SCOTT MOONEYHAM: Way to Kill Electoral College?
Elbridge Gerry's name lives on today not so much because he was one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence.
Gerry's name is the basis for that most derogatory political term used whenever someone claims that one party or the other gained an advantage while creating an electoral district.
"Gerry-mander" came into use after the Massachusetts governor helped draw legislative districts that drew the ire of opposing Federalists. The Federalists coined the term from a combination of Gerry's name and a creature that resembled one district's shape, the salamander.
Gerry also wasn't a big fan of anything resembling direct democracy, joining the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 who advocated that electors choose the president.
"The people are uninformed, and would be misled by a few designing men," Gerry said regarding the notion of a popular election of the president.
More than two centuries later, a few people might agree with Gerry's sentiments. No doubt, there are more than a few "designing men," and women, on the political scene today. In 2008, we call them campaign consultants.
Today, though, we live in an era of voting rights, where race, sex or land holdings don't determine whether adults are enfranchised. Even if the Electoral College still exists, the people of the individual states determine electors' choices. In Gerry's day, state legislatures determined electors and their choices.
Not surprisingly, the Electoral College in 2008 is under fire, criticized as archaic.
Under the system, George W. Bush was elected in 2000 despite losing the popular vote. Four years later, a swing of 60,000 votes in Ohio would have made John Kerry president, even while losing the popular vote to Bush by more than three million votes.
Barry Fadem, a Lafayette, Calif., lawyer who is leading the effort to junk the Electoral College, points out that 99 percent of presidential campaign spending in 2004 took place in 16 battleground states.
But Fadem believes the problems go beyond ballot box and campaign spending. Once elected, the president and Congress pay far more attention to the needs of battleground states, he says.
Fadem and national popular vote advocates want North Carolina to join a movement requiring that the state's 15 electoral votes go to the popular vote winner if and when states representing a majority of the nation's 538 electoral votes do likewise.
In effect, the change would kill the Electoral College without a constitutional amendment driving a stake through its heart.
Fadem says a constitutional amendment is too easily blocked by the beneficiaries of the current system.
Right or wrong on that count, advocates for a national popular vote need to keep the issue in front of state legislatures like North Carolina's. If North Carolinians are being shortchanged in Washington because of an archaic election system, state lawmakers should demand change.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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