2000-11-25 / Columnists


The demonstrations and shouting continues in Florida, and lawyers circle the dispute like birds on prey. Amid all the shouting, some suggestions or even demands have come down for changing the way our nation and Constitution conducts its business. Chief amongst the suggested changes is doing away with the Electoral College.

What is this all about anyway? Our federal system of government was purposely and deliberately set up to divide and share powers. Prior to our adoption of the Constitution a number of things were decided upon and made clear, amongst them that we are a republic, not a democracy. It was sharing of power(s) and those powers were to be shared amongst the large and small states.

The entire compact and contract between the states (formerly colonies) was based on compromised and the genius of the Constitution was it did so fairly. This agreement was not unanimous in agreement, but was unanimous in consent and compromise. Hence, the United States of America exists today.

Now some want to change the agreement, change the pre-agreed ground rules. The Constitution makes this possible, but purposely difficult. After all, according to Historian Arthur Schlesinger, "The federal system and division of powers was essential compromise that preserved and cemented our union into a nation." With this is mind, we must understand the gravity and proceed with great caution. After all, states joined the union understanding their rights would be respected. We fought a catastrophic Civil War over similar issues.

One key part of this compromise was the Electoral College. It was purposely set up to allow an indirect election, but ultimately the Electoral College chooses the President (not the direct vote of the people). The popular vote in each state elects the electors who then elect the President. It has happened seldom, but before we have had one candidate slightly leading in the popular vote and one winning the electoral vote and the presidency. One example of this happening is the 1888 race between Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison. Cleveland won the popular vote, but Harrison won in the Electoral College.

The debate over elimination of the Electoral College continues...witness the split on the electoral issue between Democratic New York State Attorney General Elliot Spitzer (pro-college) and Senator-elect Hillary Clinton (anti-college). Spitzer said, "I think it is a system that has serious merits and we should think seriously before we scrap it."

The Founding Fathers were not only concerned with a federal system of division of powers, but with the possibility of winning a few large population states, and the popular vote, therefore winning the presidency without true national support.

The Electoral College has served this nation well, and almost always agrees with the popular vote totals.

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