That Pesky Electoral College
I 'm about to give up. I've been defending the Electoral College for years against the admittedly somewhat meritorious argument in favor of simple popular election.
If you're a student of this peculiar feature of the Constitution, you will recall that its invention was one of the many compromises needed to get all the states to sign on. You will also realize that we live in a republic, not a democracy, and that, in theory, it is the states that elect a president, not millions of individual voters.
In practice, our system has produced four elections in which someone has won the electoral vote without winning a simple majority of votes cast. At this point, there appears at least a fair chance that it could happen again, with my guy on the losing end in the College.
That is not why I'm changing my tune, however. I can live with a minority president. It just doesn't seem worth arguing about anymore. I've been worn down.
The case for the Electoral College has been that it forces candidates to tour the country rather than focus solely on large cities with all their votes. My own view has been that, as a practical matter, it also limits the number of candidates, theoretically simplifying the election process, and eliminating the need for runoff elections.
I have reached the point where I don't give a damn. Our system has become such an endless, bloated, money-driven mess that it can't possibly be any worse, and if a popular election would drive candidates to cities, look what the present system does: It drives them to Ohio.
Have you heard anything discussed in the news for the past three months but "swing states"? When was the last time either presidential candidate appeared in New York, California or Texas except to raise money?
If the president were chosen by popular vote, Republican candidates would have to show up in California, where, even though Democrats hold the state in a hammerlock, there are still millions of Republicans - far more than in many solid red states. The reverse is true in Texas.
The obvious problem with changing to popular election is that the Constitution has to be either amended or circumvented. There are some awkward, half-baked schemes for circumvention, and who knows, something might actually come to pass, with all the usual unintended consequences to be determined later.
But the real problem is that our system of government is inferior to a parliamentary one - that used by most democracies on the planet. Our system isolates the president from the legislature, setting up exactly the divisive situation we have now, and by discouraging multiple parties, facilitates polarization within the legislature itself. If no single party controls the legislature, compromises must be made.
It also virtually guarantees interminable, expensive elections. In a parliamentary system, elections are called on relatively short notice, and an unpopular prime minister can be removed with a vote of no confidence.
Oh, well. Why ramble on about this notion? It's not going to happen, at least not without a constitutional convention or some very messy transition to an entirely new government.
For the time being, we are stuck with what we've got.
I have a feeling that should Mr. Obama turn out to be the next minority president, the movement for a constitutional amendment would pick up a lot of steam, and the Electoral College could be toast.
In the meantime, here's an idea that would save most of us a lot of angst and make our politics a lot simpler and cheaper: Let's just make the governor of Ohio president too.
Fred Wolferman lives in Southern Pines. Contact him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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