September 30, 2004

Electing the President

Do you know who your elector is? Do you care?

You may think that you voted for Gore, Bush or Nader in the last election, but you didn't. You voted for an elector named _____________ who was pledged to one of those candidates. The only thing that makes him vote for your candidate is custom. He could, if he wanted to, vote for someone else. That has happened once and an elector voted for someone other than the man he was pledged to.

The constitution is over 200 years old. It was written by a small group of men living in a world that we, today, would have trouble understanding. It was the blueprint for a new type of government. The writers of that document were well aware of their own fallibility and made provision to change the constitution as the need for change arose. To prevent having a government that changed with every wind that blew, they made the process of amending the constitution cumbersome and difficult.

The first 10 amendments (the Bill of Rights), made soon after the constitution was adopted , are generally considered as part of the basic constitution.

After the Civil War, there were 3 amendments (13,14,15) that gave all people full citizenship regardless of race. Amendment 16 authorized an income tax. Number 17 took the election of senators out of the state legislatures and put it in the hands of the people. Women were given the vote by amendment 19.

The silliest amendment was the prohibition of alcoholic beverages(18), which was repealed by number 21.

After Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to a third term, the Republicans pushed through an amendment limiting the presidency to two terms. Harry Truman got a chuckle out of that one and when Eisenhower (Republican) was president , said that Eisenhower's own party had stopped him from being elected to a third term.

The framers of our constitution did not believe that the public had enough sense or information to elect a president so they formed the electoral college, consisting of educated and well off men who were elected by white men who owned property. While the Electoral College still exists and meets, it does not function as it was meant to. There has been talk of making our country a true democracy or republic by abolishing the electoral college and having the president elected by all of the people, as are senators. Nothing was ever done, although it has been proposed in congress but never acted upon. The last election, in which the elected president had fewer votes than his opponent and was essentially appointed by the Supreme Court, should have been a call to action. Four years have passed and nothing was done. Apparently our congress has been too busy with trivia, such as the definition of the word "marriage," to undertake an important bit of business which would have the president elected by a majority of the people, along with a provision for a run-off election in the event that no candidate had a majority of the votes. That amendment would also abolish the Electoral College, which does absolutely nothing.

The provision for a run-off election between the top two candidates, if no candidate has a majority(more than 50%) of the votes, is more important than abolishing the electoral college. I would like to provide an example of what might happen if the president was elected by popular vote alone: The year is 2016 and the presidential candidates are as follows: The Democratic party nominated Joseph Blow, the Republicans George Handy, the Green party nominated Ralph Needler and the Libertarians nominated Wilbur Freed. The result of the election was that the candidates for each of those four parties each got about 25% of the popular vote. However, Needler got 24% and Freed got 26%, making Freed the president elect. He is elected president by 26% of the voting population.

From 1932 to 1996, in presidential elections, of the percentage of people eligible to vote, those who did so range from 49% to 61%. In every election, at least 39% of the eligible voters don't care enough to vote.

The last presidential election was a demonstration of what is wrong with our system. Much of it could be corrected with a constitutional amendment calling for the direct election of the president and vice president and providing for a run-off election if no candidate gets a majority of the votes. This should have been clear to everyone who has any understanding of how a political process should work in a democracy. Has anything been done about it? No! Will anything be done about it? I doubt it.

The way things stand, it is very possible that some demagogue could be elected president with 30% of the votes. This means that he/she will be placed in office by less than 20% of those eligible to vote. All that you need is enough minority parties.

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