I am writing this column out of fear for our educational system. I am referring to Eric Olsen’s column. (“Ditch the Electoral College,” Daily Nexus, Oct. 15). It frightens me that a man who teaches government at the high school level should have such a fundamental misunderstanding of a key facet of the Constitution and our representative government. Or what is perhaps worse, Mr. Olsen has allowed his personal political leanings to so cloud his judgment that he would fail to properly educate his students.
The primary reason for the Electoral College was not technological failings: Dispatch riders could effectively transport information throughout the 13 states in a matter of days. It also had very little to do with the framers being “distrustful” and “cynical.” The primary reason for the Electoral College was an issue that still survives today: the power of small states versus the power of populous states. This is the exact reason we have a bicameral legislature; otherwise, heavily populated states, such as California and New York, would dominate less populous states like Wyoming. Therefore, the Electoral College allows Wyomingites’ votes to count just as much as Californians’ votes. Does Mr. Olsen propose that we also do away with the Senate?
Mr. Olsen’s claim that George W. Bush is not the first president elected without a popular majority is more correct than he seems to know. There have been 14 presidents elected without gaining the majority of votes, including Bill Clinton, who had 43 percent of the vote in 1992, and 49 percent in 1996. For comparison, George W. Bush won with 48 percent of the popular vote in 2000. If we passed an amendment abolishing the Electoral College in favor of majority voting, we would either be subjected to numerous runoff votes or have elections that would be decided by Congress. If we moved to a win-by-plurality system, then it would be conceivable for a president to have garnered far fewer votes.
Further complications of such a plan could include a deluge of candidates, similar to what we all saw in last year’s gubernatorial recall, which had well over 100 candidates. In 1992, Ross Perot received exactly zero electoral votes, a crushing and demoralizing defeat. However, he did garner 19 percent of the popular vote, which would be very encouraging to other peripheral candidates under a plurality system.
Gathering signatures to get on a ballot is not too difficult, so we would see an increase in candidates every year. I personally did not enjoy sifting through two pages of names last October. Also, using Mr. Olsen’s flawed technology theory, despite our advanced technology, we could not effectively disseminate information about a vast number of candidates. People simply would not read it all.
I personally take offense to Mr. Olsen’s claims about votes “not counting.” The implication is that if your candidate isn’t ahead in the polls, then you shouldn’t bother voting, because your vote doesn’t count. Tell that to John Kerry and his supporters: He was far behind Howard Dean going into the primary elections.
Mr. Olsen is discouraging his students from voting, which to me seems nearly criminal.
As for battleground states being more important, changing the voting system will not change this. Battleground states exist because they have the largest number of undecided voters; politicians will always flock to the places where they think they can pick up the most votes. California does not lose its 55 electoral votes simply because its voters make up their minds earlier.
I must admit that I do not know Mr. Olsen personally. However, I can say with 99 percent certainty that he is not smarter than the framers of the Constitution. He should not disparage their work. The Electoral College is not perfect, but it’s by far the best we’ve got.
Dave Pomerantz is a senior business economics major.