And does not tyranny spring from democracy…?
-Plato The Republic, Book VIII
Despite the devastation caused by the 17th Amendment, our Republic continues to function as it should – with checks and balances to the tyrannical tendencies of the masses and those who hunger for power. The 2020 elections are a clear example of the wisdom of our Founders to establish a Republic, and of their inherent distrust of democracy on a national level.
The voting process for President of the United States is not a national election – but a Federal one. What that means is that while having nationwide consequences, the elections themselves are at the state level. Each state chooses electors who will then actually vote for the president at the convening of the Electoral College. The formula for the number of electors is straight forward: the number of senators (2) plus the number of congressional districts based on the latest census. This process forces candidates for president to campaign in each state – not just focus on those with the highest populations.
It is important to note that only at this state of the process is the notion of Democracy – decision by popular vote – given any credence by the Constitution. The Founders knew that while the people had to give their voice, unchecked Democracy will always lead to tyranny. Hence, while democratic principles initiate the election process, they by no means determine them.
Elections must be certified by each state and sealed by the governor of that state. These certifications and seals are the first step in making Democracy accountable. This requirement is intended to make sure that every vote is legal and counted, and that election laws and policies are followed. The time delay between the day of the elections and time of certification allows for the ardor of campaign enthusiasm to wane and cooler heads to rise up to examine election results.
The results of the states themselves are not considered valid until accepted and confirmed by Congress. The state governors certify and seal the results of the elections. Those elections determine the direction of the electors in the Electoral College. Those electors then cast their votes. But the President of the United States is not elected until Congress certifies those votes. Electors do not meet until December 18, over a month from election day. Congress counts the votes on January 6th – two months after election day. Only at this point is the candidate considered “elected” and consequently installed into office on January 20th.
These time delays are designed to slow down Democracy’s often overzealousness. The Founder’s knew individuals may be quite intelligent, but masses of people often are easily deceived and swayed. Democracies demand immediate results, even if those results overlook the rule of law. Republics are slower to come to decisions because they take the time to make sure procedures and laws are followed.
The ultimate check on pure Democracy comes from the courts. While deemed the weakest branch of government (its budget comes from the legislative bodies at all levels), and whose membership is often determined by the Executive, the courts bring to the table the one thing that the other two branches cannot – complete distance from the voters. Once confirmed by a legislature, judges are in their positions for life. This lifelong appointment is to free them from the fickleness of democracy to make decisions based on the more stable rule of law – not the ever-changing desires of the masses. It is quite proper for the courts – whose members are not answerable to the people – to help mitigate issues that arise during the election process. While the ideological tendencies of judges and justices have always influenced their decisions, history also reflects numerous occasions when the decisions of courts have gone against political stances.
The election of 2020 is not over. Even if this were a year where everything went smoothly and legally and where forecasts and expectations mirrored the outcome of the popular vote, the election process still would not be done until January 6th, 2021. We do not have such a smooth outcome, and the results are heavily contested. Our Founders knew that such problems could arise. Consequently, they put in processes that would slow down Democracy and let the cooling influences of a Republic take hold.
And for that, I am thankful.