Saturday, May 12, 2018

Direct Election of U.S. Senators, The Electoral College, and republicanism.

For those of you who still keep harping on "republic, not a democracy" despite both systems having the characteristic of choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections.

 The Constitution not only provided for what would become the electoral college; it also made it so that senators were elected by state legislatures, not popularly elected. Getting rid of that provision was unlike the electoral college in that it went away quickly with the 17th Amendment, which brought about the direct election of senators.

Maybe that was because the appointment system was much more obvious in its abuse.

William A. Clark was an American politician and entrepreneur, involved with mining, banking, and railroads. Although one could argue that calling him a politician was a bit of a stretch. That's because Clark's long-standing dream of becoming a United States Senator resulted in scandal in 1899 when it was revealed that he bribed members of the Montana State Legislature in return for their votes.

Clark handed out envelopes with anywhere from $1,000-$3,000 dollars to the state legislators during the legislative session where he was appointed senator. According to the US Senate report on the investigation into this matter:
On April 23, 1900, after hearing extensive testimony from ninety-six witnesses, the committee returned a report unanimously concluding that William Clark was not entitled to his seat. The testimony detailed a dazzling list of bribes ranging from $240 to $100,000. In a high-pressure, well-organized scheme coordinated by Clark's son, Clark's agents had paid mortgages, purchased ranches, paid debts, financed banks, and blatantly presented envelopes of cash to legislators.
Clark's response in regard to his bribery of the Montana legislature is supposed to have been, "I never bought a man who wasn't for sale."

Bottom line was that there was a sense that senatorial elections were "bought and sold", changing hands for favours and sums of money rather than because of the competence of the candidate. Between 1857 and 1900, the Senate investigated three elections over corruption, a number that included the investigation of Clark.

The Electoral college is much more problematic in that most people don't understand it and how it distorts the electoral process. Distortion of the elections from being free and fair means that one can't really argue that  the electoral college is somehow a "republican institution". If anything, republicanism would require its abolition.

And it can be done since senators are no longer appointed by the states. The Seventeenth Amendment (Amendment XVII) to the United States Constitution changed that and established the popular election of United States Senators by the people of the states. The amendment supersedes Article I, §3, Clauses 1 and 2 of the Constitution, under which senators were elected by state legislatures. It also alters the procedure for filling vacancies in the Senate, allowing for state legislatures to permit their governors to make temporary appointments until a special election can be held.

The Constitution can be amended and changed to go with the times. It's time the electoral college went the way of legislators choosing senators.

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