Nov. 6, 2012 — Ah, yes, today is Election Day, and we’re all going to cast our vote for president. Good enough. While the history of the people electing their leaders may extend all the way back to the ancient Greeks, our presidential elections have a distinctly American flavor that raises at least a few curious ponderings.
OK. Let’s get started. According to the Library of Congress, the Founding Fathers probably did not envision the development of political parties, apparently believing instead that the “obvious and unanimous” candidate for the office would rise from the people — just the way our first president George Washington had.
The library notes probably for this reason the Constitution provides no mechanism for the nomination of presidential candidates or any mention of political parties. I don’t know about you, but somehow I can’t imagine an “obvious and unanimous” candidate rising these days no matter how hard I try.
And what about that quirky Electoral College business? Why an ultraconservative friend of mine just last week complained bitterly about that institution, arguing instead for the election of the president by a nationwide popular vote. The people should decide, he protested, not some bunch of electors. Now, without raising the pesky question of challenging the wisdom and infallible original intent of the Founding Fathers (as my friend frequently argues), only four candidates in 44 presidential elections won the popular vote but then lost in the Electoral College.
Andrew Jackson won the popular vote but lost to John Quincy Adams in 1824, Samuel J. Tilden won the popular vote but lost to Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, Grover Cleveland won the popular vote but lost to Benjamin Harrison in 1888 and — please don’t squeeze your tea bags too tightly, old friend — Al Gore won the popular vote but lost to George W. Bush in 2000. I mean, how could any right-minded conservative possibly prefer Gore to Bush? And who could forget how Bill Clinton was elected in 1992 even though he didn’t win a majority of the popular vote in a three-way race?
If that’s not enough, here’s another argument buster from the Founding Fathers. The library reports the process of state voters electing members of the electoral college who then cast ballots for the president was designed so “intrigue, combination and corruption would be effectually shut out, and a free and pure election of the president of the United States made perpetual,” according to the records of the Federal Convention of 1787.
And here’s still another mindbender. Until 1804 the electors who cast their ballots did not make the distinction between candidates for president and vice president. They each cast two votes, and the candidate receiving the most votes was elected president and the runner up became the vice president. Some have called this a “flaw” in the original Constitution. This flaw came to roost in 1800 when Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr each received 73 electoral votes. The House of Representatives decided the election, but it took 36 votes to finally break the tie and elect Jefferson. That conflict led to the passage of the 12th Amendment to the Constitution in which electors must distinguish their votes for president and vice president. The 12th Amendment also puts the House in a position of breaking a tie for president and the Senate in the position of breaking a tie for vice president. So, it’s possible a president and a vice president from different parties could be elected. Can’t happen here, you say? In fact, that’s exactly what happened in 1796 when Federalist John Adams became the second president and Republican Thomas Jefferson became the second vice president. Please — don’t think about a Romney/Biden administration too hard or an Obama/Ryan one either. Yikes-o-mighty, how that makes my head hurt!
And while I’m at it, let me set the record straight regarding a misreported “presidential election fact” seen in print and wafting lamely across the airwaves in Lassen County these days. While it’s true John F. Kennedy's margin of victory over Richard Nixon in 1960 was less than one vote per precinct, one more vote for Nixon in each precinct in the country would have had no effect on the election’s result. Kennedy would still be the winner.
But don’t lose hope in our complicated system just yet. The library writes, “Americans will continue to grapple with the primary and electoral system. The beauty of our democracy is that citizens have the power to change the election process in the years to come.”
Oh, boy. Now with those ever-encouraging words, let me say Happy Election Day, everybody. Now go cast your vote!
|< Prev||Next >|