YOU CAN HEAR them now, can't you - the liberal Democratic horde, spoilsports because their guy, Al Gore, didn't win the state of Florida (at least not yet), clamoring for the Electoral College to be abolished?
We didn't hear such talk when Bill Clinton won two successive elections or when John F. Kennedy won the 1960 election in a close popular vote but with an Electoral College vote of a considerable margin. We hear it now, with complaints that Gore, the poor guy, won the popular vote but might lose the presidential race because of electoral votes.
It's happened before - three times. In 1824, neither candidate had enough electoral votes, and John Quincy Adams won through a vote in the House of Representatives. In 1876, neither Samuel Tilden nor Rutherford B. Hayes had enough electoral votes. Hayes became president when a special electoral commission granted him eight of 15 votes. President Grover Cleveland outpolled Benjamin Harrison in 1888 among America's voters but couldn't muster enough electoral votes to be re-elected. (Cleveland won again in 1892, making him our 22nd and 24th presidents.)
Somehow, the republic survived it. That is italicized because that's what the United States is - a republic. Americans itching to end the Electoral College must think this is a democracy or something.
A trip to the dictionary helps. The Random House Dictionary of the English Language defines a republic as "a state in which the supreme power rests in the body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives chosen directly or indirectly by them." A democracy is "government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system" or is "a state or society characterized by formal equality of rights and privileges."
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Democrat who represents Maryland's 7th District, is one who feels America needs to be less of a republic and more of a democracy, probably in the latter definition of the word. The electoral system, Cummings said he has believed since his college days, has to go.
"It goes against the `one man, one vote' rule," Cummings said, and can lead to situations such as the 2000 presidential election, with confused voters seeing the candidate they chose win the popular election but lose the presidential race. The result, he said, is that some folks will feel their vote doesn't count.
What does Cummings think of the argument that the Electoral College system was devised to prevent larger, more populous states from dominating presidential elections through force of numbers?
"I can certainly understand that," the congressman answered. "[But] where one chooses to live is that person's decision. I can't look at it [the presidential election] from a `small state, large state' concept. I look at it as on Election Day, all our votes count. Votes do count, but they will count even more if we do away with the Electoral College."
Let's ponder the possible consequences of such a move. Gore won the popular vote, by 97,773 votes, according to figures published in Thursday's editions of The Sun. He won California by 1,199,606 votes and New York by 1,523,667. You don't have to be Phi Beta Kappa material to see how, with strictly a popular vote, heavily populated states giving one candidate a plethora of votes will consistently choose the president and give those states an inordinate amount of power in choosing all presidents. "One man, one vote" sounds good, but it ignores the fact that 60 percent of the states told Gore to go back to Tennessee, his home state, where he didn't win either.
Gore won the District of Columbia by 144,984 votes. His advantage in Baltimore City alone was 128,191. Both those totals were greater than Gore's popular vote margin of victory. Under a popular-vote presidential election, Americans might have, in a close race, places such as Baltimore and D.C. - whose people have never met a liberal Democrat they didn't like - providing their candidate with the margin of victory.
Look at it another way: In landslide presidential elections, the Electoral College doesn't matter and the "popular will of the people" - the latest catch-phrase being tossed around by Democrats - prevails. In close elections - such as the one we had last week, with each candidate getting roughly 50 percent of the vote - the Electoral College system is the best way to determine a winner. What reflects the "popular will of the people" more: those 97,773 more votes for Gore (about a tenth of 1 percent of the more than 97 million votes cast) or the 30 of 49 states won thus far by Bush?