Friday, October 12, 2007

Abolishing the Electoral College

A while back I posted some ideas for political reform, one of which was ending the electoral college. This morning an article at Salon makes the same point better than I could.

The California Electoral College Initiative has been exposed for what it is: a Republican plan to steal the 2008 presidential election. The idea was to divvy up the electoral votes of the nation's biggest state by congressional district rather than give all 55 to the statewide winner -- who would almost certainly be a Democrat. But a mysterious $175,000 contribution heightened suspicions that the Rudy Giuliani campaign was behind the initiative, and prompted two key staffers to leave their posts with the group pushing it.

The collapse of the effort seems to represent a Florida-style cooked-election bullet dodged. But our democracy won't be safe until we disarm the weapon intended to fire such bullets.

It's time to abolish the electoral vote system. We should do it now.

Other nostrums only go halfway. Maine and Nebraska already split their electoral votes. Maryland has a law ordering the state's electors to vote for the winner of the nationwide popular vote. Wisely, the legislators also mandated that the law would not take effect until states representing a majority of the nation's electoral vote adopt similar laws. But there are two problems with this approach. First, state laws directing electors how to vote are unconstitutional; and second, they leave in place the skewed distribution of votes in the electoral count, which award disproportionate influence to states with small populations.

Even in 1787, the electoral system was the Framers' single worst idea. As time has passed, it has become less and less defensible. It can't be reformed or tamed. It has to go.

Americans revere their Constitution but don't understand it. Every year my students at the University of Oregon law school, channeling their 11th grade civics teachers, tell me that the Constitution is a brilliant document, conceived in near perfection more than two centuries ago. Virtually everything these students -- and bright high-school graduates everywhere in America --"know" about the Constitution is wrong. That ongoing mystification is nowhere more glaring than in the justifications offered for the "Electoral College" (a phrase, by the way, that appears nowhere in the Constitution).

Consider the arguments most often advanced in the so-called "Electoral College"'s favor: The Framers distrusted democratic elections; the system prevents candidates from ignoring small states; it maintains the two-party system; it recognizes the vital role of the state governments; without it, we'd have to have a national voting system; it has served us well.

These arguments are all sophisticated and sincere. But they're wrong.

Read the rest.

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