Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Electoral College Reform

Article 2, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution established the Electoral College as the formal body which elects the President of the United States. The result of a compromise designed to win the votes of the states in the South, it has long been the target of criticism. The 12th Amendment effective in 1804 remains the only successful effort at altering the Electoral College. Since then, approximately 595 resolutions have been introduced proposing Electoral College reform. There have been more proposed constitutional amendments regarding Electoral College reform than on any other subject. See the CRS Report The Electoral College: An Overview and Analysis of Reform Proposals. In the current Congress, Rep Jackson, Jesse L., Jr. has proposed an amendment, H. J. Res. 36, to abolish the Electoral College and provide for the direct election of the President and Vice President by the popular vote.

Recent news stories show efforts by both Republicans and Democrats to alter how we elect the President and Vice President. Republican leaders in Pennsylvania and Nebraska are considering plans to change how their states allocate Electoral College votes. Both moves could have a significant impact on the 2012 Presidential election. Pennsylvania’s plan would replace the state’s current winner take all system with one that allocates electoral votes by Congressional district. Nebraska Republicans want to go in the opposite direction and replace the state’s current proportional allocation of electoral votes with a winner take all system. Democrats have introduced in the New York State Senate and Assembly bills(S.4208 and A.00489) which would add New York as a signatory to the Nationwide Popular Vote, an effort to do away with the Electoral College.

The Brooklyn Law School Library has a number of books on the topic. Brian L. Fife’s recent book Reforming the Electoral Process in America: Toward More Democracy in the 21st Century explores the history and current status of electoral reform in the United States and addresses electoral law in the states and federalism. There is discussion of the constitutional purpose of the Electoral College and the problematic role of money in presidential and congressional elections in the US. He proposes his own slate of reform initiatives, including national same-day voter registration, reconsideration of felons' voting rights, regional primaries, and the abolition of the Electoral College.

Another book, Electoral College Reform: Challenges and Possibilities by Gary Bugh, addresses the fact that the US has not updated the Electoral College system since ratification of the Twelfth Amendment, despite public opinion polls showing a majority of Americans are in favor of changing or outright abolishing it. The book brings together examining all aspects of this crucial debate, including the reasons for reform, the issues surrounding a constitutional amendment, the effect of the Electoral College on political campaigns and the possibilities for extra-constitutional avenues to change. .

Taming the Electoral College by Robert W. Bennett, a former Visiting Professor of Law at BLS, has these chapters: A critical short history of the electoral college -- Evaluating the electoral college: the nationwide popular vote alternative -- Contingent procedure for selection of the President by the House of Representatives -- Miscellaneous pitfalls in the electoral college process -- Popular election of the President without a constitutional amendment.

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