Electoral College

The Founding Fathers probably never imagined their Electoral College would end up being skewered so much, including on late-night TV.

At one point last week, with Al Gore winning the popular vote and George Bush ahead in the Electoral College tally, Jay Leno joked, "Who would've believed that? Gore is the popular one, and Bush is the one doing well in college."

This year, more than ever, there's growing confusion and indignation over the Electoral College. New York Senator-elect Hillary Clinton is one of many calling for its demise.

But she's hardly the first. Since its inception, more than 700 proposals have been introduced in Congress to reform or scrap it. This year's electoral confusion may finally ignite successful changes, but debate remains heated on both sides.

The case against keeping the Electoral College includes:

* A person can win the popular vote and still not win the presidency. That's a hard proposition for majority-minded Americans to swallow.

* Some say the Founding Fathers worried that commoners in remote towns wouldn't be sufficiently informed about their choices for president - and needed representatives to do their bidding for them. Hence the adoption of the Electoral College system. But media have changed voters' ability to be informed.

* Others argue it was set up to help ensure the South would prevail - and even to preserve slavery. In a direct election, the North would have overwhelmed the South because it was more populous. But with Electoral College help, the South dominated early presidential contests.

* It was designed when folks traveled by horseback, which gave rise to the delayed timing of the electoral vote - now an antiquated issue.

The case for keeping the system includes:

* It requires a candidate to reach out to many states and many voters - not just high-population areas like California and New York. In fact, it requires candidates to run 50 separate campaigns, one for each state. Some think that under a popular-vote system, candidates would simply target big media markets with ads and ignore large swaths of the country.

* In close elections like this year's, if the winner had to get a majority, there might be recounts in many states, not just a few.

* It gives smaller states a greater voice than their populations otherwise would. In fact, this is the main reason critics find it a formidable foe: Reforming it requires a constitutional amendment, and amending the Constitution requires approval from three-fourths of the states. Presumably many smaller states would balk.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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