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Israel, Al Gore and the Electoral College

Tuesday, 12 November 2002 12:00 AM

Israel is in the midst of a social crisis that could threaten its very existence and this is no time to have to fiddle with internal politics, but such is life without the Electoral College. I wonder if Al Gore will shut up now.

Recently, Hillary Rodham Clinton gave a political speech in which she said that the president of the United States was selected, not elected. Democratic spinmeisters on shows like "Crossfire" frequently refer to the Commander in Thief, and hardly a Sunday morning show goes by without somebody reminding us that Al Gore "won the popular vote."

But of course, that's like saying that the Pittsburgh Steelers would have won if the game were judged according to Rugby rules; an interesting point, but utterly irrelevant. I think we should stop beating around the bush (no pun intended): Either the presidential election system outlined in the U.S. Constitution is a good system or it is not.

The critics should not pretend that they are criticizing George W. Bush or Chief Justice William Rehnquist; their quarrel is with the Constitution itself. And the collapse of the Sharon regime in Israel tells us that the framers probably made the right choice.

What choice, exactly, did they make? First, they decided that the rules of elections will be decided by state legislatures, not by courts (I'm looking in your direction, Florida Supreme Court): "the times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the Legislature thereof" (Art. 1, Sect. 4).

Second, they created a unique system for the selection of the Chief Executive Officer. It is outlined in Amendment XII, the Electoral College:

"The Electors shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and Vice President … they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots, the person voted for as Vice President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice President, and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States ...; – The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and the House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted; – the person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice."

What does all this mean? It means that the founders set up a system that would make multi-party parliamentary democracy very nearly impossible.

Even in the unlikely event that a minor party candidate for president would receive a plurality rather than a majority of the vote, he would not become the president of the United States. The Electoral College system requires a majority of votes, and not just based on population but one that also requires wide geographical distribution of votes from states with small populations but which still possess the two additional electoral votes apportioned to them to correspond with their two senators.

This means that a minor party candidate could win only if he were to receive a greater number of votes than the two major party candidates and any additional minor party candidates combined. But here is the beauty of this system: Even if this were to happen, the party in question would no longer be a minor party; like the Republicans replacing the Whig Party, any successful new party would by its very nature have to replace a major party. The mathematics of the Electoral College virtually guarantees no more than two major political parties at any one time.

The European model, on which Israel is based, is different. In that system many parties coexist in shifting coalitions. This gives the marginal parties, the crazy lefties and crazy righties, an unprecedented amount of power, because they are on the margin. By withdrawing from a coalition they can often destroy that coalition, and they tend to do it at the most inopportune times.

Perhaps this is why European nations so often oscillate between the far left and the far right, between communism and fascism, while American political culture takes place (in George Will's memorable phrase) "between the 40-yard lines" between, say, Ronald Reagan and Franklin Roosevelt.

It is time to place the debate where it belongs, not between supporters of George W. Bush and Al Gore – that debate took place in the election of 2000. The current debate is between two groups of people.

One group believes in the constitutional system in which state legislatures (not courts) create election rules which are effective before, during and after the election, and which are used to select a group of electors equal to the number of the congressional representatives from that state, who in turn elect the president.

The other group does not, and it is incumbent upon them to show us an actual democracy functioning in the real world which surpasses our own in peace and stability.

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Israel is in the midst of a social crisis that could threaten its very existence and this is no time to have to fiddle with internal politics, but such is life without the Electoral College. I wonder if Al Gore will shut up now. Recently, Hillary Rodham Clinton gave a...
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Tuesday, 12 November 2002 12:00 AM
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