Voting on the Electoral College

For more than 50 years, a majority of Americans has consistently favored scrapping the Electoral College altogether. But this year some Coloradans want to start changing it, and hope other states will follow suit.

Democrats especially are pushing a Colorado ballot measure that would apportion the state's nine electoral votes according to each candidate's share of the popular vote. This would replace the winner-take-all approach, practiced by 47 other states (except Maine and Nebraska, where electoral votes are based on who won each congressional district).

The measure, which so far enjoys considerable support, would apply to this year's presidential election. So, while George W. Bush might carry the state in total popular votes, instead of getting all nine electoral votes, he might take only five. The other four would go to second-place winner John Kerry. With a tight race, Kerry's four votes could tip the scales toward him in the national electoral count.

Then America could hit the play button on "Florida II," in a legal battle leading all the way up to the Supreme Court. Last week, a suit was filed in federal court challenging the legitimacy of the ballot initiative as the proper way to change the state's electoral allocation.

Colorado case law makes that challenge iffy, but the complaint also speaks to the issue of the measure being retroactive. It does seem unfair to ask voters to enter the booth on Nov. 2 without knowing what kind of electoral system will apply.

Still, there's something alluring about Colorado's attempt to make its electoral votes actually reflect the vote count, especially with the memory of 2000, when Mr. Bush lost the popular vote but won in the electoral college.

Many Americans rightly wonder why they can elect their state and national representatives directly but not the president. Short of changing the Constitution (which would be required - and arduous), various states have toyed with reforming their own allocation of electoral votes. But consider what would happen if the rest of the country adopted the Colorado initiative. It would actually make presidential voting less democratic. Because proportional electoral voting would much more closely reflect popular opinion, a squeaker race could result in a deadlocked electoral college. Under the Constitution, an electoral tie must be resolved in the US House of Representatives. George Edwards, a political scientist and author of the new book, "Why The Electoral College is Bad for America," notes that were such a system in place, the elections of 1960, 1968, 1992, 1996, and 2000 all would have been deadlocked, and thrown to the House for resolution.

It was precisely because the Founding Fathers did not want the House to pick the president (they worried about a political cabal) that they came up with state-chosen electors. They were also concerned that individual voters were too separated from candidates by distance and slow communication to cast informed ballots (not a valid concern today).

Unless the Electoral College is completely abolished in favor of the popular vote, it's best not to tinker with it. It usually assures a clear victory, and until the last election, reflected the popular vote for 112 years.

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