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Should the Electoral College stay or go?

10:00 AM, Aug 24, 2004 • By CLAUDIA WINKLER
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"In fact, presidential elections are already just about as democratic as they can be. We already have one man, one vote--but in the states. Elections are as freely and democratically contested as elections can be--but in the states. Victory always goes democratically to the winner of the raw popular vote--but in the states. The label given to the proposed reform--"direct popular election"--is a misnomer: the elections have already become as directly popular as they can be--but in the states. Despite all their democratic rhetoric, the reformers do not propose to make our presidential elections more directly democratic; they only propose to make them more directly national, by entirely removing the states from the electoral process. Democracy thus is not the question regarding the electoral college; federalism is. Should our presidential elections remain in part federally democratic, or should we make them completely nationally democratic?

"Whatever we decide, then, democracy itself is not at stake in our decision, only the prudential question of how to channel and organize the popular will."

After 2000, the practical wisdom of avoiding election of the president in one vast national district ought to be obvious. In 2000, state boundaries acted as firewalls, containing the uncertainty in one state. Imagine a virtual tie on a national scale--a nation-sized Florida. Lawyers for the parties would have every incentive to leap into action demanding recounts in thousands, or tens of thousands, of precincts across the land, with no sure result in sight.

With any luck, there will be no tie this year, but instead an undisputed winner--his margin of victory helpfully magnified (as is usually the case) in the electoral vote. As a country, we don't need another result that invites disparagement of our political system. Rather, we could use a result that demonstrates the effectiveness of our inherited arrangements for channeling the popular will.

Claudia Winkler is a managing editor at The Weekly Standard.