September 16, 1969 from the Congressional Record.
Mr. Chairman, I hope all Members have taken the time to read this document. It was an outstanding group that worked on it. They represented the political spectrum from the far left to the far right.
In my judgment, it is a sound recommendation that we should follow.
The Committee on the Judiciary of the House, by an overwhelming vote, has in effect adopted the plan recommended by the American Bar Association study group.
We are also familiar with the wide range of organizations from all over the land that have endorsed the committee recommendation.
The question has been raised by some: What does the President of the United States recommend? I have in my hand the President’s message that came to the Congress February 20, 1969. Let me quote from that message if I might.
The President says:
'I have not abandoned my personal feeling, stated in October and November 1968, that the candidate who wins the most popular vote should become President.'
The President goes on to say, and again I quote:
'I have in the past supported the proportional plan of electoral reform. Under this plan the electoral vote of a State would be distributed among the candidates for President in proportion to the popular vote cast. But I am not wedded to the details of this plan or any other specific plan. I will support any plan that moves toward the following objectives: first, the abolition of individual electors; second, allocation to Presidential candidates of the electoral votes of each State and the District of Columbia in a manner that may more closely approximate the popular vote than does the present system; third, making a 40 percent electoral vote plurality sufficient to choose a President.'
Then he goes on, and again I quote:
'Next, I consider it necessary to make specific provisions for the eventuality that no presidential slate receives 40% or more of the electoral vote in the regular election. Such a situation, I believe, is best met by providing that a run-off election between the top two candidates shall be held within a specified time after the general election, victory going to the candidate who receives the largest popular vote.'
The net result is, in my judgment, the President of the United States endorses substantially – substantially – the recommendation of this committee of the House.
Let me make one other observation. I know there are some of the most conservative Members of this body on both sides of the aisle who are apprehensive about the direct election procedure. For the benefit of those who feel that way, who served in this body with Ed Gossett, they know very well he was one of the most able, and probably one of the most conservative, Members in the House of Representatives during his many terms of office. He was highly respected by Members on my side of the aisle, and I believe equally by those on the other side, whether they were conservative or liberal. Ed Gossett, who is now a practicing lawyer in Texas, was one of the members of the American Bar Association study group that recommended the ABA plan, which is the direct method of selecting the President of the United States. Any conservative can follow Ed Gossett’s recommendation.
Some Members in this body are apprehensive about the situation of confronting the small State, the small State in population. One of the distinguished members of this ABA task force was the Governor of a State with a relatively small population, Oklahoma. Gov. Henry Bellmon was on this group and Gov. Henry Bellmon wholeheartedly endorses the American Bar Association plan, which is the direct method of electing the President of the United States.
No one can challenge Henry Bellmon's dedication to Oklahoma or States of that size. Henry Bellmon believes after thorough analysis that this plan is in the best interests of the United States and does no harm to small States.
Now, Mr. Chairman, it seems to me that we are down to the final effort, because shortly we will vote as between the district plan and the direct election plan. It is my judgment that this is the real contest and the real ball game.
Mr. Chairman, the allegation is made that the other body will not accept a direct method of selecting a President. I cannot prejudge that. In the Senate there is strong sentiment for direct election, and there are views that are contrary. The allegation is made that the State legislatures will not approve the direct method or that there will be a sufficient number that will block ratification. I cannot judge that, either, although I think the evidence that has been accumulated, the polls, clearly points out that State legislatures could very well ratify the direct method of selecting the President. Senator ROBERT GRIFFIN, for one, conducted a survey which convinces me it is possible. I understand that the magazine The Nation’s Business conducted a survey of State legislatures and their judgment is based on this survey; namely, that a sufficient number of State legislatures will approve the direct method of selecting a President.
Mr. Chairman, let me conclude with this observation: We have a responsibility ourselves to do what at least two-thirds of the Members of this body believe is forward movement, constructive movement, and meritorious change. When you put on the scales the present system and each of the three alternatives, in my honest opinion, the scales weigh most heavily for the direct method.
