It has been a year since the networks called the election for Al Gore, then for George W. Bush, which caused Gore to concede to Bush, after which the news of the closeness of the Florida vote caused Gore to retract his concession. Armies of lawyers then descended upon Florida and the nation was buried in a flurry of dimpled ballots and falling chads. Almost immediately, a number of influential academics, pundits, and political leaders seized the opportunity of confusion in Florida to blame the Electoral College and urge us to throw it out in favor of a simple national vote. Their cry for a more direct democracy makes a nice bumper sticker for their Volvo’s, but would it make good law? A new study released this week by the McConnell Center for Political Leadership at the University of Louisville casts doubt on the wisdom of those who would abolish our constitutional system of presidential elections and shows that much of what we think we know about the Electoral College is wrong.
‘ Electing the President in the 21 st Century’ is based on survey responses of leading academic observers from across the nation. It provides sober warnings for those who would urge the abandonment of the system of presidential elections that has served the nation well for more than two centuries. Among the misunderstandings corrected by this study are several myths that have grown up around the Electoral College. Myth 1: An Election based on a national popular vote would have spared us the Florida debacle of hanging chads and dimpled ballots. Actually, the Electoral College saved us from a much worse national nightmare.
... to the "climate of cynicism and trickery Gore has created" by "airily rewriting Florida's election law and applying it retroactively." The ... of the recount in the Florida Court believe Florida's justices properly read the state's ambiguous election law so as to ... the Supreme Court of Florida, effectively made Bush the nation's forty-third president. (Fitzpatrick 2). The post-election battle and its ...
The existence of the Electoral College that made the outcome of the election hinge on the winner of Florida’s 25 electors served to focus the attention of the parties and the media in one state (and, in fact a few counties in that state).
Imagine the trauma that would have befallen the nation in such a close election if a simple plurality of the national vote determined the outcome of the election? With just a few hundred thousand votes separating the candidates, every vote in every precinct, in every state would have been worthy of a recount and every recount in every county subject to suit and counter suit. When would it ever have ended? Myth 2: A direct national election would be more representative of the diversity of the nation. Last November Al Gore was able to garner a half a million more votes than was George W. Bush.
On the surface it would seem that Gore was able to appeal to a broader band of the American electorate than was Bush. But, that masks an essential underlying reality about the 2000 vote. Gore’s votes came overwhelmingly from densely populated urban areas. A look at the county-by-county map of the United States following the 2000 vote shows only small islands (mostly on the coasts) of Gore Blue amidst a wide sea of Bush Red. In all, Bush won majorities in areas representing more than 2. 4 million square miles while Gore was able garner winning margins in only 580, 000.
Vice President Gore could today fly from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles without flying over a county he was able to win. Without the Electoral College, all presidential candidates would likely hunker down in densely populated areas and would ignore smaller and more rural states. The Electoral College insures a more diverse representation than would any of the alternatives being promoted as ‘more democratic.’ Myth 3: There is a national popular vote total and Al Gore won it. Actually, our whole discussion of the popular versus the Electoral College vote is a historical and misleading. According to our Constitution, the states are given the power to select electors from their state. Today all states allocate electoral votes through the process of a popular election in their state.
... the electoral colleges (Federal Election Commission). The electoral colleges also cause the individual vote to become pointless by using a winner-takes-all system in many states ... state Electoral College receives a certain numbers of votes. All of these votes go to the candidate who receives the majority in that particular state (Federal Election ...
The majority does rule today and democracy works in state-by-state elections. The national popular vote total is the creation of political pundits and journalists but legally exists nowhere else. Myth 4: Without the Electoral College, Al Gore would be president today. Maybe.
It is true that Al Gore was able to win more votes than was George W. Bush and Bush ultimately won the presidency because of the constitutional allocation of electoral votes among the states. However, again this myth falls apart upon further inspection. The existence of the Electoral College fundamentally affected the way both parties carried out their campaigns.
If the election had been based on a simple national popular vote, Gore and Bush would have made fundamental strategic changes that would have changed the outcome of the race in ways we cannot predict. Bush would like have hunkered down in Texas to eek out every last vote while Gore would have spent most of his time traveling the coast of California and the inner city of New York to wrest every possible vote he could from his core constituencies. States like West Virginia and New Mexico would have largely been ignored in favor of the big media markets. Who would have won this fundamentally changed race? No one can say. Myth 5: The Electoral College is an outdated method of presidential selection that serves no purpose today.
Here the McConnell Center survey could not be more clear. According to the vast majority of their experts, the Electoral College has served important functions that have helped form our democracy and strengthen our national community. The Electoral College’s requirement to assemble a broad national coalition to win a majority of Electoral College votes has contributed the foundation to our two-party system and moderated the more extreme elements in our politics. Similarly, we have it to thank for the lack of serious and extreme third parties in America, argued a number of the scholars surveyed.
... this plan would ensure third party candidates receive Electoral College votes. The disadvantage is that they would encounter strong ... 538 individuals who make up the Electoral College. Most states award their electoral vote to the candidate who has won ... and even abolish the Electoral College. The Direct Election Plan: Under the Direct Election Plan, the Electoral College would be completely abolished. ...
The existence of the Electoral College has helped resolve close elections in a decisive manner (such as 2000) and has often served to exaggerate the size of a presidential win thereby adding legitimacy to the office and its holder. As this study explains, the affects of the Electoral College are sewn deep into our republic and we would attempt to remove them at our own peril. Myth 6: A direct national election would give us better presidents. This last is not even a myth so much as it is an unspoken assumption of those who would have us abandon our constitutional system of elections in favor of a national plebiscite. Our Founding Fathers established a system they believed would be most likely to give us men with the ‘requisite qualifications,’ to quote Alexander Hamilton, for high office. Those who would change that system have a burden to carry in telling us how the abolition of the Electoral College would give us better presidents.
Until they can do that, the movement to abolish the Electoral College should remain what it has been, a nice bumper sticker for activists, but not a serious public-policy proposition for America.