Real Wealth Society

Sunday, February 25, 2007

I've been thinking about college By Fred Cederholm

Column for on/after Feb 18th

I've been thinking about college. Actually I've been thinking about the Electoral College, indirect elections, fairness/equality, anomalies, and the League of Women Voters. Whether we like it or not, the 2008 Presidential campaigns have begun in earnest. These will be the longest races for the oval office in our nation's history. They should prove most interesting and will set in motion commentaries and issues which go beyond election of our 44th President. Eliminating the Electoral College as the method of selecting our chief executive will once again be pushed to the forefront of debate and discussion.

You see, when our founding fathers wrote the US Constitution, they felt (for whatever reasons) that the general populace could not be trusted with the direct election of our President and our US Senators. While the term "Electoral College" does not appear in the Constitution. Article II of the Constitution and the 12th Amendment refer to "electors," but not to the "Electoral College;" the founding fathers appropriated the concept of electors from the Holy Roman Empire (962 - 1806). An elector was one of a number of princes of the various German states within the Holy Roman Empire who had a right to participate in the election of the German king. The political parties generally nominate electors at their State party conventions or by a vote of the party's central committee in each state. Each state is entitled to one elector for each Senator and Representative they send to the US Congress. Electors are often selected to recognize their service and dedication to their political party. The electors meet in mid December following the November elections in each state to cast their ballots.

The original Constitutional provision (Article 1, Section 3) mandating the appointment of US Senators by the respective state legislatures was repealed by the 17th Amendment and provided for the direct election of Senators by the people of a state. This was proposed on May 13, 1912 and was ratified on April 8, 1913 and first in effect for the election of 1914. Over the past 200 years, over 700 proposals have been introduced in Congress to reform or eliminate the Electoral College. There have been more proposals for Constitutional amendments on changing the Electoral College than on any other subject.

Political realities have now made the Electoral College an unfair anachronism. As the country has stratified into red states and blue states: only 18 states are now considered competitive. The winner take all system of the Electoral College focuses the candidates' attention, campaigning, and money on the states in play. In the 2004 Presidential election only about 1% of all electioneering money was spent in all the non-competitive states. And the candidates visited only six of those non-competitive states. Is it fair that voters in two/thirds of the 50 states are effectively ignored by the candidates for President? Under this system a candidate receiving a majority of the Electoral Votes (presently 270) seizes control of the White House for four years. If no candidate receives a majority of electoral votes, the House of Representatives elects the President from the 3 Presidential candidates who received the most electoral votes. Each state delegation has one vote. The Senate would elect the Vice President from the 2 Vice Presidential candidates with the most electoral votes. Each Senator would cast one vote for Vice President. This is not fair or equitable because it circumvents/ ignores the direct will of the electorate.

For most of our history the elector system has worked without incident - meaning that a candidate received the requisite majority of electoral votes AND received the majority of popular votes as well. There are, however, some notable and highly controversial instances where that was not the case. In the elections of 1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000, the candidate who received a plurality of the popular vote did not ultimately become president. The 1824 election was eventually decided by Congress and thus is distinct from the last three which were decided without the Congressional vote because one candidate did have the necessary Electoral Votes. Most recently in 2000, Al Gore actually received 543,895 more popular votes nationwide than George W. Bush. Since Bush carried 30 states with 271 Electoral Votes to Gores 21 states with 266 Electoral Votes, he became our 43rd President.

On Thursday, February 22, at 7:00 PM, Dan Johnson-Weinberger from FairVote will speak at First National Banks Via Room in the May Mart Plaza before the Rochelle Area chapter of the League of Women Voters. His presentation will address educating voters about the advantages of a popular vote election and a method of going popular vote WITHOUT changing the US Constitution. This forum is open to the general public and should prove to be most informative. Any interested individuals or groups are encouraged to attend. I' m Fred Cederholm and I' ve been thinking. You should be thinking, too.

Copyright 2007 Questions, Inc. All rights reserved.

To audit this column and to learn more about the subjects discussed, please check out:

US Electoral College

Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution

The FairVote Organization

The National Popular Vote Website