I think everybody agrees, based on the Gallup poll and based on individual questionnaires sent out by Members on this side and on that side, that the public, when they are given the choice between the present system and the three alternatives, in every instance I have seen has overwhelmingly voted for the direct method of selecting a President. In some of the most conservative districts in this country represented by bona fide, legitimate, and dedicated conservatives, the polls show that the people, the people, want the direct method of selecting the President of the United States. I have yet to see a questionnaire to the contrary.
Now, my final point is this: I believe that we ought to pass the direct method of selecting the President of the United States. If we do not, it is my honest opinion that the people will be let down. If ratification fails, either by action in this body or in the other body or by action of the State legislatures, the people will be let down. I hope that the House of Representatives, which I think is the people's House, the people’s House will face up to the issue and will vote in accord with what the American people by every poll have indicated they want. The people's House has even a greater responsibility than the other body or the respective State legislatures. So when the vote comes today on the district vis-a-vis the direct method or on the motion to recommit, which I suspect will be the district plan, I hope that we reject others and support in the final analysis the direct method of selecting the President of the United States.
Back to Top
I believe that in the interest of progress and sound modern government--and to nourish and strengthen our creative Federal system--we must amend our Constitution, to provide a four-year term of office for Members of the House of Representatives.
I believe that for the same reasons we must also eliminate those defects in the Electoral College system which make possible the frustration of the people's will in the election of their President and Vice President.
Debate over the length of the House term is not new. It began in the Constitutional Convention, where those who thought annual elections were essential to freedom clashed with others, such as Madison, who held that three years were required "in a government so extensive, for members to form any knowledge of the various interests of the States to which they did not belong," and that without such knowledge "their trust could not be usefully discharged." Madison's thoughts are ruefully familiar to Members of the House today: he was certain that a one-year term would be "almost consumed in preparing for and traveling to and from the seat of national business," and that even with a two-year term none of the Representatives "who wished to be re-elected would remain at the seat of government."
Between the advocates of a one-year term--those who, bearing in mind recent English experience, feared the despotism of a government unchecked by the popular will--and those who saw a tenure of three years as necessary for wise administration, a compromise of two years was reached.
Thus there was little magic in the number two, even in the year of its adoption. I am convinced there is even less magic today, and that the question of tenure should be reexamined in the light of our needs in the twentieth century.
"As it is essential to liberty that the government in general should have a common interest with the people; so it is particularly essential that the branch of it under consideration should have an immediate dependence on, and an intimate sympathy with the people. Frequent elections are unquestionably the only policy by which this dependency and sympathy can be effectually secured. But what particular degree of frequency may be absolutely necessary for the purpose, does not appear to be susceptible of any precise calculation; and must depend on a variety of circumstances with which it may be connected."
--the accelerating volume of legislation on which Members are required to pass. In the first Congress, 142 bills were introduced, resulting in 108 public laws. In the 88th Congress, 15,299 bills were introduced, of which 666 were enacted into public law.
--the increasingly complex problems that generate this flood of legislation, requiring Members to be familiar with an immense range of fact and opinion. It is no longer sufficient to develop solutions for an agricultural nation with few foreign responsibilities; now a man or woman chosen to represent his people in the House of Representatives must understand the consequences of our spiraling population growth, of urbanization, of the new scientific revolution, of our welfare and education requirements, and of our responsibilities as the world's most powerful democracy.
--longer sessions of Congress, made necessary by the burden of legislation and outstanding public issues. In less turbulent times, Members of Congress might conduct the public business with dispatch during election years, and spend the summer and autumn campaigning in their districts. Congress adjourned in April of 1904, June of 1906, May of 1908, and June of 1910. But increasing work loads have substantially extended the sessions. Thus it was in August of 1958 that Congress concluded its work, in September of 1960, October of 1962, and again in October of 1964. The competitive pressures imposed by the two-year term, when the incumbent must remain in Washington into the Fall to attend the public business, reduce his capacity to do either task--campaigning or legislating-with the complete attention his conscience and the public interest demand.
