The Presidential Election process Ch-ch-ch-changes; Time may change me;
But I can’t trace time
There have been Amendments to the Constitution that have affected the Presidential selection process. Most of the Amendments have focused on voter eligibility and the right to vote. The 12th Amendment changed the process of selecting the Vice President. The 17th Amendment changed the selection of US Senators from being selected by the State Legislature to a popular vote.
The real changes that have affected the Presidential election process has been the process itself. With the emergence and domination, of a two party system, the nomination process has expanded. In the early 1800’s, elected representitives nominated the Presidential candidates. The selection of candidates was not party based, it was merit based.
Today the candidate selection is dominated by the two “major” parties with their Party Primaries and Conventions. Party Primaries and Party Conventions are now the road to the Presidency. Has this journey corrupted the founders’ intent?
Partisan politics – The Two Horse Race
George Washington was nominated and selected (appointed) President without a popular vote. In his farewell address, Washington warned us about the danger of party partisanship. In Federalist Paper Number 9 and 10, Madison and Hamilton also warned us about the dangers of “factions”. It appears that these warnings fell upon deaf ears. All three of these founding fathers viewed partisan politics as dishonest, self interested and dangerous.
The 1796 “election” was our country’s first contested Presidential Campaign. There were as many as 10 candidates. It should be noted, only two states held a popular election to “help” the State Legislatures and Electoral College members decide their candidate. The two leading candidates were candidates of different political thought, John Adams, the Federalists, and Thomas Jefferson the Democratic-Republican.
Adams won the first bout but in 1800 Jefferson won a rematch. The results of these elections gave us the 12th Amendment. In 1804, the 12th Amendment was ratified it changed the selection process of the Vice President. It also clarified which Congress, the outgoing or the incoming, would be involved in the confirmation process. A significant outcome of these elections was the birth of bipartisan politics, the two party system and a winner-take-all trends began.
At this point, the Presidential Election process was a lot simpler than it is today. Each state’s contingent of US Congressmen would caucus to select it’s candidates for President. The results of this caucus would be sent back home to their State Legislature.
The State Legislatures would received the results from their Congressmen to evaluate and discussed the proposed candidates. The State Legislature would then pass their selection on to the Electoral College members.
The Electoral College members would go to Washington DC to cast their vote. The majority winner of the total number of electoral college votes would become President.
The Electoral College (EC) Vote – They really do select the President!
1800 – 1820: State Legislators controlled the EC vote. Several states began experimenting with a district based selections and a popular vote or a combination of all three methods to determine how the EC should vote.
By 1820: This is the last election in which state legislatures played a dominant role. Political parties were becoming the dominating power influencing the EC vote. This marks the end of an independent EC.
1824: The majority of states used the winner-take-all statewide method to determine EC vote. All the EC vote from the state would go to one candidate. (as opposed to proportional votes).
1836: All but one state, South Carolina, uses the winner-take-all method based on the statewide popular vote to choose its electors.
1872: For the first time, every state holds an election that determine it’s EC vote. The EC vote was winner-take-all rule based upon the popular vote. This marks the first real modern day National Presidential Election.
1876: Colorado is the last state to conform to a popular vote to determine its EC.
Present: All but 2 state, Maine & Nebraska, have a winner-take-all outcome based upon the states popular vote.
The early nomination and selection process did not include primaries and conventions. They would come later. Most of us view the primaries and conventions as a necessary stage for a Presidential candidate to master. They aren’t! The primaries are only a stage for the”major” parties. Both “Major” and “Minor” parties do hold conventions but they are not required.
The Democrat and Republican Parties use the primary as a “beauty” contest to expose, to the public, it’s candidates. The results of the primary supply the Party with the national popularity of the candidates. They also serve to gain delegates for the convention. The convention is the political bosses show to actually choose their Party’s candidate. The media compliantly goes along for the ride.
The reality is that the Democrat and Republican Party are not the only parties. However, they appear to be the only “viable” choice. There are many parties. The Libertarian Party, the Constitutional, the Green Party and the list goes on. Does the main steam media cover or promote* any of the “minor” party? Who covers primary elections or conventions for the Libertarian and Green Party?
Political parties are private corporations. Most corporations sell a product(s). The Party’s product is an ideology represented by a person, it’s candidate. The Party’s ideal are called the planks and the complete package of ideals is the Party’s platform. The difference in ideals or platform usually helps to distinguish one party from another.
History has shown us that the popularity of a party change over time. The Federalist Party disappeared, so did the Whig Party, the Bull Moose Party as well as the Know Nothing Party. Parties disappear because their platforms become irrelevant or their platform does not represent a large enough faction of the population.
Are the Democrat and Republican platforms distinguishable? Does the voting public have a real choice? Is voting for a “minor” party candidate “throwing your vote away”?
Next – The conventions and the primary system of a duopoly. (a monopoly of two)
*John Stossel, of Fox, moderated and televised Libertarian Party debates. For the most part the minor parties are ignored.