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Free Citizen

This writer espouses individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.

Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Friday, March 04, 2005

The Electoral College: Part of the Genius of Our Federal System

[This letter appeared in The Clarion-Ledger on November 28, 2000, during the controversy over the Bush-Gore election.]

We choose our president through separate elections in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The national popular vote is irrelevant.

In the early years, most presidential electors were picked by state legislatures. By 1828, all the states except Delaware and South Carolina utilized popular elections.

The Electoral College motivates the major parties to build broad coalitions and to seek support in every region of the country. By awarding all their electors to the popular-vote winner, 48 states (all but Maine and Nebraska) maximize their impact on the process.

Electors are pledged to vote for their state's top vote-getter, but they are free to vote for any citizen at least 35 years of age. Since 1972, only three electors have broken their pledges. This could be remedied by eliminating electors and automatically assigning electoral votes to the people's choice in each state.

Direct election of the president would change the very nature of the campaigns. Candidates would spend most of their time in the large population centers and on the air waves. A president elected by big-city votes would surely be less concerned with small-town and rural issues.

If there were a runoff election, the two surviving candidates might be forced to bargain for the support of fringe and regional candidates. Imagine the uncertainty and expense of a nationwide vote recount.

There have been about 700 attempts to reform or abolish the Electoral College. (North Carolina Sen. Sam Ervin filibustered one such measure in 1970.) It is unlikely that two-thirds of both houses of Congress would vote to submit such a constitutional amendment to the states; it is even less likely that 38 states would ratify it.


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