Richard Nixon: Special Message to Congress on Electoral Reform

Richard Nixon: Special Message to the Congress on Electoral Reform.

February 20th, 1969

To the Congress of the United States:

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.

The reforms that I propose are basic in need and desirability. They are changes which I believe should be given the earliest attention by the Congress.

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.


The White House

February 20, 1969

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