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Electoral College

November 13, 1988

Stanley Meisler writes ("Electoral College: The Lesser Evil," Part I, Nov. 2) that the Electoral College "is rooted in the conviction of the 1787 Constitutional Convention that the American voters were too ignorant to select a president on their own."

The statement is misleading. As defended by the authors of the Federalist essays, the Electoral College was a device that combined the need for popular accountability with the equally important need to prevent the selection of a president from being made on the basis of demagoguery and a politics of mass appeal. It was not simply that voters might be ignorant, but that mass politics, by its very nature, relies upon manipulative emotional appeals, making deliberation difficult even for the most intelligent and informed. As Federalist Paper 55 puts it, "In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever characters composed, passion never fails to wrest the sceptre from reason. Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob."

Like many other aspects of our Constitution, the Electoral College does not comport well with current democratic attitudes, and may be an outdated institution. But who can say, after observing the travesty of the last several weeks, that the dilemma addressed by the Electoral College is not still very much with us.

FREDERICK M. DOLAN

Berkeley

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