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Electoral evolution

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Posted: Sunday, October 31, 2004 8:18 am

Regardless of the outcome of the presidential race on Tuesday night — if there is an outcome on Tuesday night — the debate on the Electoral College will be renewed. It is every four years, and that is as it should be.

The Electoral College has been evolving since the nation’s founding, and it will continue to evolve.

Invariably, the arguments for abolishing the Electoral College rest on the principles of "fairness" and "one person, one vote." The presumption is that whoever gets the most votes should be president.

The case of keeping the Electoral College rests on more complex principles: those of preserving regional and state interests and avoiding unintended consequences, such as the rise of splinter parties and radicalized agendas.

Over the past two centuries the United States has been shifting from constitutional republic to constitutional democracy. The 17th Amendment in 1913 shifted election of U.S. senators from state legislatures to the people. And the Constitution has been amended twice to curb the independence of the Electoral College; while you will technically vote for an elector on Tuesday, that elector is publicly committed to your presidential candidate.

There are several salient features of the present system, even though it can result, as it did in 2000, in the candidate who gets the most popular votes failing to win the White House. Defenders of the Electoral College point to the distribution of "red" and "blue" states in 2000 to make their point that it prevents important regional interests from being overwhelmed by majority rule. While Al Gore won substantial majorities in the nation’s major East and West Coast urban areas, George Bush won substantial majorities throughout the nation’s rural heartland. Would it be in the nation’s long-term best interests to shift to simple majority rule that quite likely would ignore rural America — which essentially feeds the rest of the country? Probably not.

Still, we can expect this country to continue its inevitable movement toward direct democracy. One person, one vote is a compelling concept: Every American — young or old, single or married, rich or poor, urban or rural — should be able to expect that his or her vote will count. And in a sense, that is not the case today. If Arizona’s popular vote goes to President Bush on Tuesday, the votes cast for Sen. Kerry won’t count in the Electoral College tally, since it’s winner-take-all.

Colorado voters on Tuesday will be voting on a system of more proportional distribution of electoral votes, which may be the next step toward a more democratic presidential election system. What Colorado’s voters decide could be a guide to the future of presidential elections in this country.

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