Electoral College

October 29, 1999

To the Wall Street Journal editors,

You contend that the fact that the U.S. Presidency is elected through the Electoral College rather than direct election "requires any third party candidate to approach a majority of the popular vote" (editorial, October 27, 1999).

Hogwash! More than a third of presidential elections have been won with a mere plurality of the popular vote, including four winners with less than 44% of the vote. Abraham Lincoln won a convincing Electoral College victory as a third party candidate with less than 40% of the vote. Bill Clinton won more than two-thirds of the electoral college vote in 1992 with only 43% of the vote.

The fact remains that the Presidency is the only office of any significance in the nation where a candidate can win with fewer votes than an opponent. With a steady rise in minor party and independent candidacies at a state and federal level, it's time once again to consider replacing the Electoral College with direct election. To assure a real majority winner, a much better solution than a simple plurality vote or keeping the Electoral College would be to adopt instant runoff voting, a majority vote system used to elect the Australian parliament, president of Ireland and, next year, mayor of London.

Year Winner  Popular Vote Electoral Vote


Clinton 49.2% 70%
1992 Clinton 43.0% 69%
1968 Nixon 43.4% 56%
1960 Kennedy 49.7% 56%
1948 Truman 49.5% 57%
1916 Wilson 49.3% 52%
1912 Wilson 41.8% 82%
1892 Cleveland 46.0% 62%
1888 Harrison 47.8% 58%
1884 Cleveland 48.8% 55%
1880 Garfield 48.3% 58%
1876 Hayes 47.9% 50%
1860 Lincoln 39.9% 59%
1856 Buchanan 45.3% 59%
1848 Taylor 47.3% 56%
1844 Polk 49.3% 62%
1824 Adams 29.8% 32%

Rob Richie is executive director of The Center for Voting and Democracy