Steve Chapman
In 2000, conservatives were obligated to explain why they supported preservation of the Electoral College even though it produced a victory for their candidate, George W. Bush. In coming elections, their devotion may face a sterner test: Will they favor it if Democrats win the White House even when Republicans carry the popular vote?

Mitt Romney managed to avoid that problem by coming up short across the board. But while Republicans have noticed that the voting public is changing in ways that don't help the GOP, they may not have noticed that the electoral map has also shifted to their clear disadvantage.

Nate Silver, who does the "FiveThirtyEight" blog for The New York Times and correctly predicted the outcome in all 50 states, noted afterward that Obama would have gotten a second term even if Romney had tied him in the popular vote.

In fact, he wrote, "Romney may have had to win the national popular vote by three percentage points on Tuesday to be assured of winning the Electoral College." No Republican has done that since George H.W. Bush in 1988.

Texas A&M political scientist George Edwards III, author of "Why the Electoral College Is Bad for America," finds additional grounds for the GOP to worry. "With Obama's victory," he told me by email, "Democrats have now won 18 states -- the 'blue wall' -- for at least the past six consecutive elections. That's the most states Democrats have won consecutively for that often since the formation of the modern party system in 1828."

He went on: "Those 18 blue-wall states (joined by the District of Columbia) now provide Democrats 242 electoral college votes" -- just 28 shy of the 270 needed to win. Republicans are swimming upstream.

So maybe they'll reassess this antique. Democrats got all the convincing they needed in 2000, when Al Gore won the popular vote to no avail. Republicans shouldn't wait till it happens to them.

If they look closely, they will find the arguments for the status quo don't stand up. Such as:

"We should respect the wisdom of the framers." When it came to devising a way to elect the president, they weren't so wise. Their system led, in 1800, to an election in which Thomas Jefferson and his own running mate, Aaron Burr, tied in the Electoral College. That flaw had to be fixed with a constitutional amendment, in 1804.

Stanford historian Jack Rakove, an authority on the Constitutional Convention, has written that "the framers did not reject popular election because of a fear that the people might fall prey to a demagogue. They worried instead that in a provincial society, citizens would never be well enough informed to make an effective choice without multiple and expensive rounds of elections."


Steve Chapman

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

 
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