Posts tagged ‘Presidency’

04/04/2012

Electoral College: Let’s Abolish It

Since the White House will be up for grabs again in 2012, the Electoral College will be used to indirectly select a President. In most states, the candidate with the greatest number of popular votes will be awarded all of their electoral votes, under a winner-take-all system. Upon tabulating totals from all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, which was given three electors in 1961, under the 24th Amendment, the nominee with a majority of 270 will become President. If neither major candidate wins a majority, because a third party gained votes, or the two major nominees have 269 each, the outcome will be determined by the House, where each state would be given one vote.

The initial draft of the Constitution had to be amended, because it gave each elector one ballot, but two votes, so they could pick a President and Vice-President. The idea was that the candidate with the greatest number would be President, and the second place finisher would become Vice-President. When political parties emerged in 1800, electors supporting the ticket of Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, cast one vote for Jefferson, and one for Burr, resulting in a tie, even though they were from the same party. This moved the contest into the House, where Jefferson was eventually named President, and Burr became VP. It also led to the 12th Amendment (1804), which solved the problem by creating separate electoral ballots for President and VP.

The problem today is a candidate can win a majority of the popular vote, like Al Gore did in 2000, but lose the election, because the person with the second highest tally, i.e. George W. Bush, can nonetheless receive a greater number of elector votes.

In every election where the winner in the Electoral College lost the popular vote, it was the Democrat who got the short end of the stick. Andrew Jackson, a Democrat, received more popular votes in 1824 than John Q. Adams, but Adams prevailed in the Electoral College. Republican Rutherford Hayes was handed the Presidency in 1876, despite Democrat Tilden beating him 51% to 47.9%. Republican Ben Harrison was allowed to enter the White House in 1888, even though Democrat Grover Cleveland received more popular support. Democrat Al Gore was denied the Presidency in 2000, following a contest in which he defeated George W. Bush by 543,895 votes.

The question every four years is whether the Electoral College should be abolished and replaced with a direct popular vote. Since a Constitutional Amendment would be needed, the process would have to begin in the Congress, where small state Senators and Representatives would probably kill any bill, since most of them believe direct popular voting would give large states more control, and would end the federal system.

The primary argument for abolishing the Electoral College is it now causes candidates to spend disproportionate amounts of time and money in swing states, to the exclusion of all others. While defenders of the College believe change would simply shift campaigns to the big cities and large states, to the exclusion of small towns in rural areas, advocates of using direct popular voting say candidates would instead begin campaigning in all 50 states, since turnout everywhere would suddenly become relevant.

We really should get away from a system that causes candidates to pander to voters in only a handful of swing states, and allows Presidents to be chosen by a process that disregards the will of the majority. A proposed Constitutional Amendment to abolish the Electoral College should be approved in the Congress, so it can be submitted to the states for ratification.

03/30/2012

Republican Primary Doesn’t Matter

During the Wisconsin Presidential Primary next week, Republican voters will be asked to choose between Romney, Gingrich, Ron Paul and Santorum, but their selection will make little difference in the long run, for even if their nominee prevails in November, in the final analysis, their candidate will not be able to make any change without the help of the House, Senate, and Supreme Court.

For those who “vote for the man,” because they naively believe one person can single-handedly change the way things are, they have an awful lot to learn about party politics. What matters is not an individual win, but rather a victory by an entire political party. Real and significant change in America only occurs if the same party controls the House, 60% of the Senate (to block filibusters), the White House, and at least five Supreme Court seats.

Unless voters want divided and paralyzed governments, there is no rational reason to split tickets between Republicans and Democrats, by picking one party’s nominee for this office, and another party’s choice for that. Although many voters dislike both parties, one or the other is going to win and gain control, so it makes sense to learn their differences, and vote along party lines.

No matter who the Republicans nominate for President, if the conservatives continue to control the House, they will put their agenda to their leader, (not the other way around), and he will be expected to approve of it, whether it is Romney, Santorum, Paul, or Gingrich. The Presidency is much weaker than most realize.

When Obama became President, a Democratic Congress handed him legislative measures, during his first two years, like the health care bill, and he had no choice but to approve of it. If he had not, his own party would have turned on him. Although Obama wanted to close Guantanamo, Congress pulled the purse strings for that pledge, and consequently, the prison remains open, regardless of the President’s wishes, or his campaign promises.

If Romney becomes President, and has an opportunity to appoint a Supreme Court justice, you better believe the entire Republican Party, including Bachmann, Santorum, and a whole host of right-wing fundamentalist ministers will be looking over his shoulder. One man in Washington DC simply has no power to do anything.

If you think you can change the basic two-party system, you have a boatload of work to do. The existing parties not only select nominees through caucuses and primaries, they draft platforms stating goals, but most importantly provide networks of volunteers locally to register voters, and make sure they vote on Election Day. Third-party candidates trying to operate outside one of the two major parties would find it extremely difficult to organize, without the help of the thousands who already share a party label.

While it is true George Washington, a Federalist, was first elected as an individual, Thomas Jefferson soon founded an opposition party, even though the Constitution did not mention their use, and for over 200 years, they have been an integral part of our system.

The head of political party, i.e. the President, or presidential candidate of the other party, matters far less than Congressional control. If you want to see change, the question is not who will win the upcoming Wisconsin Republican Presidential Primary; the important question is: After the 2012 election, which of the two major political parties will control the Congress?