Indeed, the current crisis foisted on the nation by Al Gore illustrates with some clarity the sort of mischief the Electoral College sought to prevent. The late Yale law professor Alexander Bickel argued that by tallying presidential votes state by state, the Electoral College would isolate the effect of voter fraud in any one state, legitimizing the election results.
If the entire raw national total were up for grabs, the whole country would have to be initiated into the Chicago vote-stealing customs now being introduced in Florida. Mysterious ballot boxes would be turning up in every black church in America. Hapless old people nationwide would be taking to the airwaves to claim they were really trying to order a Whopper but were tricked into voting for Pat Buchanan.
The Electoral College also tends to turn narrow popular-vote margins into definitive electoral victories. Even assuming Gore's popular vote advantage holds (and Bush's numbers would surely be higher if the media hadn't incorrectly given Florida to Gore early election night), the candidates' nationwide tallies are separated by a sneeze. At a certain point you have to cut off debate or there will be chaos and endless rioting.
People can't live like liberals, endlessly jawboning hypothetical possibilities and refusing to submit to rules. There have to be institutional boundaries to curtail endless navel-gazing. If a lawyer is one day late filing the complaint, Granny loses her slip-and-fall case. That's how rules work. Legitimate claims -- which Gore's is not -- are sometimes devalued for a social order that we prefer.
The Electoral College establishes a set of rules. It acknowledges the states as separate and sovereign entities casting all their votes for a single candidate. Even assuming Gore's ephemeral fraction of a percentage point advantage in the popular vote holds, Bush took 30 states, and Gore won only 20. The Electoral College hands a decisive win to Bush.
The final tally could yet make Bush the popular vote winner and, in any event, he has already won more votes than Bill Clinton got in either of his two tries. (You remember Clinton -- he was the one they said we couldn't impeach because that would overturn the results of an election.)
Much more horrifying than the curious prospect of a popular vote "winner" losing the electoral vote is that fact that Hillary "Cattle Futures" Clinton is going to be a U.S. senator, and we've learned to live with that.
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