A `yes' vote for the Electoral College

October 05, 2005|By GREGORY KANE

The letter came from a guy who writes occasionally to offer comments, frequent criticism and only sporadic praise.

The writer misjudged a column in which I said President Bush owed his election to the fact that the United States is a republic with an Electoral College. He thought that, because I was criticizing Bush, I was criticizing the Electoral College.

He couldn't have been more wrong.

I'm still for the Electoral College. In fact, now more than ever.

In fact, not only am I still for the Electoral College, I think we should restore it to what the Founding Fathers intended. These days the Electoral College is more or less a rubber stamp of the popular vote for president. In most states, whichever candidate wins the popular vote wins the whole kit and caboodle of that state's electoral votes.

That's not quite how the system was first envisioned. The Founding Fathers wanted electors who were informed and would select a candidate based on merit, not political party, popularity or geography. Judging from some of the things I've heard lately, maybe we should return to that approach.

Here are some of the answers to a television reporter's question about who should be the first woman president:

"Martha Stewart."

"Beyonce Knowles."

"Oprah Winfrey."

Here are the answers when a radio talk show host asked some folks who's next in the presidential line of succession after Vice President Dick Cheney:

"Bill Clinton."

"Hillary Clinton."

"John Kerry."

(The correct answer is Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, if you're wondering.)

And then there are the wonderful lasses - if I've heard this once, I've heard it a dozen times - who 'fess up that they would vote for Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, for any office, solely because of his looks.

It occurs to me that there are at least half a dozen reasons to vote for O'Malley that have nothing to do with his looks. They have to do with his leadership style, his political philosophy, his achievements in office and things that actually matter.

But all these people - the ones who have cockeyed ideas about who should be the country's first woman president, those confused about the presidential line of succession and the O'Malley wannabe groupies - have one thing in common.

None of them should be voting for president.

There, I've said it. Some people are too stupid to be trusted with the ballot.

Now, voting for mayor or governor is a different matter. If voters of a city or state want to elect candidates based on their popularity or looks, then the people will inevitably end up with the government they deserve. But the Founding Fathers figured - correctly so - that the office of the president was a little bit different and much more important.

So they came up with a system for informed electors to elect our president. With a frightening portion of the American public slipping into nincompoopery, we need that system more than ever. In fact, we need electors free to vote for whom they choose and not be bound by the popular vote of the state.

We would need some strict qualifications for those electors. What I propose - and what will never happen, since it's more likely the Electoral College is on the way out - is a system where voters elect electors from each congressional district, with two being elected statewide.

Candidates for elector would have to be at least 25 years old - the minimum age to run for the House of Representatives - and pass a series of citizenship tests. Each of these tests would be a bona fide hump-buster.

There would be eight tests covering these subjects:

1. Local government

2. State government

3. National government

4. Geography

5. U.S. history

6. World history

7. Current events

8. The U.S. Constitution

This would give us informed electors who would know the line of presidential succession, who would know that Beyonce Knowles shouldn't be elected to anything except the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - and not even that for a while yet - and don't give a fig about a candidate's looks.

There would be one other benefit: Such electors would be less likely to be swayed by emotion. If you think voters can't be swayed by emotion in a presidential election, just remember what happened here in Maryland in 1972.

Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace was running in the Democratic primary. Wallace at the time was still a segregationist with a despicable past. (The 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham that killed four girls happened on his watch as governor.)

Wallace was shot several times while campaigning in Laurel. Marylanders, instead of correctly figuring that Wallace's unfortunate shooting didn't make him a better candidate, elected him in a landslide.

Suppose that had happened four years earlier, just before the general election, when an even more despicable Wallace was a third-party candidate running against then-Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey and the soon-to-be President Nixon?


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