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Point of View: An Albatross

Wed, 12/16/2020 - 17:26

Even James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, was in favor of a popular vote, and here we are more than 200 years later with the albatross still about our necks.

Jesse Wegman, in his book “Let the People Pick the President,” counts the many ways in which the Electoral College sabotages democracy’s one-person-one-vote paradigm, one that is adhered to, for instance, in the election of governors, but not in the election of presidents.

Before there was a two-party system, before there were the universal and instantaneous means of communication that assail us now, the interposition of slates of electors between the presidential candidates and the electorate — white men of property at the time, slave owners in particular because of the “three-fifths” clause that added to the number of electors in Southern states — may have made some sense. There was reason then to worry about uninformed voters, flurries of favorite sons, and endless balloting in the House of Representatives should there be a deadlock. Moreover, the Electoral College, it was said, would mitigate against the election of a demagogue! (The exclamation point is mine.)

With the Electoral College, which has withstood more than 700 attempts to abolish it over the years, in effect, the winners of five presidential elections in our history — and two in this century — were losers when it came to the popular vote. That oughtn’t to be in a country that allegedly celebrates majority rule.

So, it would be good to read Wegman’s book, which, by the way, says that even the proposed proportional and district electoral voting alternatives to the “winner-take-all” system that prevails — and which effectively limits presidential elections to a few battleground states — are flawed when it comes to one person one vote.

Aside from a constitutional amendment, which effectively is out of the question, only the popular vote compact, which has been approved thus far by 15 states — representing 196 electoral votes, 74 shy of the requisite 270 — offers a way out of the red-blue morass, which, he says, “deforms our relationship to one another . . . when in fact we are purple from coast to coast.”

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