--the increasing costs of campaigning that biennially impose heavy burdens on those who represent vigorously contested districts, and that magnify the influence of large contributors, pressure groups, and special interest lobbyists.
It may be said that every elected official confronts similar circumstances in the 1960's. Yet it can be said of none that his power for the public good or ill is both so great as the Congressman's, and so sharply pressed in time.
For this public servant--part judge and author of laws, part leader of his people, part mediator between the executive branch and those he represents--is scarcely permitted to take his seat in the historic Hall of the House, when he must begin once more to make his case to his constituency.
His district's right to be fully represented in Congress is diminished by this. The nation's need to be led by its best qualified men, giving their full attention to issues on which our security and progress depend, is ignored by this. In the States, in private business, and indeed, in the Federal government itself, the wisdom of longer terms for senior officials has come steadily to be recognized. State after state has adopted a four-year gubernatorial term.
This Administration has made every effort to extend Ambassadorial tours of duty, to promote career civil servants to posts of higher responsibilities, and to retain Cabinet and sub-Cabinet officers on the job for longer periods than before. For we have learned that brief and uncertain periods in office contribute--not to the best interests of democracy--but to harassed inefficiency and the loss of invaluable experience.
I am mindful of the principal reason advanced for maintaining the two-year term--that it is necessary if the voice of the people is to be heard, and changes in public opinion are to be registered on the conduct of public policy. My own experience in almost three decades in public office--and, I believe, the experience of Members of Congress today--is otherwise.
For we do not live in a day when news of Congressional action requires weeks to reach our constituents, nor when public opinion is obscured by time and distance. Communications media rush the news to every home and shop within minutes of its occurrence. Public opinion polls, and mountains of mail, leave little doubt about what our people think of the issues most vital to them. I do not fear deafness on the part of those who will take their seats in Congress for a four year term.
It is also vital to recognize the effect of a longer term on the authority of the House in making known the will of the people. Established in office for four years, the weight of the House in the councils of government is certain to increase. For the sake of democracy, that is a development devoutly to be welcomed.It is imperative that each Member of the House have the opportunity of campaigning during a Presidential election year. To divide the House into two classes, as some have proposed--one elected during the "offyear," one with the President--would create an unnecessary and wholly unfair division in that Body. It would also create severe problems in every state: as reapportionment is ordered and redistricting takes place.
If our purpose is to serve the democratic ideal by making the people's House more effective in its performance of the people's business, then we must require that its Members be chosen by the largest electorate our democracy can produce. That, assuredly, is the electorate called into being during a Presidential year.
I do not believe the Congress will wish to make the House the least representative of our three elective elements; by perpetually condemning half its membership to a shrunken electorate. Such a body could not long sustain its claim to be an equal partner in the work of representative government.
If this Amendment is to serve the public interest--if Members are to be free of campaigning for a period sufficiently long to enable them to master the work of the House--it is right that they should remain at that work during the entire term to which they are elected.
It would defeat the purpose of the Amendment, if a Member were free to campaign for the Senate without resigning his seat in the House. Because we seek to strengthen the House, and through it, representative government--not to provide a sanctuary and platform for further electoral contests--I recommend that no Member of either House be eligible for election as a Member of the other House until his own term has expired, unless, at least 30 days prior to that election, he submits his resignation from the office he holds.
Our democracy cannot remain static, a prisoner to the past, if it is to enrich the lives of coming generations. Laws and institutions-to paraphrase Jefferson--must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind, and must respond to the changing conditions of life itself.
Because I profoundly agree with former President Eisenhower, when he said, "Congressmen ought to be elected for four years, at the same time with the President," I urge the Congress promptly to consider a Constitutional amendment extending the term of office for the House of Representatives to four years.
In my special message to the Congress last January, I urged an amendment to the Constitution to reform the Electoral College system. I renew this recommendation and strongly reaffirm the need to reform the Electoral College system. There are several major defects in the existing system. They should be eliminated in order to assure that the people's will shall not be frustrated in the choice of their President and Vice President.
First, there presently exists the possibility that the constitutional independence of unpledged electors will be exploited, and that their votes will be manipulated in a close presidential race to block the election of a major candidate in order to throw the election into the House of Representatives. This grave risk should be removed.
