Page images


law. It is, therefore, the law that the States may determine the method of choosing the electors. The legis lature might itself choose the electors, or authorize the governor to appoint them, or cause them to be selected in any manner it may deem best, by districts, by a general ticket, by a limited or by a universal suffrage. The States may also determine the qualification of the electors, except the qualification named in the Constitution, that they "shall hold no office of profit or trust under the United States." It is a party custom that has brought us to the uniform system of electing on a general ticket. To make sure of uniformity the States would have to adopt a constitutional amendment. The Michigan law provided for choosing the Congressional electors by Congressional districts, and the Senatorial electors by districts created for that purpose. The law was accompanied by an apportionment act (a gerrymander), and thus the two laws together brought the electoral vote of the State under the influence of the "gerrymander." President Harrison felt that this would bring the three great departments of the Government within the grasp of the gerrymander and would promote "disgraceful partisan jugglery" in the choice of the President, and he called attention to the necessity of reform in his message of December 9, 1891.*

In recent years much dissatisfaction has arisen with the Electoral College, and there is considerable demand for its abolition. Since it has been virtually superseded in party practice it is looked upon as a cumbersome piece of machinery which Electing the might as well be abandoned. Three plans

Proposed Changes in Methods of


the electors should be elected by a single district, regardless of the rights of the other districts. In the decision rendered by Chief Justice Fuller, a careful consideration was made of the various methods used by the several States at different times previous to the decision. See United States Supreme Court Reports, 146. Constitution, Art. I., Sec. I. Richardson's Presidents' Messages, vol. ix., p. 208.

have been proposed in substitution, each of which, it is claimed, is fairer, more direct, and more democratic:

1. The District Plan.-This is the "Michigan Plan," to which we have referred. It involves the choice of an The District elector for each Congressional district and two for each State at large.


This would be very much like electing the President by the two Houses of Congress, except that the electors would be chosen especially and only for the purpose of choosing the President, while the members of Congress are chosen for other purposes.

Plan of


2. The allotment of electoral votes in each State to the candidates in proportion to the popular vote received by each,—the proportion to be determined by the Proportional proper returning board. Let the presidential Represen- election be held on the same day in all the States; let the States be allotted electors as they now are, and in ascertaining the result let each candidate voted for be entitled to have counted in his favor a number of electoral votes corresponding to the number of popular votes received by him. This plan would not impair the rights and powers now possessed by the States in the election of the President; nor would it involve election by a majority or plurality of all the popular vote cast in the United States. This would not disturb the "compromises of the Constitution" by swamping the small States and reducing them to insignificance, for each State would still be awarded three electoral votes, two for its Senators and one for its Representative, regardless of its number of inhabitants. It would appear useless under this plan to vote for electors, for a State election board could allot the vote of the State to the respective candidates according to mathematical proportion.' This, like the District Plan, involves the retention of the See Prof. J. R. Commons's Proportional Representation" for an


[ocr errors]

Electoral College but it provides also for more accurate proportional representation.

Plan for

Direct Popular


3. The abandonment of the Electoral scheme entirely, by providing for the choice of the President by direct popular vote. If the Hughes majorities from the States carried by the Republicans footed up more than the Wilson majorities from the Democratic States, Mr. Hughes would be declared elected. For electoral purposes under this plan the relation of the States to the Federal Government would be the same as that of the counties to a State. Any vote anywhere would count the same in the aggregate, and, therefore, in determining the result. This would involve an abandonment of an election by States, and would consider the country for the purpose of the presidential election as a consolidated nation, to be governed by the simple numerical majority.

A few words as to proposed changes.

Why a Change is


Under the present system the party electors in a State are usually all lost or won together.' It is senseless to scratch an elector for personal reasons, for if that were generally done by the party voters it would result merely in losing an electoral vote in the State for the candidate of the voters' choice. The first two plans proposed, while retaining the Electoral College, would allow the minority some representation and make the College more representative of the popular vote. For illustration, in 1884, the outcome of a hotly


elaboration of this principle. Also John G. Carlisle in the Forum, No. 24, p. 651, Remedy for Dangerous Defects in Election of the President." 1 When a State is carried by a very close vote, it sometimes happens that one or two electors of the defeated party may win. Under the Australian system of voting, many voters have been known to stamp merely the first elector on their party list under the mistaken supposition that by so doing they were voting for the whole list. In this way, and sometimes for personal reasons, some electors receive more votes than others. The reasonable expectation is that they should all run together.

contested Presidential election depended upon the outcome in the State of New York. Whichever party carried that State would win. About 1,125,000 votes were cast in the State. The Democratic candidate, Mr. Cleveland, received, say, 563,000 votes, while the Republican candidate, Mr. Blaine, received 562,000 votes. Mr. Cleveland received only about one thousand plurality in the State, but he secured all of the thirty-six electoral votes from New York, while Mr. Blaine received none. The 562,000 Republican votes went for nothing. They could not go to help out the party cause in other parts of the Union. If the thirty-six New York electors could have been divided between the parties somewhat in proportion to the popular vote, the Democrats could have elected not more than nineteen electors, while the Republicans would have chosen at least seventeen. Then the 562,000 minority votes would have had some voice and representation in the Electoral College. Either the Proportional or the District plan would break up the solidarity of the State. The present plan, by which the State may throw its whole weight into one side of the scale, magnifies the importance of the State as such. It provides for election by States. It is in harmony with the original federal idea of the Constitution that the States should be the agencies in the election of the President, though on a proportional basis. This is clearly shown in the mode provided in the eventual election of the President when the election is thrown into the House, where each State delegation casts one vote. The States, especially the large ones, will hardly give up their preponderant importance in the present plan of electing the President. But experience has shown that the present plan concentrates the struggle in the doubtful States, especially in the large doubtful States, for the party carrying these will carry the election; while in the States safely assured to either party the campaign is listless and lifeless and without instruc

tion. If the forces of boodle and corruption have but to carry a few States in order to win they are encouraged in their work, for, in order to win, they have but to concentrate their energies. In this way the political electorate of New York and Indiana have especially suffered from pollution and corruption during past presidential campaigns. If the proportional plan of election were substituted every vote would count in every State. The Republicans would be encouraged to make a campaign in Texas in the hope of securing a few electors, and the Democrats would make a similar effort in Iowa or Vermont, and men of all parties would be directly interested throughout the Union in preserving the purity and safety of the ballot everywhere.

Plan. The


There is one important if not decisive objection to the District Plan. That is, it would lead to still greater temptation to the party managers within the Objection to several States to gerrymander the electoral dis- the District tricts.' If the evils of the party gerrymander can be obviated and fair proportional representation provided for within all the States, the District Plan of electing the President would seem to be preferable to the present one. It would be as just, more democratic, and quite as expedient; and the change would probably be more feasible than that of direct election by the people in which the decision would depend upon the aggregate majorities from the various States.

A President has frequently been elected who has not received a majority of the popular vote.'

A President

may be Elected in Spite of an Adverse Popular Majority.

1 See reference to President Harrison's message, p. 125. In 1824, Jackson had 152,901 votes while Adams received only 114,000. In the College, Adams had 84 and Jackson 99. The combined vote of the candidates opposed to Adams was 247,000.

a majority nor a plurality of the popular vote.

Thus Adams received neither

His election by the House,

« PreviousContinue »