Electoral votes crucial to 2000 presidential race

by Erin Ghere

Most students learned about the Electoral College in grade school and have never needed to know what it was since then.
But for the first time in more than 100 years, the Electoral College might make a difference in presidential politics.
If the race between Democratic Vice President Al Gore and Republican Texas Gov. George W. Bush is as close as some experts predict, it is possible the popular vote could elect one man, while the Electoral College elects another.
The college was stipulated in the U.S. Constitution to elect the president and vice president. Each state has as many electoral votes as it does U.S. senators and representatives.
But the election of 1800 tossed things around a bit and resulted in the 12th Amendment which restructured the electoral college.
Prior to the 12th Amendment, each elector voted for two candidates for the presidency. The candidate drawing the most electoral votes became the president, and the one with the second-highest number was the vice president.
The 12th Amendment reflected the rise of political parties and required electors to vote separately for a president and vice president. This change allowed presidential candidates to choose running mates for the vice presidency, as they do today.
Currently, all but two states in the country have winner-take-all systems, said University political science professor Steve Smith. In these 48 states, whoever gets the most popular votes automatically wins the state’s electoral votes.
To win the election, a candidate must win a majority of the electoral votes — currently 270 out of 538 electors.
But, because of the way popular votes are distributed, it is possible to win a majority of states but not a majority of electoral votes.
For instance, if a Democratic candidate wins five states — Idaho, North Carolina, West Virginia, Oklahoma and New Jersey — but a Republican candidate wins only three — Texas, California and Florida — the Republican has still won. This is because the five “Democratic” states only total 46 electoral votes, while the three “Republican” states total 111 electoral votes.
It all depends on distribution of electoral votes, Smith explained.
Minnesota holds only 10 of those votes, which explains why Gore and Bush have each only stopped in the state once during the final stint ofthe election.
If no candidate gets a majority of the electoral votes, the House of Representatives elects the president and the Senate chooses the vice president.
It is a system condemned by many critics who say it has the potential for severe flaws.
One of those flaws could arise if one candidate wins the popular vote and another wins the electoral vote — which could happen today but has not happened since 1888.
But while this type of divided presidency is possible, it is very unlikely since modern day tickets have united president-vice president candidates.
Those wishing to reform the system have called for strictly popular vote elections, while abolishing the electoral college. But defenders say the system has worked for more than 200 years and will continue to do so.
Smith said although the 2000 election has the possibility of causing this problem, it most likely won’t happen.
He said if anything notable happens, it will be similar to the 1980 election where Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter. Reagan won by a very small margin in the popular vote, but by a landslide in the electoral college.

Erin Ghere covers elections and welcomes comments at [email protected]