When the 13 original colonies considered a new form of government, their objective was to preserve freedom, promote justice and avoid tyranny. They did not want anything like the oppressive British colonial government that they had just risked their lives, fortunes and sacred honor fighting against in our war for independence.
The American Founders knew that too much power in the national government would consume the states, stifling the freedom and diversity made possible by local control. This is why the Constitution of the United States gives few, defined and limited powers to the national government (also known as the federal government), leaving all other power to the states and the people. It also uses institutions like the Electoral College — the state-by-state way we elect presidents and vice presidents — to limit federal power and preserve the appropriate powers of the states.
This balance of power between states and the federal government is intended to protect the freedom of individuals, with each side guarding its powers jealousy and keeping the other from assuming too much authority.
The balance has been slipping as the federal government has taken more and more power from the states. Due to the 17th Amendment, U.S. senators are now elected by popular vote, stripping state legislatures of this power. This removed a check from our system of checks and balances, making it much harder for states to stand up to federal overreach.
A new proposal will soon be introduced in the Utah Legislature, the National Popular Vote interstate compact (NPV). It is an attempt to manipulate the Electoral College process to force it to do exactly what the American Founders rejected. Our current process allows each state’s voters to have a voice within their own state. It entered the Constitution as a compromise between those who wanted a popular vote and those who wanted Congress to select the president.
This compromise keeps Congress from controlling the president, assuring an independent executive branch. It also limits the power of the most populous states so that they cannot dominate everyone else. Presidential candidates must win in many states, building a broad national coalition, and cannot focus just on driving up the total where they are already popular or in a collection of giant media markets.
The Constitution apportions electoral votes to each state by the following formula: each state gets two for its two U.S. senators plus an additional number equal to its number of members in the U.S. House of Representatives. The District of Columbia gets three according to the 23rd Amendment. Together, this equals 538 electoral votes. To win, a presidential candidate must receive a majority: at least 270 electoral votes.
The Constitution allows state legislatures to determine how their state chooses its electors. Today, every state holds an election to choose electors who are nominated by political parties and pledged to vote for their party’s nominee if elected.
The Electoral College has served us well for more than two centuries. This system has protected small states from larger ones and protected all states from the federal government. It is a bit complicated but, like the rest of the Constitution, it is worth taking time to understand the reasons why it was created.
Protecting the strength of the states is important in preserving the balance of power that was designed by the American Founders to protect our liberty.
Kay J. Christofferson, R-Lehi, represents District 56 in the Utah House of Representatives.
Trent England, Oklahoma City, is the executive director of Save Our States.