Misadventures of the Electoral College

I don’t much care for the Electoral College.

While my dislike admittedly increased following the election of 2000, it’s a position I’ve always held. Outdated, undemocratic and all that.

It strikes me kind of funny when people defend it by talking in terms of the rights of small states being protected against the power of larger ones. I’ll concede that this made some sense in the days when Rhode Island might secede from the Union if they didn’t like how Virginia voted, but it’s not 1798 any more.

I also note with amusement that many people who had described the Electoral College as archaic on national TV just weeks before were sudden fans in the winter of ’00. “Well, those are the rules, he won fair and square,” is what their argument boiled down to. It’s very hard to imagine them being as sanguine if the situation had been reversed. Talk radio, Fox News, House Republicans and the rest would doubtless still be fulminating about President Gore’s illegitimacy and how the will of the people had been subverted.

And here’s the funny thing, the thing that nobody seems to remember: the situation almost was reversed in 2004. If just 59,347 people (1.05% out of 5.6 million total) had changed their votes in Ohio, John Kerry would have won the Electoral College 271 to 266 and would be president today. Even though he still would have been almost 3 million votes behind George W. Bush nationally.

While this would have been an act of national salvation as far as I’m concerned, that still wouldn’t make it right. We’ve had two serious malfunctions in a row, and might well be poised for a third. Even if this third would likely as not involve a narrow popular vote win for McCain invalidated by an large electoral college victory for Obama, which would tickle me as an end result, it wouldn’t be democratic. It’s time to banish the Electoral College to the scrap heap of history. Maybe it can snuggle up with the Articles of Confederation and the Poll Tax.

Banish it constitutionally, of course, which means it might take a decade or two to get the necessary 3/4 of states to approve the needed amendment. Long or short, the process still might be worth it. The last Electoral/Popular inversion resulted in lies leading to an unnecessary war here, a destroyed New Orleans there, here an act of treason against a CIA employee in harm’s way, there a suspension of habeas corpus (Ee-i, Ee-i, Oh!), but worse disasters are possible. In 1876, the maneuvering leading to the Electoral College invalidation of Samuel J. Tilden’s popular vote victory resulted in the premature end of post-Civil War Reconstruction in the South and 88 years of segregation and effective denial of full citizenship to a significant portion of the nation’s population.

Talk about undemocratic.

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