Second, if the election is thrown into the House of Representatives, the existing system suffers from other fundamental defects. In such an election, the House of Representatives would be empowered to elect a President from the three highest candidates. However, each State casts only one vote, with the result that the least populous States have the same vote in the election of the President as the most populous States.
As early as 1823, Madison reached the conclusion that "the present rule of voting for President by the House of Representatives is so great a departure from the republican principle of numerical equality, and even from the Federal rule, which qualifies the numerical by a State equality, and is so pregnant also, with a mischievous tendency in practice, that an amendment to the Constitution on this point is justly called for by all its considerate and best friends."
I firmly believe that we should put an end to this undemocratic procedure. Third, if the electoral vote is indecisive under the existing system, the President is elected by the House of Representatives, but the Vice President is elected by the Senate. This creates the possibility of the election of a President and a Vice President from different parties. That possibility should not exist. To prevent its realization, the President and the Vice President should both be elected by the same body. Fourth, the Twenty-third Amendment makes no provision for participation by the District of Columbia in an election of the President by the House of Representatives, or of the Vice President by the Senate.
Fifth, existing law fails to provide for the death of the President-elect or Vice President-elect between election day and the counting of the electoral votes in December. There is also no provision in the Constitution to cover the contingency presented by the death of a candidate for President or Vice President shortly before the popular election in November. These gaps should now be filled.
Congress can now, in the words of Daniel Webster, "perform something worthy to be remembered," by uprooting the more objectionable features in the system of electing a President and Vice President, and thereby helping to preserve representative government and the two-party system.
Back to Top
One hundred and sixty-five years ago, Congress and the several states adopted the Twelfth Amendment to the United States Constitution in order to cure certain defects--underscored by the election of 1800--in the electoral college method of choosing a President. Today, our presidential selection mechanism once again requires overhaul to repair defects spotlighted by the circumstances of 1968.
I have not abandoned my personal feeling, stated in October and November 1968, that the candidate who wins the most popular votes should become President. However, practicality demands recognition that the electoral system is deeply rooted in American history and federalism. Many citizens, especially in our smaller states and their legislatures, share the belief stated by President Johnson in 1965 that "our present system of computing and awarding electoral votes by States is an essential counterpart of our Federal system and the provisions of our Constitution which recognize and maintain our nation as a union of states." I doubt very much that any constitutional amendment proposing abolition or substantial modification of the electoral vote system could win the required approval of three-quarter of our fifty states by 1972.
For this reason, and because of the compelling specific weaknesses focused in 1968, I am urging Congress to concentrate its attention on formulating a system that can receive the requisite Congressional and State approval.
I realize that experts on constitutional law do not think alike on the subject of electoral reform. Different plans for reform have been responsibly advanced by Members of Congress and distinguished private groups and individuals. These plans have my respect and they merit serious consideration by the Congress.
I have in the past supported the proportional plan of electoral reform. Under this plan the electoral vote of a state would be distributed among the candidates for President in proportion to the popular vote cast. But I am not wedded to the details of this plan or any other specific plan. I will support any plan that moves toward the following objectives: first, the abolition of individual electors; second, allocation to Presidential candidates of the electoral vote of each State and the District of Columbia in a manner that may more closely approximate the popular vote than does the present system; third, making a 40% electoral vote plurality sufficient to choose a President.
The adoption of these reforms would correct the principal defects in the present system. I believe the events of 1968 constitute the clearest proof that priority must be accorded to electoral college reform.
Next, I consider it necessary to make specific provision for the eventuality that no presidential slate receives 40% or more of the electoral vote in the regular election. Such a situation, I believe, is best met by providing that a run-off election between the top two candidates shall be held within a specified time after the general election, victory going to the candidate who receives the largest popular vote.
