In her letter of April 29, Ruth Medley argues that we should abolish the Electoral College because of advances in modern communications and because Richard Nixon became president without winning a majority of the vote. I would like to take issue with both of these views.
First, the purpose of the Electoral College is not to allow time to count votes; it is one of the checks against what Madison termed the "tyranny of the majority," and a crucial part of our republican form of government.If the founders had meant for the Electoral College to be solely a vote-counting organization, that is what it would have been - not a winner-take-all system. For those who might be concerned that a president be elected through the Electoral College without winning the popular vote, it has not happened since 1888 - more than 100 years ago.
The Electoral College also protects against corrupt voting. As the system stands now - winner-take-all in each state - the only places where it might be worth the risk of falsifying votes or otherwise cheating is in states such as California or New York that have lots of Electoral College votes.
If the system were changed and the president were elected simply according to popular vote, a corrupt vote in Maine (currently has only three EC votes) would help a candidate win as much as a corrupt vote in California (currently has over 50 EC votes).
Second, in his first election victory, Nixon beat Hubert Humphrey in the popular vote 43.4 percent to 42.7 percent. Granted, this is not a majority, but it was a plurality. Should we not have let the person who received the most votes win merely because it was not a majority and was therefore "unfair"?
Should we switch to a weak and unstable parliamentary-type of government where giving in to minority parties is the only way to get a majority, just to be fair?
Other presidents who won this century without a majority, but with a plurality, of the popular vote, include Wilson in 1912 and 1916; Truman in 1948; and Kennedy in 1960, who won with 49.7 percent of the popular vote compared with Nixon's 49.5 percent. Bill Clinton was also elected with only 43 percent of the popular vote.
One of the main reasons why neither Nixon in 1968 nor Clinton in 1992 came close to winning a majority is that there were major third-party candidates running those years.
The Electoral College is a vital institution that upholds our republican system and protects against tyranny and corruption; it is crucial that we preserve it.