Madison understood threat of majority rule

The controversy surrounding last year’s presidential election has led to calls to abandon the Constitution’s Article II provisions for the electoral college to select presidents. The Jan. 6 letter to the editor, “Election issue hasn’t gone away with war,” echoes this call and urges that we become a “true democracy.”

This took me back to my high school civics class wherein it was explained the very good reasons why we do not elect presidents by direct vote. Under a true democracy, each citizen would vote on every issue and the outcome would be decided by the majority of votes on either side. Contrary to popular opinion, there’s nothing inherently just or fair about majority rule.

In fact, one of the primary dangers of majority rule is that it confers an aura of legitimacy and respectability on acts that would otherwise be deemed tyrannical. Suppose the decision whether to enslave a group of people was made through a popular vote instead of a dictatorship? Would it not be tyranny nonetheless? Likewise, under a pure democracy only the large population centers of the country would elect our presidents, candidates would only campaign there, and the rest of the country would be ignored.

There’s no clearer statement that the framers fashioned a republic and not a pure democracy than the wise words of James Madison. Our Constitution set limits on not only the power of the three branches of the federal government, it also set limits on the arbitrary will of the people that might be expressed through a majority vote. Madison said, “Measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.” He is right.

Bothell

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