Saturday, August 28, 2004

A New York Times editorial ("Abolish the Electoral College," 29 August 2004) writes that the electoral college is "a ridiculous setup, which thwarts the will of the majority, distorts presidential campaigning and has the potential to produce a true constitutional crisis. There should be a bipartisan movement for direct election of the president." I do agree that the electoral system established by the Founding Fathers is indeed flawed, but to abolish the Electoral College altogether would be to visit the nightmare that they rightly feared: the Tyranny of the Majority. Its "main problem", the Times editorial writes, "is that it builds into every election the possibility, which has been a reality three times since the Civil War [in 1876, 1888, and 2000], that the president will be a candidate who lost the popular vote." Because the number of electors per state is determined by the number of representatives in Congress plus its two Senators, the electoral college inherently skews the vote. For instance, in Wyoming, whose population is around 500,000 and whose number of electors is 3, the peoples' vote is about four times more powerful than that of California, whose population is about 36 million and has 55 electors. "The arcane rules governing the Electoral College," the Times editorial continues, "have the potential to create havoc if things go wrong. Electors are not required to vote for the candidates they are pledged to, and if the vote is close in the Electoral College, a losing candidate might well be able to persuade a small number of electors to switch sides. Because there are an even number of electors - one for every senator and House member of the states, and three for the District of Columbia - the Electoral College vote can end in a tie. There are several plausible situations in which a 269-269 tie could occur this year. In the case of a tie, the election goes to the House of Representatives, where each state delegation gets one vote - one for Wyoming's 500,000 residents and one for California's 35.5 million." Again, because of the skewed nature of the College and the Republican domination of the House of Representatives, a tie would signify a victory for Bush. The stakes, the editorial concludes, are simply too high to not "mak[e] every vote count."

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