College Dropouts

One of the latest popular parlor games being played by the media is the one that imagines what happens if the presidential election ends up in an Electoral College tie.

That’s obviously a pertinent question, but the bigger question is: What is it going to take to finally abolish the Electoral College and actually institute, you know, a democracy whereby the people elect the president? Wasn’t 2000 enough?

Some Illinois politicians think so. Retiring Peoria congressman Ray LaHood, a Republican, told a group of junior high school students last week that the Electoral College is “antiquated.”

In fact, LaHood’s opposition to the Electoral College dates at least as far back as 1997, when he told a House committee that “I believe the Electoral College is merely a relic of times past, running counter to the democratic process.”

And a week before the 2000 fiasco, LaHood joined with Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat, in jointly proposing amending the Constitution to abolish the Electoral College. (While the 2000 election was still unsettled, Hillary Clinton also called for abolishing the Electoral College.)

Likewise, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., a close Obama associate, tells Chicago Life that he is “the lead sponsor of the effort to abolish the Electoral College”; his expanded thinking is contained in a recent Huffington Post piece.

According to, “Several attempts have been made to get rid of the Electoral College, the last significant effort coming in 1969, when the House of Representatives passed 338-70 an amendment abolishing the Electoral College. The amendment died when it only received 54 votes in the Senate, 13 short of the required two-thirds.”

You would have thought that the 2000 election would have sparked a larger movement against the EC, but Democrats likely wanted to avoid looking like sore losers and Republicans likely didn’t want to invalidate the legitimacy of their president.

With Obama and McCain both running as reformers, the time ought to be right to finally do away with this abomination.

I haven’t been able to determine if either candidate has taken a position on the Electoral College; anyone with any references on the matter is more than welcome to send me an e-mail or leave a comment.

Bonus links:

* From, 2004: “Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) has announced that she will introduce legislation to abolish the Electoral College system and provide for direct popular election of the President and Vice President when the Senate convenes for the 109th Congress in January.”

* From The Hill, 2008: “Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) introduced a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College on Friday, less than a week after the Democrats settled on how to handle delegates from Florida at their national convention.”

* “Let’s Abolish the Electoral College,” Salon, 2007

* “Why Don’t We Abolish The Electoral College,” Slate, 2000

* “The Indefensible Electoral College,” Mother Jones, 2004


3 responses to “College Dropouts

  1. Unindicted Co-conspirator

    Curiously, Nixon also wanted to do away with it.
    But in addition to abolishing the Electoral College, we also need to move the start of the new Congress to a week after the election & the inauguration of the new president to two weeks after the general election.
    Two & a half months is an eternity in this world & I can’t imagine how FDR felt having to wait 4 months to take over in 1932-33!

  2. The major shortcoming of the current system of electing the President is that presidential candidates concentrate their attention on a handful of closely divided “battleground” states. In 2004 two-thirds of the visits and money were focused in just six states; 88% on 9 states, and 99% of the money went to just 16 states. Two-thirds of the states and people were merely spectators to the presidential election. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or worry about the voter concerns in states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. The reason for this is the winner-take-all rule under which all of a state’s electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state.

    Another shortcoming of the current system is that a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide. This has occurred in one of every 14 presidential elections.

    In the past six decades, there have been six presidential elections in which a shift of a relatively small number of votes in one or two states would have elected (and, of course, in 2000, did elect) a presidential candidate who lost the popular vote nationwide.

    The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections.

    The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    The National Popular Vote bill has passed 21 state legislative chambers, including one house in Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, and Washington, and both houses in California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland. These four states possess 50 electoral votes — 19% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.


  3. The “normal way” of changing the method of electing the President is not a federal constitutional amendment, but changes in state law. The U.S. Constitution gives “exclusive” and “plenary” control to the states over the appointment of presidential electors.

    Historically, virtually all of the previous major changes in the method of electing the President have come about by state legislative action. For example, the people had no vote for President in most states in the nation’s first election in 1789. However, nowadays, as a result of changes in the state laws governing the appointment of presidential electors, the people have the right to vote for presidential electors in 100% of the states.

    In 1789, only 3 states used the winner-take-all rule (awarding all of a state’s electoral vote to the candidate who gets the most votes in the state). However, as a result of changes in state laws, the winner-take-all rule is now currently used by 48 of the 50 states.

    In other words, neither of the two most important features of the current system of electing the President (namely, that the voters may vote and the winner-take-all rule) are in the U.S. Constitution. Neither was the choice of the Founders when they went back to their states to organize the nation’s first presidential election.

    In 1789, it was necessary to own a substantial amount of property in order to vote; however, as a result of changes in state laws, there are now no property requirements for voting in any state .

    The “normal process” of effecting change in the method of electing the President is specified the U.S. Constitution, namely action by the state legislatures. This is how the current system was created, and this is the built-in method that the Constitution provides for making changes. The abnormal process is to go outside the Constitution, and amend it.

    What the current U.S. Constitution says is “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors . . .” The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the state legislatures over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as “plenary” and “exclusive.”

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