Democracy’s Linchpin

Jul 062004
Authors: Joe Marshall

The signs are all there: 2004 will be the most hotly contested

presidential election in U.S. history.

After all the money is spent, all the characters are smeared,

all the polls are closed and all the votes are counted, Americans

may likely witness the most stupefying product producible in an


A tie vote.


The Electoral College, which by design gives a slight

statistical advantage to rural states, breaks the tie in favor of

George Bush. This is the point, however, where a far more serious

conflict rises to the surface: Will the losing majority of American

people again accept the outcome as legitimate?

What happens if they don’t?

What will happen if Kerry wins in the same fashion?

The possibility of this particular technicality deciding the

outcome of two consecutive elections is proof of the Electoral

College’s obsolescence in American politics. Originally crafted by

the framers without consideration of political parties, the rise of

partisan politics in the early years of the United States

necessitated the creation of an impromptu crutch to stabilize the

Electoral College, also known as the 12th Amendment.

In the years following the Civil War and after a few close

electoral votes, the Republicans in control of Congress (a faction

that would today be identified as liberal) decided to capitalize on

the support they enjoyed from populist farmers and other rural

constituents. Between 1889 and 1890, Congress granted statehood to

Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota and


Technically these states lacked the minimum populations required

for statehood, but Republican control of Congress was so firm that

new laws altering the requirements for statehood were easily

ratified. Rural states, by virtue of their overrepresentation in

the Senate, now had an advantage in the Electoral College.

Over the next century there wasn’t an election close enough to

be swayed by the advantage given to small states (1960 was close

but not affected), and while everyone knew the election result of

2000 was a possibility, everyone just hoped it would never


Then it happened in 2000, and people just hoped it wouldn’t

happen again. Now its possible occurrence during a time of

unprecedented ideological division could pose a rather serious

threat to the American conception of freedom.

Some form of this scenario could easily be played out in the

months to come. The latest Gallup poll showed both tickets locked

in a statistical dead heat, as they have been since the beginning

of the year. Barring the development of a major internal scandal,

this race will be a dead heat up until election day, regardless of

what happens in Iraq, acts of terrorism or minor bump in the


John Kerry’s ability to campaign in stride with an incumbent

president is indicative of his sprawling support base. In terms of

financing, Kerry is doing the impossible.

Riding high on a flood of liberal opposition to Bush, Kerry has

raised more campaign money than any other presidential challenger

in history and more than any other campaign except Bush/Cheney ’04,

according to MSNBC. Furthermore, Kerry is currently outpacing Bush

and could easily pull ahead by summer’s end.

Kerry has raised the vast majority of his funding from online

donations composed of hundreds of thousands of individual

contributions totaling less than $1,000 each. This is the real

indicator of how deep and divided the American political landscape

has become; middle- and working-class people are donating whatever

they can afford. The token donation has become a simple avenue for


The addition of John Edwards to the Kerry ticket only serves to

tip the scales more toward the middle. While he will provide Kerry

with some badly needed congeniality, his role in the election will

likely be geared toward the tastes of the undecided woman voter.

Once again this race could easily boil down to a few counties in

one state.

So the race could again be decided by a technicality, and the

will of the majority may be usurped in favor of a corrupted and

archaic system of voting. The Electoral College, even though it was

created as protection by the forward-thinking Framers, just may be

our Constitution’s single tragic flaw.

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