There's a way around the Electoral College conundrum

Published June 19th 2006 in The Buffalo News
Since the early 1800s, about 500 proposals to amend the Constitution in regard to the presidential election process have been put forth. Recent Gallup polls indicate that up to 75 percent of the American electorate is displeased with the Electoral College method of selecting our chief executive.

With our president pontificating the world over about the importance of democratic elections, it seems rather embarrasing that in our own system, our most important election is flawed. Recent history shows that President Bush lost the popular vote to Al Gore by about 200,000 votes in 2000, yet won the election in the Electoral College.

In 2004, although he beat John Kerry by close to 3 million votes, the president would have lost the election had several thousand votes gone to Kerry in Ohio. History buffs cite four presidential elections in which the winner lost the popular vote. Few remember, however, that in 16 other elections, a switch of 75,000 votes or less in key states would have given the win to the candidate finishing second in the popular vote.

Madison and other Founding Fathers originally favored direct popular election of the president but thought the country was too large and communications too poor to let the people get to know who they were voting for. Other delegates had different ideas and considered race and regional power bases in determining the electoral outcome.

The election of the president was one of the final compromises a tired convention made, even though most delegates thought it was a poor choice. They went along because Washington was considered a sure winner in the first election, and it wouldn't matter. The result was that they passed the buck to the states. Ironically, therein lays the solution.

My interest in the problem was renewed when I watched a program on C-Span with former Sen. Birch Bayh, D-Ind., and former presidential hopeful John B. Anderson, R-Ill., among others. They proposed an elegant solution that does not require amending our Constitution.

In a nutshell, the idea they put forth is to have each state legislature pass an act to ensure that all their electoral votes would be cast for the candidate who receives the largest number of popular votes in all the states. This should not go into effect until the electoral count of the states going along with the plan reached 270, a majority.

As I see it, the main objections to this idea will come from the major political parties, which save a lot of money by funneling all their resources and tailoring their message to a few swing states while ignoring the others.

This is a bipartisan idea whose time has come. I urge interested voters to contact their state assemblymen and senators and get them to enact enabling legislation. If our New York Legislature acts, other states may follow suit, and this plan could snowball into meaningful change in presidential elections.

If this cursory outline piques your curiosity, I suggest you Google "national popular vote" for more information.