Re: sum-up

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From: Roddy Young (
Date: Tue Nov 07 2000 - 20:46:24 PPET

Sophie -

This column meanders a bit, but argues the same point - time to deep six the
electoral college . . .



Let's vote out anachronism By Eileen McNamara, Globe Columnist, 11/8/2000

he presidential campaign that never seemed to end actually ended months ago in Massachusetts, once the Democrats determined that Vice President Al Gore could put the Bay State's 12 electoral votes in a lock box.

Millions of Massachusetts voters were reduced to watching the campaign on television, as Gore and Texas Governor George W. Bush jetted between Florida and Wisconsin, Michigan and Tennessee. It's lonely not to be a swing state in the fall of a presidential election year.

We were spared the negative ads that ran in battleground states and the traffic caused by rush-hour campaign rallies. But the message from those distant photo ops was unmistakable: every vote counts, but some count more than others.

The need to sew up 270 electoral votes forced the candidates to shift their focus from individuals who vote to states that count. In an era of low turnout and high frustration with politics, the Electoral College is an anachronism that further alienates voters. Whatever the other lessons of this election, surely we have learned it is time to eliminate the Electoral College.

No one lightly proposes amending the Constitution, but its drafters were men of their times and, on this issue, that time has long passed. The Electoral College was established in 1787 as a hedge against a reckless electorate. Its design was a compromise between those who advocated the direct election of the president by popular vote and those who preferred presidential election by the House of Representatives. Electors were to be drawn from the educated elite who, Alexander Hamilton wrote, would ''possess the information and discernment requisite'' to the task of choosing a president.

We've come long way since 1787. News no longer travels by horseback. Education is no longer limited to white men of means. The franchise has been extended to women and people of color. It's time the Constitution caught up.

Under the current system, electors vote on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December. The number of electors from each state is equal to its number of representatives in the House and Senate, 12 in the case of Massachusetts. There are 538 electoral votes; to win, a candidate must claim 270 of them. Electors are expected, but not required, to follow the popular vote. And the argument for keeping this relic is, what?

The Electoral College is not the sole reason for voter apathy, of course. In Massachusetts, a solidly Democratic congressional delegation ran this year with token opposition or none at all. The senior senator was so secure in his bid for reelection that he spent the fall campaigning, not for himself in Massachusetts, but for Gore in those swing states. In the Legislature, the opposition party is no opposition at all to a Democratic majority that swamps the Republicans in numbers and co-opts them in every other way.

The nation would survive the continuance of the Electoral College. It did not fall in 1800 when the House elected Thomas Jefferson after he and Aaron Burr received an equal number of electoral votes. It did not collapse in 1824 when Andrew Jackson, the popular choice, failed to muster the necessary electoral votes and the House elected John Quincy Adams. It did not falter in 1876 when the popular vote for Samuel Tilden was challenged and then overturned by an Electoral Commission that elected Rutherford B. Hayes. It did not tremble in 1888 when Benjamin Harrison lost the popular vote to Grover Cleveland but won the White House on the strength of his electoral victory.

The nation would survive, but a vibrant body politic might not. The Nader campaign and the Internet vote-swapping phenomenon in the last few weeks were nothing if not attempts by voters to make meaningful their individual votes. There are barriers enough between the people and the power in the United States. The Electoral College is an easy one to knock down.

Eileen McNamara's e-mail address is

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