Understanding the Constitution - No Comment

Glenn Ricketts

During this past spring semester in my American government course, we were discussing the Electoral College, and how it is possible for a presidential candidate to win an election even if he doesn’t obtain a majority of the popular vote total cast nationally. I noted that, while this was a relatively rare occurrence, it had actually happened four times in American electoral history, most recently in 2000. But what was different about that case,  I remarked to the class, was that a striking proportion of adult voters seemed to be wholly unaware of how the president is elected under our constitutional system. I recalled that many students arrived in my classes the morning after the 2000 presidential election bewildered and angry. How could this be, they demanded to know. Isn’t the United States a democracy, after all? 

After explaining once again the difference between a democracy and a constitutional republic, I posed a question to the class: what’s the trouble? Why were so many people nowadays – themselves included – so completely uninformed about something that had been so clearly understood by my parents and earlier generations?    Why, I persisted, when the text of the Constitution was available to absolutely anyone, were so many citizens and voters living in the "information age" unfamiliar with the method through which their president was elected? 

One of the students quickly piped up in response: The problem, he asserted, was the fact that the Constitution itself was impossible to read. If only it could be re-written in modern, every day language such as we hear on TV or read on Facebook, then more people like himself would be able to understand it. 

I thanked him, and the discussion continued.

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March 23, 2011


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