The pain of choosing a president

As disgruntled citizens grope for a solution – any solution – for the disarray in our “status quo” political system, they are grasping at structural reforms, abolishing the Electoral College, creating a multi-party system, designing new ballots and voting directly for president, to name a few.

Every time a new cause appears, the social media are full of solicitations, some of dubious origins. Money is being gathered to abolish the Electoral College. Contributors should realize that this is a futile effort and they could make better investments at the Indian casinos.

To abolish the Electoral College would require submission by two-thirds of each house of Congress and ratification by three-fourth of the states. Democrats think abolition would benefit them and Republicans think the system already benefits them. Right off the bat, we have two competitive parties opposing each other, meaning they will never overcome the majorities required for amending the Constitution.

After George Wallace carried five states for 46 electoral votes in 1968, both parties realized that a third party could bargain with the major parties on radical issues and they would end up in a bidding war. Republicans were especially concerned and espoused alternate ways for casting electoral votes to keep people like Wallace from getting leverage in the future.

Reform of the Electoral College disappeared like a cellophane cat in hell. Nothing was done and we’re still arguing about it 54 years later as though it were a fresh mackerel. It isn’t going to happen.

George Wallace proved that a hazard of the Electoral College is its vulnerability to minority parties, not that they could repeat Wallace’s successful win of electoral votes but as spoilers.

The most recent spoiler was 2000 when Green Party’s Ralph Nader gave the election to George W. Bush by bleeding Albert Gore votes in the races for electors. So there is room for dangerous political dropouts in the Electoral College.

In addition to the abolition of the Electoral College, direct vote for president has been picking up steam. Because advocates know it cannot succeed in the normal status quo climate, they are supporting legislation by states to cast their electoral votes for the presidential candidate who gets the largest popular vote.

A recent Washington Post-ABC poll found that 56% of the electorate favors the direct election while only 37% favored continuing the Electoral College. But the people have no voice in the decision so popular opinion will be dismissed out-of-hand.

As of April 2021, 16 jurisdictions with 195 electoral votes have ratified the compact, leaving the campaign 75 electors short of the 270 needed to activate the compact.

It should be noted that the national vote committee has enjoyed picking the low hanging fruit. The remaining states include a number of small states, among them North Dakota, that think the Electoral College gives them disproportionate leverage in choosing presidents. Mathematical calculations prove that this is not correct but perception is truth.

Direct popular election has merit but it also has negatives to worry about. It would encourage the formation of multiple parties, with each screening votes away from the two major parties. All sorts of candidates would get on the ballot unless access was limited to candidates with minimal strength.

In the Democratic Party, the “progressives” would have a candidate and, at the other end of the spectrum, the Manchin group would have a candidate, perhaps Manchin himself. (He would be a minor, minor candidate.)

In the Republican Party, Congressperson Cheney would be a likely candidate and so would Senator Mitt Romney.

Unless the popular vote system was restrained, it could destroy the two major parties and create havoc in the political system.

As for me, I lean to abolishing the Electoral College and approving the popular vote, not for partisan reasons but if equality of people is good enough for God it is good enough for me.

Lloyd Omdahl is a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota and former political science professor at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks.


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