|Electoral College Flunks This Exam|
My article Why Keep the Electoral College, explains why the Founding Fathers created the system and suggests two events necessary to generate impetus in Congress to change or drop the Electoral College.
A presidential candidate must lose the nationwide popular vote, but be elected in the Electoral College.
The president so-elected by must turn out to be a really unpopular president.
Today, George W. Bush expects to prevail in the recount of Florida's votes. If he does, he will accomplish the first of those two events for the first time since 1888. Whether or not he accomplishes event two, only the future can tell.
One of the Founding Fathers' main objectives for the Electoral College was to ensure that the campaign platforms -- the promises -- of presidential candidates would address the needs of the entire nation rather than specific geographic areas or groups of citizens.
The electoral system worked well in 1888 when Democrat Grover Cleveland won the popular vote, but Republican Benjamin Harrison won the election in the Electoral College.
Election 1888 - A Time the
Electoral College Worked
In the 1888 campaign, Cleveland promised to reduce trade tariffs -- a policy which would have greatly benefited southern states only. The proposal succeeded in winning Cleveland the south and the popular vote, but it also turned most of the other states, and thus the Electoral College, over to Harrison. In this case, the Electoral College worked as designed by "protecting" the country from a president who might have continued to show favoritism to one part of the country.
Election 2000 - A Time it Did Not
However, nothing like that happened in Election 2000. Neither Al Gore nor George W. Bush promised anything that would have unfairly benefited any area or group of people.
What happened in Election 2000 was pure fluke of mathematics. Forget about the candidates involved, the guy who got the most votes lost. With all due respect for those who defend the Electoral College -- most Americans just don't like that.
While surveys of political scientists have supported continuation of the Electoral College, Public opinion polls have shown up to 75 percent of Americans favored abolishing it.
[What if the vote recounts and court actions in Florida prevent the state from being able to cast its 25 votes in the Electoral College on Dec. 18? See: If Florida Can't Vote in the Electoral College]
Should we throw out the Electoral College and elect the president by direct popular vote? Before we do, lots of careful thinking needs to be done.
Direct election would open the country up to the threat of the 1888 political favoritism scenario.
What if none of the presidential candidates wins 50 percent of the vote -- as happened in this election. Should we hold a national runoff election?
If the count is as close as it was this Nov. 7, should we make every state do a recount?
There are ways to modify, rather than abolish, the Electoral College.
Both Main and Nebraska already employ systems allowing electoral votes to be split among candidates. For example, Maine has four electoral votes and two Congressional districts. It awards one electoral vote per Congressional district and two for the state-wide, "at-large" vote. It is possible for Candidate A to win the first district and receive one electoral vote, Candidate B to win the second district and receive one electoral vote, and Candidate C, who finished a close second in both the first and second districts, to win the two at-large electoral votes.
Over the last 200 years, there have been more proposals in Congress (over 700) for Constitutional amendments changing the Electoral College than on any other subject. Another one is almost certainly on the way.
Written By: Robert C.