In the wake of the 2000 presidential election, reformers called for changes to, if not the end of, the Electoral College. The following presents the views of Congressman Ray LaHood, who favors eliminating the College, and Senator Peter Fitzgerald, who endorses the function of the Electoral College.
Other Web sites about the Electoral College:
Federal Election Commission
IN ADVANCE OF CLOSE ELECTION, LAHOOD, DURBIN CALL FOR ELECTORAL
COLLEGE TO BE ABOLISHED
November 1, 2000
(WASHINGTON, November 1)- Joined by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Congressman Ray LaHood (R-Peoria) today renewed his call to abolish the Electoral College, an arcane procedure whereby the President is actually elected not by the public, but by 538 "electors." Both lawmakers said that the current election has sparked interest in a procedure with which not many Americans are familiar: how their President is actually elected.
LaHood, an elector in 1988, introduced a constitutional amendment early in the 106th Congress that allows the direct election of the President by the popular vote of United States citizens. LaHood first introduced this legislation following the 1996 election. Durbin today announced his introduction of similar legislation in the Senate.
"The current presidential election has sparked a renewed debate over the Electoral College," said Congressman LaHood. "When most Americans go to the polls next Tuesday, they fully believe their vote will determine the outcome of the election. In reality, their vote-if they are lucky-only allows someone else to make that decision for them.
"I believe the American people deserve to be the electors of the President, not just a chosen few," LaHood added. "It would be a travesty if the winner of the popular vote on November 7th did not become President because of the Electoral College."
Three Presidents have been sworn into office who did not receive the largest share of the popular vote. They were John Quincy Adams (1824), Rutherford B. Hayes (1876), and Benjamin Harrison (1888). The current system allots electors to each state based on representation in Congress. No matter the closeness of the election, the winner of a state receives its entire total of electoral votes.
LaHood's legislation, H.J. Res 23, provides for the direction election of the President by the winner of the popular, given that person receives at least 40 percent of the vote. If no person reached 40 percent in the general election, the top two candidates would participate in a runoff election.
KEEP THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE
by U.S. Senator Peter G. Fitzgerald, 2001
On Saturday, January 20, George W. Bush was inaugurated as the 43rd President of the United States. This historic event - and the controversy surrounding the 2000 presidential election - makes this a fitting occasion to reflect on the role of the Electoral College in our system of government. Two of my colleagues, Senator Richard Durbin and Representative Ray LaHood, have introduced a constitutional amendment to abolish that unique institution, and they were recently joined in their efforts by Senator Hillary Clinton of New York.
I respectfully disagree with my colleagues. The Electoral College functions exactly as our Constitution's framers intended and serves several important and ingenious purposes. There have been over 700 attempts to eliminate or substantially modify the Electoral College. For very good reasons, none has ever succeeded.
One of the primary effects of the Electoral College is that it helps ensure that our chief executive is a truly national leader. By requiring the President to win a set of states that represents a majority of America, the Electoral College forces candidates to campaign across the entire country and to appeal to the whole nation. Our founding fathers feared the election of a sectional or factional leader as President, and their fears are no less relevant today. Without the Electoral College, a candidate could run as the favorite son of one section of the country. By winning an overwhelming majority in his home region, he could win the Presidency without substantial support in the rest of America. While other candidates running national campaigns split the rest of the vote, the sectional candidate could win a plurality simply by racking up votes in one area. Under the electoral-college system, this scenario is virtually impossible. A candidate who ekes out a national plurality by getting 85 percent of the votes in, say, the South, but who runs poorly in the rest of the country would lose - as Samuel Tilden and Grover Cleveland found out in 1876 and 1888 respectively. The Electoral College wisely encourages candidates to run nationwide campaigns, and thereby guards against the Balkanization of the United States.
A second important effect of the Electoral College is that it promotes majority rule while protecting minority interests. The Constitution's framers sought to protect the small states by guaranteeing them a voice in the system. By sealing off votes by state, the Electoral College makes each state a prize for which it is worth competing. All the votes in West Virginia or Iowa may not matter much in the popular vote total, but when these states offer five and seven electoral votes - either of which would have been decisive in the recent election - even sparsely populated areas cannot be ignored.
The Electoral College also amplifies the voice of minorities within large states. African Americans and farmers, for example, are not majority populations in the United States. But under the Electoral College system, they can help determine the outcome in several large states. Because of the Electoral College, these groups have a say in the election of our President. Although the majority still rules, minorities cannot be discounted and must be courted. Witness the genius of the founders.
Under our Constitution, majority rule is not an absolute. Instead, it is leavened with substantial protections for the minority. The Bill of Rights, for example, blocks even majority-backed governmental action, if that action intrudes upon a minority's fundamental rights. And because of the Constitution's separation of powers, new laws must receive support not just from a majority of Congressmen - who represent districts of equal size - but also from a majority of Senators, who represent states, and the concurrence of the President.
The occasional difference between the electoral and popular vote tallies is a small price to pay for a system that helps preserve national unity and gives small groups significant voices and protections in our presidential contests. (And which, in this very tight election, has spared us the utter chaos of a possible national recount!) Because three-fourths of the states are needed to amend the Constitution, no change in the current system is likely in any event. But for the principles it serves, the Electoral College deserves our support.
Source: http://fitzgerald.senate.gov/ [Select "Columns from the left-hand menu and select January 21, 2001, for original]