During a difficult American election season, one can always count on Kremlin criticism of our nearly 250-year-old democracy for a laugh. This time commentary came from Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, who quipped that our “electoral system is the most archaic of all that there exist in countries of at least some importance around the world,” adding “if the Americans are prepared to stick to a tradition that considerably distorts the expression of people’s will, it is their right.”
What a hoot, Mr. Lavrov. Vladimir Putin has ruled Russia for two decades, but recently made changes allowing him to continue governing until 2036. Is this multi-decade run an “expression of the people’s will”?
Russia’s electoral process, not to beat a dead bear, is one of the least democratic in the world. It’s not that they don’t hold elections, it’s that their elections are smoke and mirrors; everyone knows who is going to win. Whenever an opponent of Mr. Putin’s gets too popular or too critical, they end up poisoned. Just ask Alexei Navalny.
Mr. Lavrov’s comments, more than any subterranean effort to distort perceptions on Twitter or Facebook, constitute the deepest form of meddling by a foreign actor, since they are intended to foment American anger toward a voting system whose success has — rightfully — been the envy of the world. The task of all good Americans, then, is to educate — or re-educate — our confused fellow citizens on the virtues of the Electoral College.
One of the finest defenses of the College comes from the late constitutional scholar and Claremont McKenna professor of law Michael Uhlmann. In 1970, when a proposed amendment to abolish the College had passed the House of Representative, he argued:
“Because the presidency is connected to the rest of the constitutional system, candidates must think about the unique structure of the nation they seek to lead. And because the states, whether small or large, are the principal presidential battlegrounds, candidates accommodate interests that might otherwise be ignored if the size of the popular vote were the only criterion for election
“Once the states are removed from the presidential election system, these important and celebrated features of political locale will lose much of their significance. Voters in the less populous states, indeed in any area that cannot be readily subsumed in a mass media market, will be of decidedly secondary importance to presidential candidates With a national plebiscite, national television campaigning will become the order of the day
“Say hello to slick admen and spinmeisters who will care little about voters at the state and local level, except insofar as they can be melded into poll-driven sub-categories of national voter sentiment The national party committees will have to be radically restructured, with state party representatives being displaced by political operatives bearing little or no allegiance to any state. Their loyalties run instead to the personal campaign apparatus of wealthy or powerful candidates.”
Uhlmann’s words about a functioning electoral system resonate. Russia is a country run by an autocrat where oligarchs (who often flee with their money) are given free rein. There, elections are for show and democracy is hammered, repeatedly. America’s power still derives from its freedoms, and foreign diplomats should remember that.
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