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LA Times misquotes James Madison

  • Guest author Tara Ross
  • May 29, 2012
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The LA Times editorial board often prints anti-Electoral College columns, so yesterday’s piece along these lines is not surprising.

Yesterday, however, one LA Times writer attempted to utilize James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, to back up this position. He wrote:

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“Just don’t try making sense of the electoral college. Here’s the way one American articulated the problem: "The present rule of voting for president ... is so great a departure from the Republican principle of numerical equality ... and is so pregnant also with a mischievous tendency in practice, that an amendment of the Constitution on this point is justly called for by all its considerate and best friends.”

The speaker’s name was Madison, as in James Madison.”

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Wonder what that ellipsis is doing at the beginning of the Madison quote? It is the LA Times obscuring the fact that James Madison was NOT talking about a constitutional amendment to get rid of the Electoral College. He was talking about a constitutional amendment to get rid of the House contingent election. This contingent election is a back-up election procedure that is used only if no one gets a majority in the Electoral College. The last time the House contingent election procedure was used was in 1824.

In other words, Madison was talking about something entirely different than the LA Times piece!

The full Madison quote, with omissions bolded, is:

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“But with all possible abatements the present rule of voting for President by the H. of Reps. is so great a departure from the Republican principle of numerical equality, and even from the federal rule which qualifies the numerical by a State equality, and is so pregnant also with a mischievous tendency in practice, that an amendment of the Constitution on this point is justly called for by all its considerate & best friends.

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Madison’s full letter can be found here:

True, Madison was not completely satisfied by the Constitution’s presidential election system, as a reading of this letter will show. But he was not trying to get rid of it entirely, either. He was arguing for adjustments here and there. Ironically, his proposal for an allocation of presidential electors by district would have made the Electoral College less purely democratic—presumably not the goal of the LA Times. The remainder of Madison’s dissatisfaction had to do with the House contingent election, a procedure that was used twice in Madison’s lifetime but has never been used since.

The LA Times has every right to write against the Electoral College, and it is perfectly welcome to use any statement from any Founding Father when it does so. But its dishonest use of ellipses says an awful lot about the weakness of its arguments against America’s unique and successful presidential election system.

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