the 1780s, and why.
They were southern states economically fueled by the sweat of African slaves. They did not wish to count their “property” as citizens in any census, which put them at a disadvantage to northern states with respect to population.
To protect their clout, the southern states agreed to establish the Electoral College, which could effectively thwart the will of voters, especially if those voters elected an abolitionist president.
Unsurprisingly, when Abraham Lincoln came to Washington, those same states seceded from the Union. An estimated 750,000 dead Americans later, slavery was gone, but the Electoral College remains.
The fate of the Electoral College will likely be decided by the individual states — perhaps through the National Popular Vote Initiative (expect legal challenges), which Coloradans voted in November to support; or perhaps by the ratification of a constitutional amendment abolishing the electoral-college system in favor of a nationwide popular vote for president.
As the debate surrounding the Electoral College continues, we should remember that it is not “a safeguard on our system of federalism and individual liberty,” as Representative Buck contends in his opinion piece. Instead, it is an antidemocratic allocation of power to small states in the selection of our president with roots in the protection of slavery.
If the Electoral College goes away, small states will retain plenty of outsized representation in the U.S. Senate where a senator from Wyoming has approximately 70 times more influence than a senator from California based on the number of voters each represents.
The Electoral College is an important piece of the “Great Compromise,” which established proportional representation in the House of Representatives and “equal” representation in the Senate. Getting rid of the Electoral College will do nothing to alter the upper chamber’s representative imbalance.
In The Federalist Papers: No. 68, Alexander Hamilton defended the Electoral College saying that if it, “be not perfect, it is at least excellent.” He saw the body as a check on “cabal, intrigue, and corruption,” which he regarded as the, “most deadly adversaries of republican government…”
In addition, Hamilton promised that the Electoral College would always produce a president who possesses the requisite qualifications such that the “[t]alents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity,” would not alone allow a person to reach such high office.
Hamilton’s promise of the Electoral College was broken four years ago, and again on Jan. 6, when congressional certification of the college’s results became the flashpoint for Trump’s riot.
If there were any doubts whether the backward ideologies the Electoral College was invented to protect were lost to history, the primitive howl from the racist heart of America we all heard on Jan. 6 put those doubts to rest.
William Blair, professor emeritus of history at Penn State and the former director of the George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center at the university, was quoted in the New York Times saying: “the Confederate flag made it deeper into Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, than it did during the Civil War.” Think about that: In the year 2021 the flag of our nation’s most notorious traitors made it to the heart of American democracy at the behest of its current Commander-in-Chief.
We can all appreciate that Representative Buck did not fall in with his Republican congressional colleagues from Colorado, Doug Lamborn and Lauren Boebert, in pushing baseless allegations that tear at the fabric of our democratic system.
However, the time has come for some real political courage. It is time for responsible conservative leaders to demand that their followers and their current standard-bearer knock off the lies about the 2020 presidential election and disavow the support of any citizen who promotes violence as a means to a political end.
The era of cynical electoral politics must end, and it is through that lens that we should see Representative Buck’s defense of the Electoral College for what it is – an antidemocratic attempt to maintain the possibility of a Republican president in 2024 and beyond.
Casey Martin is an attorney in Buena Vista.
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