We must also resolve some other uncertainties: First, by specifying that if a presidential candidate who has received a clear electoral vote plurality dies before the electoral votes are counted, the Vice-President-elect should be chosen President. Second, by providing that in the event of the death of the Vice-President-elect, the President-elect should, upon taking office, be required to follow the procedures otherwise provided in the Twenty-Fifth Amendment for filling the unexpired [sic] term of the Vice-President. Third, by giving Congress responsibility, should both the President-elect and Vice-President-elect die or become unable to serve during this interim, to provide for the selection--by a new election or some other means--of persons to serve as President and Vice-President. And finally, we must clarify the situation presented by the death of a candidate for President or Vice-President prior to the November general election.
Many of these reforms are noncontroversial [sic]. All are necessary. Favorable action by Congress will constitute a vital step in modernizing our electoral process and reaffirming the flexible strength of our constitutional system.
Back to Top
Introduction of a Constitutional Amendment to Abolish the Electoral College by Representative Ray LaHood
Thursday, January 9, 1997
Mr. Speaker, Today, I am proud to introduce, along with Congressman Wise from West Virginia, a constitutional amendment that seeks to end the arcane and obsolete institution known as the electoral college.
It is no accident that this bill is being introduced today, the day that the electoral ballots are opened and counted in the presence of the House and Senate. I hope that the timing of this bill's introduction will only underscore the fact that the time has come to put an end to this archaic practice that we must endure every 4 years.
Only the President and the Vice President of the United States are currently elected indirectly by the electoral college--and not by the voting citizens of this country. All other elected officials, from the local officeholder up to U.S. Senator, are elected directly by the people.
Our bill will replace the complicated electoral college system with the simple method of using the popular vote to decide the winner of a Presidential election. By switching to a direct voting system, we can avoid the result of electing a President who failed to win the popular vote. This out come has, in fact, occurred three times in our history and resulted in the elections of John Quincy Adams, 1824, Rutherford B. Hayes, 1876, and Benjamin Harrison, 1888.
In addition to the problem of electing a President who failed to receive the popular vote, the electoral college system also allows for the peculiar possibility of having Congress decide the outcome should a Presidential ticket fail to receive a majority of the electoral college votes. Should this happen, the 12th amendment requires the House of Representatives to elect a President and the Senate to elect a Vice President. Such an occurrence would clearly not be in the best interest of the people, for they would be denied the ability to directly elect those who serve in our highest offices.
This bill will put to rest the electoral college and its potential for creating contrary and singular election results. And, it is introduced not without historical precedent. In 1969, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill calling for the abolition of the electoral college and putting a system of direct election in its place. Despite passing the House by a vote of 338 to 70, the bill got bogged down in the Senate where a filibuster blocked its progress.
So, it is in the spirit of this previous action that we introduce legislation to end the electoral college. I am hopeful that our fellow members on both sides of the aisle will stand with us by cosponsoring this important piece of legislation.
Back to Top
Mr. President, 5 weeks ago, on November 1, I held a news conference with my colleague from Illinois, Congressman RAY LAHOOD, on the subject of the electoral college. I always preface my remarks on this issue by reminding people that that was before the November 7 election.
In 1993, I had introduced legislation with Congressman GERALD KLECZKA, of Wisconsin, as a Member of the House, to abolish the electoral college. Congressman LAHOOD and I came forward on November 1 of this year and made the same recommendation before the election on November 7. So what I am about to say and what I am about to propose, really, although it is going to take into account what happened in our last election, is motivated by a belief that the underlying mechanism in America for choosing the President of the United States is flawed and should be changed.
On that day, November 1, I came to the floor of the Senate to explain why I thought the Constitution should be amended to replace the electoral college with a system to directly elect our President. One week after the press conference, the American people went to the polls to express their will. It is worth pausing to realize that we are living through an extraordinary election, the closest by far in more than a century. As we await the outcome, it is important to remember that soon our country will have a new President. I am confident that our great will successfully navigate the difficulties of this historic election. I am concerned, however, at the loss of confidence of the American voters in the system we know as the electoral college.
