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A Call to Reform or End Electoral College

September 12, 2004

I applaud "The Electoral College Votes Against Equality" (Commentary, Sept. 8), which calls for the reform or elimination of the electoral college. This outdated institution has no place in a modern democracy. Many Americans would be surprised to learn that electors are not technically bound to cast their votes to reflect the popular outcome in their state. At the very least, we should abolish the winner-take-all method of apportioning electors. This rule effectively disenfranchises millions of voters. Living in New York and California, I have never felt that my vote truly counted in national elections because those states are so heavily Democratic.

Eliminating winner-take-all voting would encourage turnout by ensuring that every individual's vote matters. Now, if we could couple the authors' proposal with meaningful campaign finance reform that eliminates all corporate contributions to political parties and campaigns, we might have a real democracy on our hands.

Lisa Renaud

Santa Monica


Vikram David Amar and Akhil Reed Amar fault the electoral college and the Constitution for the discrepancy between popular will and electoral vote counts in presidential elections. Yet neither is the major culprit. Rather, the problem is state laws prescribing how presidential elections shall be conducted. If all of the state-based winner-take-all laws were repealed, then third parties would proliferate, and presidential elections would regularly end up in the House of Representatives when no candidate had an electoral majority.

At that point, amending the Constitution would be in order, but the electoral college would not necessarily be involved. The needed amendment would require the House's normal proportional representation in a presidential election. As the Constitution is currently written, each state gets one vote in that situation. To date, only the elections of 1800 and 1824 have been decided in the House. But if the state laws are repealed, the House would again become a significant player and produce far less democratic outcomes than the current electoral college, which only slightly skews popular will and electoral vote counts.

Ward McAfee

Prof. of History, emeritus

Cal State San Bernardino

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