Accuracy in Media

The Electoral College is a ho-hum/so what subject. Not very many voters understand it; not very many voters care about it. Given the ignorance of most high school, and many college, graduates, probably only a small percentage of voters could explain why it was created, what it is, how it functions.

Since President George W. Bush was elected in 2000 with a majority of the Electoral College but a minority of the total popular vote, some liberal Democrats – especially those who are, or are said to be, “mad” (referring to attitude, unless coincidentally not to mental state) – harp over and again upon the irrelevant point, thereby displaying their ignorance of the Electoral College and of American government and history.

Forget total national popular vote. As the shibboleth says, we’re a republic, not a democracy. Popular vote within a particular State matters; popular vote in the national aggregate is only fodder for disgruntled political agitators.

Let’s view only the 20th Century. Democratic candidate [Thomas] Woodrow Wilson in 1912 received 41.8% of the (then all-male) total popular vote – and won. In 1916 he received 49.3% – and won. President Harry S. Truman, elevated from the Vice Presidency upon President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s death on April 12, 1945, ran for a full term in 1948, received 49.5% of the total popular vote – and won. Freshman Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy received 49.7% in 1960 – and won (perhaps because defeated Vice President Richard Milhous Nixon did not challenge what appeared to be flagrantly fraudulent votes in two states). In 1968 the same Mr. Nixon received 43.4% – and won. In 1992 Governor William Jefferson Clinton received 43% – and won. In 1996 President Clinton received 49% – and won. In 2000 Governor George Walker Bush received 47.8% – and won. Thus, in the 20th Century, from Wilson’s 41.8% to Kennedy’s 49.7%, five candidates plus Mr. Clinton two times out of two won without a majority of the total popular vote.

The Founding Fathers did not have in mind total, or necessarily any other, popular vote when they wrote Article II, Section 1, into the Constitution:

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to [the number of the State’s congressional delegation]. [Emphasis supplied.]

How the State Legislature chose those Electors was the sole prerogative of the State Legislature – by popular election upon a one-man/one vote basis, by popular election among citizens who owned land, by election of the State Legislature, from within the State Legislature, what-have-you. There was something between a hope and an understanding that responsible and substantial citizens would be chosen Electors, to utilize their own judgment, political parties as such having not come into vogue, and the notion of every political ignoramus having a vote being at best not widely held.

Now, of course, every State elects its Electors by the same universal suffrage by which any other elective officeholder is elected. To a point, however, the theory – and clearly the practice – is the same: States (and pursuant to Amendment XXIII also the District of Columbia) elect the President, the aggregate popular vote does not.

The foregoing accounts for the reason that presidential and vice presidential candidates campaign disproportionately in pivotal states and even the more in large pivotal states. Thus, one would not expect President Bush to spend much time in Texas or Senator John Forbes Kerry, if he’s the Democratic candidate, to spend much time in Massachusetts. Whether this consequence of the Electoral College is beneficial or baneful to the Republic is a matter for political scientists to conjecture.

What is relevant is that neither the Electoral College system nor the practical political campaign relates to total popular vote. Those who continually whine – or, worse yet, claim some kind of fraud, unfairness or illegitimacy – about the 2000 Election result might consider displaying their ignorance in some other fashion. They unfortunately disproportionately are the same people Senator John Edwards and other “Trial Lawyers” like on their juries – ignorant, emotional, oblivious to causality, generally well intended. Those who appeal to them ought to be the more ashamed.


Guest columns do not necessarily reflect the views of Accuracy in Media or its staff.



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