Published Thursday, November 15, 2012

Keep the Electoral College

Should the Electoral College be abolished? I say no.

If popular votes alone determined election outcomes, a dozen presidential contests would have been close enough for the result to be disputed without end, or at least without an end that most Americans could see as fair and honest. What dragged out the notorious 2000 election between Bush and Gore were the partisan lawsuits and the tortuous methods employed to recount votes or decipher voter intent.

The closeness of that 2000 election in so many places — multiple states as well as the nation as a whole — suggests that we should thank our lucky stars the Framers gave us the system we have.

It is precisely because of the Electoral College that the recounting of votes focused on one state instead of many. If the popular vote decided the winner, we could have been bogged down for months in questionable recounts in dozens, if not hundreds, of counties across the country.

Is it unfair for a candidate to win in the Electoral College and become president if another candidate actually had more popular votes? It is extremely unlikely this could ever happen when the popular vote margin is wide. A narrow margin in the popular vote— narrow enough to be wiped out with a few vote-rigging recounts — cries out for a decisive conclusion, and that’s what the Electoral College offers.

It’s not unfair that little Delaware gets just as many senators as big California. It’s not unfair that 34-year-olds can’t become president or that a simple majority in the Congress is insufficient to approve a treaty, convict an impeached president, or amend the Constitution. Nor is it unfair that the winner of the World Series is the team that wins four games, not necessarily the one that has the most runs. These are the rules of the game, and in the case of the Electoral College, the rules were written for some very good reasons.

At the 1787 Constitutional Convention, some delegates wanted the popular vote to elect the president. Others argued that Congress should make the pick. The smaller, less populated states feared, correctly, that under either of those options they would be swallowed up or ignored by the larger, more populous states. The Electoral College represented a compromise to accommodate the concerns of the small states.

The Electoral College serves as a pillar of our federal system of government, wherein the states — which created the central government in the first place — do not dissolve into an amorphous national mass but rather retain a substantial identity and hence a check on unbridled power in Washington.

Keep the Electoral College. The Framers of the Constitution knew precisely what they were doing when they established it.

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(Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president of the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, N.Y., and Atlanta.)

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