If we do nothing else over the next year, let's commit to improve and reform the way we elect leaders in America. There are three critical areas of election system reform that I think we should address. The first is campaign financing. I certainly support the McCain-Feingold bipartisan approach to cleaning up the way we pay for campaigns. The second is the mechanisms of the voting process. My colleagues, Senator SCHUMER of New York and Senator BROWNBACK of Kansas, have suggested we put some money on the table for States and localities that want to put in more efficient and more accurate voting machinery. I think that is a good idea. And, of course, the third is changing the electoral college. Today I will discuss replacing that system with a direct popular vote for President.
For those who want to defend the current electoral college system, I want to ask, What are the philosophical underpinnings that lie at its foundation? I submit there are none. Instead, the electoral college was a contrived institution, created to appeal to a majority of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, who were divided by the issue of Federal versus State powers, big State versus small State rivalries, the balance of power between branches of Government, and slavery.
James Madison was opposed to any system of electing the President that did not maintain the South's representational formula gained in an earlier compromise that counted three-fifths of the African American population toward their State totals. A direct popular election of the Chief Executive would have diluted the influence of the South and diluted the votes based on the slave population.
Many delegates opposed a direct popular election on the grounds that voters would not have sufficient knowledge of the candidates to make an informed choice. Roger Sherman, delegate from Connecticut, said during the Convention: I stand opposed to the election by the people. The people want for information and are constantly liable to be misled.
Given the slowness of travel and communication of that day, coupled with the low level of literacy, the delegates feared that national candidates would be rare and that favorite sons would
dominate the political landscape. James Madison predicted that the House of Representatives would end up choosing the President 19 times out of 20.
Also, this system was created before the era of national political parties. The delegates intended the electoral college to consist of a group of wise men--and they were all men at that time--appointed by the States, who would gather to select a President based primarily on their individual judgments. It was a compromise between election of the President by Congress and election by popular vote. Certainly, it is understandable that a young nation, forged in revolution and experimenting with a new form of government, would choose a less risky method for selecting a President.
Clearly, most of the original reasons for creating the electoral college have long since disappeared, and after 200 years of experience with democracy, the rationale for replacing it with a direct popular vote is clear and compelling.
First, the electoral college is undemocratic and unfair. It distorts the election process, with some votes by design having more weight than others. Imagine for a moment if you were told as follows: We want you to vote for President. We are going to give you one vote in selection of the President, but a neighbor of yours is going to have three votes in selecting the President.
You would say that is not American, that is fundamentally unfair. We live in a nation that is one person--one citizen, one vote.
But that is exactly what the electoral college does. When you look at the States, Wyoming has a population of roughly 480,000 people. In the State of Wyoming, they have three electoral votes. So that means that roughly they have 1 vote for President for every 160,000 people who live in the State of Wyoming--1 vote for President, 160,000 people. My home State of Illinois: 12 million people and specifically 22 electoral votes. That means it takes 550,000 voters in Illinois to vote and cast 1 electoral vote for President. Comparing the voters in Wyoming] to the voters in Illinois, there are three times as many people voting in Illinois to have 1 vote for President as in the State of Wyoming.
On the other hand, the philosophical underpinning of a direct popular election system is so clear and compelling it hardly needs mentioning. We use direct elections to choose Senators, Governors, Congressmen, and mayors, but we do not use it to elect a President. One-person, one-vote, and majority rule are supposedly basic tenets of a democracy.
I am reminded of the debate that surrounded the 17th amendment which provides for the direct election of Senators. It is interesting. When our Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, they said the people of the United States could choose and fill basically three Federal offices: The U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, and the President and Vice President. But only in the case of the U.S. House of Representatives did they allow the American people to directly elect that Federal officer with an election every 24 months.
I suppose their theory at the time was those running for Congress lived closer to the voters, and if the voters made a mistake, in 24 months they could correct it. But when it came to the election of Senators in the original Constitution, those Founding Fathers committed to democracy did not trust democracy. They said: We will let State legislatures choose those who will serve in the Senate. That was the case in America until 1913. With the 17th amendment, we provided for the direct election of Senators. So now we directly elect Senators and Congressmen, but we still cling to this age-old electoral college as an indirect way of electing Presidents of the United States. The single greatest benefit of adopting the 17th amendment and providing for the direct election of Senators was that voters felt more invested in the Senate as an institution and therefore able to have more faith in it.
