This is Why New York State Needs an Electoral College

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The war had been going on for the better part of a year when John Adams wrote, “The blessings of society depend entirely on the constitutions of government.” Shortly thereafter, on May 10, 1776, the Second Continental Congress passed a resolution recommending the thirteen colonies “adopt such Government as shall in the opinion of the Representatives of the People, best conduce to the happiness and safety of their Constituents in particular.”

In a letter to his brother John Augustine Washington dated Philadelphia, May 31, 1776 George Washington issued this prophetic warning: “To form a new government requires infinite care and unbounded attention; for if the foundation is badly laid, the superstructure must be bad… My fear is, that you will all get tired and homesick; the consequence of which will be, that you will patch up some kind of a constitution as defective as the present. This should be avoided. Every man should consider, that he is lending his aid to frame a constitution, which is to render millions happy or miserable, and that a matter of such moment cannot be the work of a day.”

Perhaps George Washington knew the future lament of the Articles of Confederation, but his wise guidance applied equally well to the efforts of the individual states. Most states followed the Whig tradition left by their recently vacated British overseers. Others, and eventually the United States Constitution itself, used the more recent federalist ideas (James Madison being the lead principal here). Daniel J. Elazar explains this movement as the result of attempts to avoid “problems of establishing an extended and diverse democratic republic… particularly the problem of majority tyranny.” (see “State Constitutional Design in Federal Systems,” Publius, edited by Daniel J. Elazar and Stephen L. Schechter, Vol. 12, no. 1 (Winter, 1982), page 13.)

As the states marched down this road from Whig tradition to federalism, New York emerged on the vanguard. This was quite by accident. It was one of the last states to adopt a constitution. Although New York’s Third Provincial Congress declared its independence on July 9, 1776, it wasn’t until April 20, 1777 that its Convention of Representatives of the State of New York (nee “Fourth Provincial Congress”) formal adopted the state’s first constitution.

While the New York State Constitution avoided much of the Whig induced problems of the other state constitutions, the concept of federalism had much further to evolve. Indeed, the problem plagued the Articles of Confederation wouldn’t appear until a year after New York’s constitution in 1778. It would take nearly another decade before the United States Constitution would appear in a form that best reduced the perplexing issue of the “tyranny of the majority,” or, as we may call it in more common language, “mob rule.”

Before we get to the awful legacy of the New York Constitution, we need to skip ahead to the arguments made during the debate surrounding the US Constitution (courtesy of the notes taken by Robert Yates, a New York delegate to the Constitutional Convention). Here the fear of mob rule is quite evident.

During an exchange on Tuesday, June 26th, 1787, James Madison states, “We are now to determine whether the republican form shall be the basis of our government… The man who is possessed of wealth, who lolls on his sofa, or rolls in his carriage, cannot judge of the wants or feelings of the day laborer. The government we mean to erect is intended to last for ages. The landed interest, at present, is prevalent; but in process of time, when we approximate to the states and kingdoms of Europe; when the number of landholders shall be comparatively small, through the various means of trade and manufactures, will not the landed interest be overbalanced in future elections, and unless wisely provided against, what will become of your government? In England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of the landed proprietors would be insecure. An agrarian law would soon take place. If these observations be just, our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. The senate, therefore, ought to be this body; and to answer these purposes, they ought to have permanency and stability. Various have been the propositions; but my opinion is, the longer they continue in office, the better will these views be answered.”

It is from these fruits that was born the nature and purpose of the US Senate: “to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” That is why, unlike the House of Representatives, which is apportioned by population and therefore allows the majority to oppress the minority, the Senate weighs each state equally, thereby preventing larger states from bullying smaller states.

Madison would go on to more officially argue this point in Federalist No.10, but it was Alexander Hamilton who, in Federalist No. 68, used similar logic in demonstrating how the Electoral College also prevents the Tyranny of the Majority. By constructing the Electoral College using the same elements employed to construct the US Senate, Hamilton shows how a Presidential candidate cannot merely win the most populous state. He writes, “Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States.”

Would that the New York State Constitution have adopted this same wisdom. Instead, we remain shackled by the 1777 language. It states “And be it ordained, that a census shall be taken, as soon as may be after the expiration of seven years from the termination of the present war, under the direction of the legislature; and if, on such census, it shall appear that the number of senators is not justly proportioned to the several districts, that the legislature adjust the proportion, as near as may be, to the number of freeholders, qualified as aforesaid, in each district.”

Unlike the US Senate, where each state is treated equally to prevent the tyranny of the most populous states, the NY State Senate is apportioned by population, just like the House of Representatives and the NY State Assembly. In other words, the NY State Senate is redundant. It not only fails to prevent the tyranny of the most populous counties, it magnifies it.

Here’s the problem: one city – New York City – has 24 State senators. That’s more than a third of the entire Senate. The 17 counties in the Greater Western New York Region have only 10 State senators, less than have of New York City’s total. Guess who always wins?

It’s hard to argue this doesn’t promote the tyranny of the majority.

How much longer will this be allowed to go on? We’ll find out when they start ripping those convenient dual purpose/free kitchen garbage pail bags out of our hands come next year.

Would you like to ride along as Mr. Carosa explores centuries-old documents and newspaper stories for his upcoming book Greater Western New York a State? Why Not? Click here to sign up for his email list by registering on the site to receive periodic updates on his research and findings, notifications regarding speaking engagements, and, most importantly, when the book will be publicly available.

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