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Election by Popular Vote is Impractical

A critique of those calling for the end of the electoral college.


by Jonathan Wilson
November 13, 2000

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Election by Popular Vote is Impractical_Jonathan Wilson-A critique of those calling for the end of the electoral college. The Partial Observer already has an article defending the Electoral College, by an authority on the Constitution. I am taking a different approach; apart from explaining the system that is in place, I am critiquing those who are calling for election by popular vote.

To begin with, I call the election for Al Gore. He has stronger arguments in Florida than George Bush does, and each day the tally narrows. As he has picked up other battleground states by wider counts among fewer votes--3000+ votes in Oregon, 5000+ in Wisconsin--a Republican challenge in these states will not change the outcomes. So my comments are not motivated by partisanship.

Furthermore, those who are calling for election by popular vote, need to recognize that this campaign was not run on that basis. Both Gore and Bush ran their campaigns on the basis of the reality of the electoral college. Strategies would have necessarily been different. Furthermore, wonk wisdom before the election, had Bush winning the popular vote and Gore winning the electoral college, and no one in the Gore camp was whining about that. Gore is a savvy campaigner, who, like Bush, ran his campaign around the electoral college.

Despite these cold, hard, logical facts, there are some who naively suppose that election by popular vote would have been more fair and solved the problems of this election. Those who want election by popular vote see that, out of 101 million votes cast, 117,000 more people voted for Gore than for Bush, so Gore should win. Simple.

But it is not that simple, unless one wants to stipulate that all results are final, and there should be no recount. This is problematic, of course. Candidates should have the right to contest tallies that they feel are prone to error or irregularity, which is precisely what the Gore camp has done in Florida. If no such protections were in place, a President could win with 49 million and one, to 49 million, with no redress possible. Is this what we want?

In Florida, state law stipulated an automatic recount when the separation was less than one half of one percent (0.5%) of the vote counted. Is this reasonable to extend to the federal election? Well, in this national election, the margin separating the two candidates in one-sixth of one percent between the two, and one-eight of one percent of all votes cast. What would the next step be? An automatic recount in every single precinct in the entire country. Think you feel unbelievable suspense now? Imagine Presidential campaigns sending watchdogs and lawyers to monitor recounts in every polling station in the nation.

It turns out, then, that demands for election popular vote is a mob reaction which is neither practical nor logical. In elections that are landslides, the popular vote carries the day anyway. In elections that are this close, the popular vote would not solve the problems of suspense and litigation, but would broaden them to the nation's horizons.

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