In my State, in that early debate about the 17th amendment, there was a Senator who was accused of bribing members of the State legislature to be elected to the Senate. There were two different hearings on Capitol Hill. The first exonerated him. The second found evidence that bribery did take place. That was part of the impetus behind this reform movement in the direct election of Senators.
Second, while it appears smaller and more rural States have an advantage in the electoral college, the reality of modern Presidential campaigns is that these States are generally ignored.
One of my colleagues on the floor said: I will fight you, DURBIN, on this idea of abolishing the electoral college. I come from a little State, and if you go to a popular vote to elect a President, Presidential candidates will pay no attention to my little State.
I have news for my colleagues. You did not see Governor Bush or Vice President GORE spending much time campaigning in Rhode Island or Idaho. In fact, 14 States were never visited by either candidate during the campaign, while 38 States received 10 or fewer visits. The more populous contested States with their large electoral prizes, such as Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin, really have the true advantage whether we have a direct election or whether we have it by the electoral college.
Third, the electoral college system totally discounts the votes of those supporting the losing candidate in their State. In the 2000 Presidential race, 36 States were never really in doubt. The average percentage difference of the popular vote between the candidates in those States was more than 20 percent. The current system not only discounts losing votes; it essentially adds the
full weight and value of those votes to the candidate those voters oppose.
If you were on the losing side in a State such as Illinois, which went for AL GORE, if you cast your vote for George Bush, your vote is not counted. It is a winner-take-all situation. All 22 electoral votes in the State of Illinois went to AL GORE, as the votes in other States, such as Texas, went exclusively to George Bush.
Fourth, the winner-take-all rules greatly increase the risk that minor third party candidates will determine who is elected President. In the electoral college system, the importance of a small number of votes in a few key States is greatly magnified. In a number of U.S. Presidential elections, third party candidates have affected a few key State races and determined the overall winner.
We can remember that Ross Perot may have cost President Bush his reelection in 1992, and Ralph Nader may have cost AL GORE the 2000 election. In fact, in 1 out of every 4 Presidential elections since 1824, the winner was one State away from becoming the loser based on the electoral college vote count.
This is a chart which basically goes through the U.S. Presidential elections since 1824 and talks about those situations where we had a minority President, which we did with John Adams in 1824, with Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, and Benjamin Harrison in 1888. These Presidential candidates lost the popular vote but won the election, which is rare in American history. It may happen this time. We do not know the outcome yet as I speak on the floor today.
In so many other times, though, we had very close elections where, in fact, the electoral vote was not close at all. Take the extremely close race in 1960 to which many of us point: John Kennedy, 49.7 percent of the vote; Richard Nixon, 49.5 percent. Look at the electoral college breakdown: 56 percent going to John Kennedy; 40 percent to Richard Nixon. The electoral college did not reflect the feelings of America when it came to that race.
The same thing can be said when we look at the race in 1976. Jimmy Carter won with 50.1 percent of the vote over Gerald Ford with 48 percent of the vote. Jimmy Carter ended up with 55 percent of the electoral college and Gerald Ford with 44 percent. Again, the electoral college did not reflect that reality.
In comparison, under a direct popular vote system where over 100 million votes are cast, third party candidates generally would have a much more difficult time playing the spoiler. For instance, there have only been two elections since 1824 where the popular vote has been close enough to even consider a recount. Those were 1880 and 1960. In today's Presidential elections, a difference of even one-tenth of 1 percent represents 100,000 votes.
Fifth, the electoral college is clearly a more risky system than a direct popular vote, providing ample opportunity for manipulation, mischief, and litigation.
The electoral college provides that the House of Representatives choose the President when no candidate receives a majority of electoral votes. That happened in 1801 and 1825.
The electoral system allows Congress to dispute the legitimacy of electors. This occurred several times just after the Civil War and once in 1969.
