It has been a year since the networks called the election for Al Gore, then for George W. Bush, which caused Gore to concede to Bush, after which the news of the closeness of the Florida vote caused Gore to retract his concession. Armies of lawyers then descended upon Florida and the nation was buried in a flurry of dimpled ballots and falling chads. Almost immediately, a number of influential academics, pundits, and political leaders seized the opportunity of confusion in Florida to blame the Electoral College and urge us to throw it out in favor of a simple national vote. Their cry for a more direct democracy makes a nice bumper sticker for their Volvos, but would it make good law?
A new study released this week by the McConnell Center for Political Leadership at the University of Louisville casts doubt on the wisdom of those who would abolish our constitutional system of presidential elections and shows that much of what we think we know about the Electoral College is wrong. " Electing the President in the 21st Century" is based on survey responses of leading academic observers from across the nation. It provides sober warnings for those who would urge the abandonment of the system of presidential elections that has served the nation well for more than two centuries. Among the misunderstandings corrected by this study are several myths that have grown up around the Electoral College.
Myth 1: An Election based on a national popular vote would have spared us the Florida debacle of hanging chads and dimpled ballots. Actually, the Electoral College saved us from a much worse national nightmare. The existence of the Electoral College that made the outcome of the election hinge on the winner of Florida's 25 electors served to focus the attention of the parties and the media in one state (and, in fact a few counties in that state). Imagine the trauma that would have befallen the nation in such a close election if a simple plurality of the national vote...
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