A movement is sweeping the nation that could eliminate the Electoral College in national elections, and with it much of this country’s republican form of government, instead giving unstoppable control over the White House to any coalition the major population centers would choose to create.
Maryland’s state legislature already has given approval to a proposal that would, in conjunction with other states’ efforts, eliminate the college, and similar plans have already been approved by single legislative houses in Hawaii, Colorado and Arizona. In seven more states – Washington, Montana, California, New Mexico, Louisiana, West Virginia and Connecticut – the plans have been endorsed by legislative committees.
And in 28 more states the proposals have been introduced while legislative writers in another eight states are working on plans, according to a report from the group called National Popular Vote, which is lobbying for the change.
The procedure to elect a president in the United States, although it had happened in the past, became an issue for activists when in 2000 George W. Bush collected fewer popular votes than Al Gore, but because of the concentration of those votes in key states, collected the necessary 270 electoral college votes for the presidency. Electoral college votes are equal to the size of a state’s congressional delegation, and are awarded based largely on the winner of the popular vote in those states.
However, an analysis of the issue by Wallbuilders, a Christian organization with expertise in historical and constitutional issues, said the argument that the electoral college system is unfair to voters and “individual votes are meaningless” doesn’t hold up.
“Interestingly, because of the electoral college, the opposite has been true,” the group’s report said. “As the Florida situation proved, individual votes are tallied – sometimes several times.”
And it quoted Curtis Gans, of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, who said getting rid of the electoral college would reduce political campaigns in the United States to “television advertising” and “tarmac.”
“There would be virtually no incentive to try to mobilize constituencies, organize specific interests, or devote any resources to such things as voter registration and education. … What we would have is a political system that combines the worst of network television with the worst of the modern campaign,” he concluded.
Wallbuilders noted that given a direct democracy – one person with one vote and winner-take-all – “candidates would logically spend their campaign courting voters in the most populous urban areas such as Chicago, San Francisco, New York City, Washington, D.C., Miami, Seattle, etc., rather than visiting cities in more rural areas – cities like Wichita, Birmingham, Amarillo, Cheyenne, Springfield, Tulsa, etc.”
The group said under the electoral college system, “it is possible that a candidate can win the presidency by carrying a majority of only the 11 most densely populated States (California, Texas, Florida, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina and either Georgia or Virginia). However, under a system of direct elections, this number could be reduced to even fewer states, particularly if they happen to be the largest states and could deliver overwhelming margins of victory, such as Washington, D.C., did for Gore by the lopsided 86 to 9 percent margin.”
In Maryland, the measure is expected to be signed soon by Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, and it would designate the state’s 10 electoral college votes to be awarded to the winner of the national popular vote – no matter who would have collected more votes in the state.
There was opposition. A report in the Washington Post noted that Del. Anthony J. O’Donnell, R-Calvert, the House minority leader, wondered if the state’s voters are prepared “to allow someone else to determine where Maryland’s votes in the electoral college go?”
In Arkansas, the House has passed the plan, and in Hawaii it was the state Senate. In Colorado, the state Senate actually became the first state legislative house in the nation to approve the plan.
A year ago, California’s legislature approved the plan, as did individual legislative houses in Louisiana, New York, Colorado, and Missouri, but the proposals moved no further at that point.
But Common Cause, in a website statement, said the change is needed.
“The current system for electing our president no longer serves America well. The state-by-state method … divides the country into so-called ‘safe’ states where voters are all but ignored while the election is determined by a relatively small number of swing voters in ‘battleground’ states…
“When our nation selects a leader that does not have the support of the majority of its citizens, we are a weaker country for it,” the group said.
Officials say besides the 2000 election, during the elections of 1824, 1876 and 1888, the winner of the popular vote was not the same as the winner of the electoral college vote. That is what the system was designed to do, Wallbuilders said.
In Colorado, the plan was carried in the state Senate by Majority Leader Ken Gordon.
“It is revolutionary, I admit. It is called democracy. I know some people are concerned. It is a big change … but I believe that if the framers of the Constitution were around now they would favor a woman’s right to vote, they would oppose slavery and they would support electing the president by majority vote.”
But Wallbuilders noted that – along with proposals to have Congress or the state legislatures choose a president – the idea of a national popular vote was discussed by the authors of the Constitution.
“This idea was rejected not because the framers distrusted the people but rather because the larger populous states would have much greater influence than the smaller states and therefore the interests of those smaller states could be disregarded or trampled,” Wallbuilders said. “Additionally, a nationwide election would encourage regionalism since the more populous areas of the country could form coalitions to elect president after president from their own region. With such regional preferentialism, lasting national unity would be nearly impossible.”
Wallbuilders said the electoral college specifically was chosen to maintain a republican form of government, as opposed to a strict democracy. And it provides more influence to areas with lesser populations.
For the same reason, Congress was set up with representation based on population in the House, and representation based on the states in the Senate.
“Consequently, in the Senate, Delaware has the same power as California with each State having two votes; but in the House, Delaware’s single vote often is completely negated by the fifty-two from California. Because of this different source of strength in each body, the votes in those two bodies on the same piece of legislation may be dramatically different. In such a case, before that legislation may become law there must be some compromise ? some yielding of the Senate to the will of the population and some yielding of the House to the will of the States,” Wallbuilders said.
In the 2000 fracas, for example, Gore won the popular vote by carrying concentrated urban areas: he carried only 676 counties, while Bush carried 2,436 counties.
The electoral college was set up to recognize both interests, and maintain a balance, Wallbuilders said.
Further, the U.S. Constitution forbids America from becoming a democracy, and John Adams noted that, “There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”
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