Pignanelli: Anatomy experts believe the appendix was once a vital organ in the distant past of our species, but now offers no benefit to humankind. When inflamed (appendicitis), the appendix fatally threatens the body and is removed. The Electoral College is the infected appendix of the American political system. It must be amputated and replaced with a nationwide popular election. (Alright, comparing the College to a diseased organ is overreaching, but so is everything this campaign season).

The genius of the Constitution is astounding, but the original rational behind the Electoral College is now irrelevant. Moreover, the current system of "winner takes all" in each state is warping the 2004 elections. The country is divided by candidates and the media into blue and red states, depending on the polls. Only the 15 states evenly split between John Kerry and George Bush are receiving any attention. The campaigns have written off or taking for granted the remaining 35 states. This is a terrible but established trend; in 1976 at least 40 states were competitive. Because only a small number of voters in swing states will determine the entire outcome, the election process is truly bizarre. California, Texas and New York are ignored while millions are spent to influence small populations of swing states (i.e. white Catholics in Ohio). Targeting so many resources at tiny demographic slices is destructive to the national fabric.

Political academics dust off the usual arguments to defend the Electoral College, but 18th Century logic dissolves when confronted by 21st Century realities. The favorite is the existing system benefits smaller states - the Senate delegates allocated to them add influence and compel greater attention from candidates. A nice theory, but when did a presidential contender last visit Utah to truly persuade local voters, and not to speak at some convention or mumble encouraging words to media while the campaign plane is refueled? Historians suggest it was Harry Truman's whistle stop tour in 1948. The premise is further eroded under modern analysis. According to Electoral College Primer 2000, Utah is one of the six states with the least voting power in national elections. Another favorite is the College preserves federalism in government. Yet, the two other branches are so federalist in structure that an infusion of nationalism in the executive Branch is needed to represent the concepts and ideas that transcend state boundaries. Furthermore, a successful national candidate will construct broad alliance of many categories of Americans, not just rely on a coalition of the party base with a faction of independents.

Choosing the President by a plurality of the national popular vote will provide sense to American politics. Utahns deserve the same consideration from presidential aspirants as Florida retirees and Seattle techies.

Webb: Speaking of the Electoral College in Federalist No. 68, Alexander Hamilton said, ". . . that if the manner of it be not perfect, it is at least excellent."

I absolutely agree. It may not be perfect, but it is excellent. It was a compromise, like many compromises embodied in the

Constitution. But far from being archaic and unnecessary, the Electoral College protects the rights of minorities, enhances the status of states, defends against further erosion of federalism, and helps ensure stability and reason in elections and in government.

The Founding Fathers did not create the Electoral College frivolously. James Madison, in Federalist No. 39, brilliantly outlines

the differences between a national government and a federal government and how the Constitution deftly balances elements of each. The Electoral College is one of the bulwarks of that carefully-created balance.

The Electoral College forces candidates to take into consideration the interests of states, including small states. Instead of simply pandering to large demographic voting blocs in the mass media markets, candidates must campaign state-by-state, getting to know state and local leaders, state and local priorities.

A candidate has to say, "How can I win a majority vote in Ohio? How can I win in Florida?" That elevates the power and importance of states. It makes states meaningful. A sitting president looking toward re-election has to think, "How can I keep individual states and their leaders happy?

In the Constitution they drafted, the Founders ensured that states matter, that state leaders and priorities would be addressed by presidential candidates.

It's true that states that are clearly supportive of one candidate or another don't receive as much attention in presidential elections as battleground states. But it's not because those states aren't important. The "safe" states have essentially already made their choice. In Utah, most voters have concluded that President Bush reflects our priorities and values, that he cares about Utah and will represent us well. He doesn't have to campaign here, run TV ads, to further convince us.

But look at the attention being received by Nevada and New Mexico. If the president were popularly elected, these small states would be ignored. The candidates wouldn't care about states. They would care about big demographic groups, easily reached by mass media, in New York, Los Angeles and the other gigantic metro areas.

Besides wanting the president to be elected by the people, but through their respective states, the Founders also wanted major decisions about government filtered through succeeding layers of deliberation and refinement. They feared the passions of the moment, "tumult and disorder," "extraordinary or violent movements," in Hamilton's words.

They feared that a candidate with "talents for low intrigue and little arts of popularity," could seize upon the passions of the masses and be elected, trampling the rights of the minority. The Electoral College provides a more deliberative elective process, less likely to be exploited by a charismatic rascal.

In practical reality, the Electoral College has bolstered the two-party system by giving third parties little chance of success.

Eliminating it, said columnist George F. Will, "would be an incentive for minor parties to splinter the electorate, producing muddy mandates rendered in a raspy and uncertain national voice."

It boils down to this: Do we care about states? Do we care about federalism? Do we want to protect against the "tyranny of the majority?"

Joseph Ellis, professor of history at Mount Holyoke College, said the Electoral College may be a dinosaur, but it's far better than any alternative. "Once again," he said, "the founders were wiser than they knew."


Republican LaVarr Webb was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. He now is a political consultant and lobbyist. E-mail: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. A recent candidate for Salt Lake mayor, Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as House Minority Leader. E-mail: frankp@xmission.com.