In 1836, the Whig Party ran different Presidential candidates in different regions of the country. Their plan was to capitalize on the local popularity of the various candidates and then to pool the Whig electors to vote for a single Whig candidate or to throw the election to Congress.
In this century, electors in seven elections have cast ballots for candidates contrary to their State vote. Presidents have received fewer popular votes than their main opponent in 3 of the 44 elections since 1824.
In the 2000 election, I ask why the intense spotlight on Florida? The answer is simple: That is where the deciding electoral votes are. More disturbing is the fact that anyone following the election knew that Florida was the tightest race of those States with large electoral prizes. Those wishing to manipulate the election had a very clear target.
In contrast, under a direct popular vote system, there is no equivalent pressure point. Any scheme attempting to change several hundred thousand votes necessary to turn even the closest Presidential election is difficult to imagine in a country as vast and populous as the United States. Similarly, as I previously mentioned, recounts will be much more rare under a direct popular vote system given the size of the electorate.
Some people have said to me: DURBIN, if you have a direct popular vote--here we had GORE winning the vote this time by 250,000 votes--wouldn't you have contests all across the Nation to try to make up that difference? Look what happened in Florida. The original Bush margin was about 1,700 votes. It is now down to 500 votes after 4 weeks of recount efforts and efforts in court, not a very substantial change in a State with 6 million votes. So to change 250,000 votes nationwide if we go to a popular vote would, of course, be a daunting challenge.
Throughout American history, there has been an inexorable march toward one citizen, one vote. As the Thirteen Colonies were debating if and how to join a more perfect Union, only a privileged few--those with the right skin color, the right gender, and the right financial status--enjoyed the right to cast votes to select their leaders. The people even gained the right to choose their Senators by popular vote with the ratification of the 17th amendment in 1913.
As one barrier after another has fallen, we are one step away from a system that treats all Americans equally, where a ballot cast for President in Illinois or Utah or Rhode Island has the same weight as one cast in Oregon or Florida. The electoral college is the last barrier preventing us from achieving that goal. As the world's first and greatest democracy, it is time to fully trust the people of America and allow them the right to choose a President.
We would like to say, when this is all over, that the American people have spoken and chosen their President. The fact is that is not the case. With the electoral college, the American people do not make the choice. The choice is made indirectly, by electing electors in each State, on a winner-take-all basis.
I leave you with a quote from Representative George Norris of Nebraska, who said the following during the debate in 1911 in support of the direct election of U.S. Senators. I quote:
It is upon the citizens that we depend for stability as a government. It is upon the patriotic, common, industrious people of our country that our Government must always lean in time of danger and distress. To this class of people then, we should give the right to control by direct election the selection of our public officials and to permit each citizen who is part of the sinew and backbone of our Government in time of danger to exercise his influence by direct vote in time of peace.
Mr. President, I will be introducing this proposal to abolish the electoral college and to establish the direct election of a President as part of our agenda in the next Congress. I sincerely hope it will be debated and considered. This time is the right time for us to take the time and look at the way we choose the President of the United States. It will not change the outcome of what happened on November 7 in the year 2000. But if history is our guide, I hope we will learn from this past experience and make our election machinery more democratic and more responsive.
Part of my proposal will also include the requirement that anyone to be elected President has to win 40 percent of the popular vote. Failing that, the top two candidates would face a runoff election. I think it is reasonable to suggest that leading this country requires at least the approval of 40 percent of the popular vote. That is why it would be included.
I hope my colleagues in the Senate, even those from the smaller States, will pause and take a look at this proposal.
I hope, before I yield the floor to my colleague from Minnesota, to make one other comment. There is a lot of talk about how this contest is going to end when it comes to this last election and the impact it will have on the Presidency.
I continue to believe that the American people want a strong President. They want a strong leader in the White House. They want our President to succeed. Whoever is finally declared the winner in the November 7, 2000, election, that person, I believe, deserves the support not only of the American people but clearly of Congress, too. We have to rally behind our next President in support of those decisions which really do chart the course for America. I think that force, coupled with the Senate equally divided 50-50, is going to be a positive force in bringing this Nation back together after this session of Congress comes to a close.
Back to Top