The Electoral College: How It Got That Way and Why We're Stuck With It

It was never designed to actually elect a President, it’s awkward, cumbersome, and confusing, and almost no one likes it. Americans have been trying to get rid of it for more than two centuries. Yet it’s still here. Now we are seeing renewed efforts to reform or eliminate the Electoral College. Will they succeed? Don’t bet on it.

So it has happened again. A close presidential election has led to recriminations, cries of fraud, and talk of tainted mandates. Just as predictably, the 2000 election has inspired calls to reform the Electoral College—predictably, that is, because such proposals have followed every close presidential contest since the beginning of the Republic. The only difference is that this time no one asked why there’s such a long delay between election and inauguration.

Taking America’s Temperature

OVER THE PAST HALF-CENTURY, POLLING HAS REMADE THE ELECTORAL PROCESS. IS IT HELPING DO THE WORK OF DEMOCRACY MORE EFFECTIVELY—OR ERODING IT?

A polltaker’s lot is perhaps least enviable when his profession is dealt with by historians of presidential elections. Almost all of them give prominent play to polling’s two most celebrated disasters: 1936, when a respected national magazine’s straw poll forecast a loss for Franklin D. Roosevelt, and 1948, when Harry Truman confounded almost universal predictions of defeat and overcame Thomas E. Dewey. These sensational landmarks obscure the fact that in the 14 other elections between 1936 and 1996 no such major mistakes were made.

 
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Intimate Enemies

When John Adams was elected President, and Thomas Jefferson Vice President, each came to see the other as a traitor. Out of their enmity grew our modern political system.

During the first contested presidential election in American history, the voters were asked to choose between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. In this millennial year, voters will choose between George W. Bush and Al Gore. At first blush, the caustic observation of Henry Adams appears indisputable: The American Presidency stands as a glaring exception to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolutionary progress.

 
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The Conventional Wisdom Why It’s Wrong

When the two parties gather to select their candidates, the proceedings will be empty glitz, with none of the import of old-time conventions. Or will they?

 

At some point in this election-year summer, as thousands of politicians, delegates, and journalists gather for the quadrennial rites of democracy known as national political conventions, commentators will complain that the proceedings have devolved to nothing more than a long television commercial.

 
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