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Other good reasons to retain the E.C...

October 29 2004 at 10:18 AM
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Direct Election of the U.S. President:
Unacknowleged Perils

Majority fraud: running up the vote
The direct election system is subject to types of fraud that are impossible under the Electoral College system. With direct elections, there would be an incentive for Nebraska to produce more Republican votes or Massachusetts more Democratic ones. Majority fraud would be hard to combat, because the majority party would also be responsible for counting the votes.

The Electoral College system concedes some states to the party in power, but it eliminates any reason to run up the vote. Any fraud in the present system must be in swing states, where the parties can keep each other in check. Here is a dramatic example: in Illinois in 1960, it was a Republican electoral commission that eventually certified a highly suspect Cook county vote that gave the state to the Democrats. Also take a look at what happened in 1888, when the Electoral College defeated an attempt to "run up the score."

Minority Presidents: possible, even likely

Many direct election proposals allow for a minority vote to elect a President. The last serious proposal, advanced in the late 1970s, gave the prize to the candidate who receved the highest vote tally greater than 40%. Only if no candidate receved 40% would there be a runoff between the top two tickets. Text of 1977 amendment.

Under the present system, the winning candidate has to win outright at least twice; first in the party convention, then in the Electoral College. Direct election makes minority rule even more likely than the present process.

Swamped with candidates

The winner-take-all feature of the Electoral College system discourages third party efforts. In contrast, a direct election system encourages candidates to run, simply because they can. The apparent voter choice among a huge number of candidates is a dangerous illusion. In practice, well organized minorities have a very good chance to achieve the highest or second-highest share, advancing to a run off round. While the Electoral College tends to produce candidates that look like Tweedledum and Tweedledee, direct election could produce a choice between Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson or Jesse Ventura and Jesse Jackson.

If you don't like our system move to Russia

Very few democracies in the industrial world have a presidential system with direct election. In fact, France, Finland, and now Russia are the only examples. France adopted direct election in 1962, Finland in the 1990s (it has only had one election since).

The French system appears to be stable, but it has built-in limitations on who may run. A candidate must receive signatures from a total of 500 elected officials, and those officials must come from at least thirty of the ninety-six departments. As a further requirement, no more than 10 percent of the signatures can come from any one department. In effect, a new party would have to succeed in electing 500 officials from nearly a third of the departments to make a Presidential bid.

Russia illustrates what can happen in a free-for-all direct presidential system. Results from the first round of the 1996 Russian presidential election are here (new window). Yeltsin, the incumbent, managed to clear the first round, even though 65% of the electorate voted against him. The perverse and paradoxical result was that Yeltsin won the election, but with a negative mandate. The voters registered a clear vote of no confidence. While it would be easy to attribute this result to Russia's lack of experience in democracy, it seems clear that the direct election process itself is to blame.

Tedious tallies

The Electoral College vote tends to be less in doubt than the popular electoral vote, for two reasons:
Only a few states will have close races, even if the national vote is close, and
The electoral vote tends to magnify the margin of the victor.
Under a direct election system, a close election nationwide could realistically depend upon absentee ballots, or upon recounts anywhere. In a direct election, any of the 160,000 polling places in the U.S. could affect the outcome.

The last direct election proposal provided that the election results should be certified no less than thirty days after the election. Under the present system, even close elections have rarely been in doubt past the next day. The thirty-day limit was included no doubt to put a practical limit on the challenges that could be made. But it also indicates that in a close election, the outcome may be in doubt for up to a month.

Citizens left out

Under the Electoral College system, only U.S. citizens who are residents of a state may vote for presidential electors, because it is the states, not the citizens, who elect the president.

Under a direct election system, how could the U.S. legitimately deny the vote to citizens who are residents of U.S. Territories and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico?

The number of people affected is significant. Puerto Rico alone has over 3 million people.

Under a direct election system, is it defensible to deny citizens the right to vote for the president based on where they live? How could the U.S., who has been promoting democracy throughtout the world, even propose such an idea?

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