Another election has come and gone and the proposals to overhaul or eliminate the Electoral College system of selecting the President of the United States have once again surfaced. Many decry it as outdated, archaic, confusing and unfair. One proposal, the National Popular Vote Compact, would award a state’s electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, supposedly reflecting the will of the majority of the people. Another proposal would adopt the mode of choosing the electors that is used by Maine and Nebraska. Each congressional district’s popular vote would determine which candidate would receive that district’s elector and the two remaining electors, representing the two senators, would go to the winner of the state’s popular vote.
Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the Constitution states:
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
Article II, Section 1, Clause 4 of the Constitution states:
The Congress may determine the Time of choosing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.
Article II, Section 1, Clause 3 of the Constitution provided for the original fashion by which the President and Vice President were to be chosen by the electors. In the original system, the candidate who received both the most votes and more than half of all votes cast would become President, the candidate receiving the second most votes would become Vice President.
This created some problems and so the Twelfth Amendment was adopted to remedy those problems.
Modern presidential elections still follow these basic rules. So, what does this have to do with the Vatican, and more specifically, the way the Popes are chosen? With the last Pope stepping down from his post at the end of February 2013, we once again saw the Cardinals gather at the Vatican for their papal conclave, where they were locked inside the Sistine Chapel casting votes until they burned the ballots with wet straw to make the white smoke to signal to the outside world that a new successor has been chosen. This, in effect, is the model of our Electoral College as it was intended. They don’t just make anyone a Cardinal, they must rise through the ranks and are initially chosen to be bishops through their home churches and diocese by the priests and laity. This is a form of republican representation!
The Cardinals are sent to Rome and are known as the electorate or the College of Cardinals. These men choose who they think is the best candidate among them for the top leadership role. It has been done and has worked in this fashion for nearly 800 years. I will leave it to the reader and papal scholars as to whether the choices have always been the best or not.
What if we, as Americans, ACTUALLY used this system for choosing our president? Here’s how it would look: Each congressional district would choose one elector from that district to represent them in the upcoming Electoral College. The two remaining electors for the two U.S. Senate seats would be chosen by the state legislature. They would be encouraged to choose their wisest and most knowledgeable citizens, not the most partisan like we see today. The state, by choosing two, would also be represented. Once assembled, the electors would then work out list of possible candidates, one for president and one for vice-president, and whittle down the list until the choice was made. Parties could submit their candidates, but the electors would not be obliged to choose from those suggestions. Would we not get then get the best and the brightest to select the best and the brightest for our nation’s leaders?