Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

    Rethinking Electoral College

    Emily PercivalNew Hampshire has moved its primary to Jan. 8, and this gets me thinking about the slightly related topic of the Electoral College. No one I’ve spoken to is particularly gung-ho about the Electoral College; in fact, most are just the opposite. Why, then, does it seem that the glaring inadequacies of the Electoral College go unaddressed?

    It has, firstly, I think, to do with a broader sense of immovability attached to our political institutions. Security in our political system is essential, of course, but along with that security comes a sense that because these institutions were not created by us, nor by our mothers and fathers, nor even by their mothers and fathers, they are out of our reach.

    This is not to say that states have not tried to alter the Electoral College, mainly in the goal of finding a way to make it impossible for a candidate to win in the Electoral College but lose in the popular vote. The rules governing the Electoral College vary from state to state. In most states, all electoral votes are given to one candidate. Maine and Nebraska, however, have the option of splitting their electoral votes. In these two states, the state-wide popular vote elects two electors, and the votes from each congressional district elect the others. It is therefore possible for the electoral votes to be split between several candidates. Maine has used this method on and off for more than 100 years, but most recently implemented this method in 1969, and Nebraska followed suit in 1992.

    The “Maine Method,” as it’s referred to, despite its possibilities, has only resulted in a split vote once, in 1828. Why is this? It speaks to the underlying problem of which the Electoral College dilemma is only a symptom; we are so divided, so polarized, and we are given only polarized options. It’s either Democrat or Republican. Those who voted for Nader were blamed with costing Gore the election. God forbid they should have voted according to their conscience, according to whom they honestly believed would best serve the nation. For a current example, look at Ron Paul, who is running as a Republican in order to have any semblance of a chance.

    Another proposed method would have a state’s electoral votes divvied up by percentage: If the election in a state was split with 43 percent of the vote to the Republican candidate, 54 percent to the Democratic candidate, and three percent to a third party candidate, that state’s total electoral votes would be doled out in those percentages. The potential danger here is that a third party candidate could gain enough of the vote nationwide to make it impossible for either mainstream candidate to win, in which case the House of Representatives chooses the President and the Senate chooses the Vice President. This is the kind of shake-up I think we fear, but the “founding fathers,” as they’re so alliteratively called, saw party politics as one of the great dangers facing their newly formed United States of America.

    Granted, things may get messy; with this system, it is more than entirely possible to wind up with a President-elect of one party and Vice President-elect of another. It changes the entire way we view politics. It turns the Democratic and Republican parties on their heads. It would necessitate a reconsideration of the norms that define these two parties, and it would either allow other parties to gain power or force existing parties to take third-party issues more seriously. Either way, that sounds to me like it brings a lot more to the table.

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    • G

      Gib WoodDec 7, 2007 at 1:55 pm

      I think what you both missed is the reason for the electoral college in the first place. The less populated states didn’t want the more populated states picking the president by virtue of the size. It was a compromise to protect smaller states…and it worked perfectly in 2000. The vast majority of the states were won by Bush. Many of the more populated states went to Gore. This is not a republican/democrat issue…it’s a states rights issue that has benefitted both parties but more importantly has protected the smaller states from the “tyranny” (as the founding fathers called it) of the larger states. This is why the electoral college will never and should never be changed.

    • H

      Herb EngstromDec 7, 2007 at 10:55 am

      The problem with splitting the Electoral College vote is that it must be done one state at at time, unless the U.S. constitution is amended. Since 1969 there have been 8 attempts at amending the constitution relating to the Electoral College — all have failed. As Thomas Jefferson pointed out after the 1796 election, splitting the vote by one state while all the rest have the current “winner-take-all” is “worse than folly,” the reason being that it dilutes the effect of that one state.

      The solution that overcomes the main problems with the current system is to award the presidency to the candidate that receives the largest number of votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. This may be done without a constitutional amendment. Legislation to achieve this change has already been introduced in 47 states and has been signed into law in Maryland. Details are at http://www.NationalPopularVote.com.