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The U.S. Electoral College

The U.S. Electoral College
[Election] law, however, is not an autonomous sphere with its own laws of justice. It does not have the purpose of giving every ethnic group with special interests or a distinctive Weltanschauung the opportunity to disturb the political business of the nation through its representatives in parliament. The election law is an instrument for giving large parties the opportunity to conduct such business with workable parliamentary majorities on the basis of the people’s mandate. Since questions of general suffrage are all too often discussed dogmatically and not pragmatically (as they ought to be treated), perhaps I should recall the procedure of American presidential elections.

The two-tier suffrage is so constituted that in a two-party system a very small majority of the popular vote can translate into a very large majority of the electoral vote. And if a party split occurs so that three candidates run for office, then it can even happen that the candidate with only a plurality of the popular vote again gains an overwhelming majority of the electoral vote, as was the case in Woodrow Wilson’s election.

This resonance effect, incorporated into the suffrage and capable of turning a minority candidate into a plebiscite leader of a people, provided the man has the necessary stature, is not at all regarded as unjust but as one of the great advantages of this electoral system. It is in general not that important for the people which party wins the election campaign if surprises from neither one (in a negative or positive sense) are to be expected. Thus, so long as the civil government as such is stable, suffrage manipulations of this kind are not at all a contemptible means for strengthening the ruling authority in a democratic state.

 

This excerpt is from Published Essays, 1953-1965 (Collected Works 11) (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2004)

Eric VoegelinEric Voegelin

Eric Voegelin

Eric Voegelin (1901-85) was a German-born American Political Philosopher. He was born in Cologne and educated in Political Science at the University of Vienna, at which he became Associate Professor of Political Science. In 1938 he and his wife fled from the Nazi forces which had entered Vienna and emigrated to the United States, where they became citizens in 1944. He spent most of his academic career at the University of Notre Dame, Louisiana State University, the University of Munich and the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. More information about him can be found under the Eric Voegelin tab on this website.

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