Let’s shut this col­lege down

The Covington News - - Opinion - Tom Craw­ford Colum­nist

It was a mo­ment for the his­tory books last week as 15 Ge­or­gians gath­ered at the Golden Dome to play their role in fi­nal­iz­ing the Elec­toral Col­lege out­come of this year’s race for pres­i­dent.

The cer­e­mony was du­pli­cated in state capi­tols around the na­tion as the mem­bers of the Elec­toral Col­lege for­mally de­cided that Demo­cratic nom­i­nee Barack Obama wou ld be­come the first African-Amer­i­can to be elected pres­i­dent of the United States.

Repub­li­can can­di­date John McCain, who lost the elec­tion to Obama, car­ried 52 per­cent of Ge­or­gia’s pop­u­lar vote so he re­ceived the state’s 15 elec­toral votes, which were of­fi­cially cast by 15 per­sons se­lected by the state Repub­li­can Party.

Gov. Sonny Per­due told the elec­tors sit­ting at an­tique wooden desks in the state Se­nate cham­ber that their ac­tions sym­bol­ized the peace­ful tran­si­tion of power that takes place with ev­ery change of ad­min­is­tra­tions.

“We un­der­stand the other side got more votes and we ac­cept that,” Per­due said. “We’re Amer­i­cans, and I want this ad­min­is­tra­tion to be suc- cess­ful be­cause I want Amer­ica to be suc­cess­ful. We’ll have an­other shot in four years.”

The cer­tifi­cates from the elec­tors for Ge­or­gia and the 49 other states will be for­warded to the U.S. Se­nate, where they will be for­mally counted and a win­ner de­clared in a joint ses­sion of Congress held on Jan. 8.

The Elec­toral Col­lege is a process as old as the Amer­i­can repub­lic, but it has also been a tar­get of crit­i­cism for many years. You can say that it’s un­fair be­cause pres­i­dents, un­like ev­ery other elected of­fi­cial in this coun­try, are not re­quired to win the of­fice by pop­u­lar vote. You can also make the ar­gu­ment that it thwarts the will of the peo­ple be­cause it al­lows a can­di­date to win the pres­i­dency even if he re­ceives fewer pop­u­lar votes than his op­po­nent — as we saw with Ge­orge W. Bush in the 2000 elec­tion.

Crit­ics also con­tend that the “win­ner take all” as­pect of award­ing a state’s elec­tors to one can­di­date ef­fec­tively dis­en­fran­chises those who vote for the other can­di­date: this would in­clude the 1.8 mil­lion peo­ple in Ge­or­gia who voted for Obama, as well as the five mil­lion peo­ple in Cal­i­for­nia, the four mil­lion peo­ple in Florida, and the 2.7 mil­lion peo­ple in New York who voted for McCain.

While the Elec­toral Col­lege sys­tem has not been elim­i­nated, it is slowly chang­ing. Two states — Maine and Ne­braska — now pro­vide for a por­tion of their elec­toral votes to be awarded to the can­di­date who gets the most votes in a con­gres­sional district. This fea­ture en­abled Obama to get one elec­toral vote in Ne­braska, even though McCain car­ried the over­all statewide vote.

Sev­eral states have also adopted laws that pro­vide for their elec­toral votes to be awarded to the can­di­date who gets the most pop­u­lar votes na­tion­wide — with a pro­viso that th­ese laws will only take ef­fect when they have been adopted by states con­trol­ling a ma­jor­ity of the elec­toral votes.

Mary­land last year was the first state to adopt this “na­tional pop­u­lar vote” com­pact and sim­i­lar bills have been passed by New Jer­sey, Hawaii and Illi­nois. The same mea­sure has been in­tro­duced in Mas­sachusetts, New York, North Carolina and Rhode Is­land.

A group of Demo­cratic leg­is­la­tors in Ge­or­gia plan to in­tro­duce their own ver­sion of a “pop­u­lar vote” bill in next year’s ses­sion

“This is not a par­ti­san is­sue, this is an is­sue about ex­pand­ing democ­racy,” said Sen. Nan Or­rock (D-At­lanta) at a news con­fer­ence held shortly be­fore the Repub­li­can elec­tors met at the capi­tol.

While nearly 47 per­cent of the state’s vot­ers sup­ported Obama, they “will have no voice, no rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the votes to­day that are cast for Ge­or­gia,” Or­rock said.

“We be­lieve it’s time for a change in this state and time for a change in this coun­try,” said Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Ben­field (D-De­catur), who called the Elec­toral Col­lege “flawed and outdated.”

“I should think this is a non­par­ti­san is­sue, be­cause at some point this state could turn blue and Repub­li­cans would want their votes to count,” Ben­field added. “This is some­thing every­one should be sup­port­ive of.”

It is not likely that the pop­u­lar vote bill will be adopted in Ge­or­gia’s Repub­li­can-con­trolled leg­is­la­ture, but the idea is ob­vi­ously pick­ing up sup­port in other states.

“I think mo­men­tum is grow­ing,” Or­rock said. “It’s not go­ing to hap­pen overnight – change rarely does.”

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