By Peirce, Neal
Nation's Cities Weekly , Vol. 27, No. 44
It's nail-biting time--not just for Kerry and Bush partisans, but for an entire nation wondering if the rickety old Electoral College will again misfire and repudiate the will of most Americans.
But it's hardly a new issue. For half a century, clear majorities of Americans have told Gallup pollsters they want a straightforward, direct vote system for president. But self-interested politicos have resisted. And our political commentary elites have mostly just muddied the waters.
Take the strange reaction to the 2000 election. Across America, more than 100 million people voted. But by the chance fallout of tiny vote margins controlling blocks of electoral votes in a handful of close states, the candidate most Americans voted for failed to be certified the winner. In Florida, where a chad-shadowed margin of 537 votes determined the outcome, serious racial antagonisms were fired up. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a decision opponents viewed as partisanly tinged, decided the election.
So what were some reactions? "Our system of constitutional democracy worked well," wrote columnist George Will. "Democracy is an approximation and the Electoral College is probably no more approximate than any other arrangement," Michael Kinsley observed. Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute wrote there was "no need to repeal the Electoral College" because "three (or four) crises out of more than 50 presidential elections is remarkably small."
In the face of this wall of complacency, political scientist George C. Edwards III of Texas A&M University has burst through with the most exquisitely precise and sweeping case I've ever seen for abolition of the Electoral College and adopting a straightforward vote of the people.
I know that's strong praise for Edwards' analysis, in his new book, "Why the Electoral College Is Bad for America" (Yale University Press). But it's an issue I've struggled with for decades, since my book, published in 1968--"The People's President: The Electoral College in American History and the Direct Vote Alternative."
For years I worked with the late political scientist Larry Longley on books analyzing our election system and prospects for constitutional change. I thought I'd heard all the arguments on reform, pro and con, many times.
But Edwards mobilizes the case for sweeping reform with special force. His central focus is political equality, the bedrock principle that no person's vote should count more than another's in choosing a single officer to lead a nation.
As for the argument the Electoral College somehow protects American federalism, Edwards notes first how the system was invented by exhausted delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, not out of high principle but as a jerry-rigged improvisation to get around immediate political problems such as slavery and achieve ratification by suspicious state legislatures. …