In his Nov. 25 Washington Forum essay, “The electors should reflect the people’s choice,” Lawrence Lessig described the two previous cases in which a president was elected by electoral votes in spite of having lost the popular vote, and wrote, “In both cases, the result violated what has become one of the most important principles governing our democracy — one person, one vote.” Mr. Lessig used “one person, one vote” to mean that votes should be equal in their power. He said that nothing in the Constitution compels the violation of this principle.
But the structure of the Senate means we will not be governed by the principle that all votes are equal in power. There are 100 senators, and the vice president can vote to break a tie. This means that 51 senators — senators from 26 states — can block any law. The population of the smallest 26 states totals less than 57 million individuals. Those states’ representatives can block legislation in a country with more than 325 million people.
This means that the votes of those 57 million people would be more powerful than the votes of all the rest. Our Constitution clearly does compel that our votes be of unequal power.
Jeffrey Reiman, Washington
Lawrence Lessig would retain the electoral college, yet he did not explain how voters would know enough about the electors to select them. The Harvard University professor imparts undemonstrated wisdom to the electors, now chosen by party functionaries. Voters know next to nothing about the electors, who actually cast their votes in their respective states.
There is merit in Wyoming’s general-election votes being worth four such votes in Michigan. Under Mr. Lessig’s plan, which would allow voters just from California, New York, Florida and Texas to provide a victory, dissatisfied activists need lobby only 538 individuals occupying catbird seats.
Alexander Hamilton may have offered Mr. Lessig arguments. The 10th Amendment still gives some weight to the states and their citizens, grantors of the federal government’s powers.
Carl Eifert, Alexandria
Lawrence Lessig may have a point about how electors should reflect the popular will, but he was wrong in suggesting that our Founding Fathers would have supported his position. In fact, the men who wrote the Constitution did not anticipate any popular vote for president whatsoever. Just as the members of the Senate were to be appointed by state legislatures (changed by the 17th Amendment), our founders sought to shield our presidential selection process from the passions of the crowd.
Electors were to be wise men who would choose a president without the influence of a popular vote. After George Washington’s election in 1789, the political party that controlled the state legislature selected the electors for that state, until 1824, when some states allowed individual voters to participate in the elector selection process.
Like almost every other election in this country, this is a plurality-prevails election: The candidate with the most votes wins. So, Mr. Lessig may believe that the winner of the popular vote should be the president, but his position is not based upon the views of our founders.
James T. Currie, Alexandria