Steve Chapman

Shortly after he was elected in 2008, Barack Obama expressed dissatisfaction at the way major college football determines a national champion -- in an antiquated, jerry-built process instead of a simple, fair one.

I have to say, Obama makes me wonder why we have to endure a strange and irrational system that causes so many participants to feel shortchanged. I mean, this is no way to choose a president.

Oh, you thought I was talking about college football? Hmm. Now that you mention it, the same critique applies. Both the Bowl Championship Series and the Electoral College are bizarre creatures that survive despite defying logic and justice.

The BCS stands for the proposition that winning isn't everything. At the end of the 2008 regular season, Utah was undefeated. The title game featured two teams that were not. Texas Christian had a perfect season this year. Yet the Horned Frogs will be at the BCS championship game Monday evening only if they buy tickets.

Likewise, the Electoral College exists to say that democracy is really overrated. In 2000, Americans went to the polls, and a plurality voted for Al Gore. But George W. Bush, with half a million fewer votes, moved into the White House.

That event focused attention on the Electoral College while blinding some people to the shortcomings of the system. Those people are called Republicans. What they forget is that Bush feared he'd be the one to win a majority of the popular vote and lose the presidency.

In that case, the New York Daily News reported a few days before the election, his team planned an all-out effort to pressure electors to vote for the winner of the popular vote, even if they were supposed to vote for the guy who won their state.

The Bush staffers were counting on the sense that it's unjust for the majority of voters to be denied their choice -- something that had not happened since 1888 and that most Americans were not prepared for.

The GOP showed again in last November's elections that it has no trouble winning simple majority-rule contests. And however you feel about Bush and Gore, the presidential scheme is unfair and undemocratic.

The only reason that fact is not more widely recognized is that the popular vote and the electoral vote usually go to the same candidate. If they frequently diverged, both parties might rise up.

No one, starting from scratch, would create either the BCS or the Electoral College today. But encrusted with tradition and history and protected by massive inertia, they persist in spite of their gross defects.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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