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Today the Election Is Really Decided | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Today the Election Is Really Decided

Barack Obama will on Monday win election to his second presidential term by 62 percent to 38 percent.

That’s a dramatically higher margin than he obtained with his 4.8 million popular-vote victory November 6. While there’s no question Obama earned a mandate when he beat Mitt Romney 51-47 in the popular-vote count, that's nowhere near the 2-1 win he will get when the 538 members of the Electoral College gather in state capitals to vote Monday.

It is vital to recognize—as unfortunate as the reality may be—that the Electoral College, not the American electorate, is the final determiner of who becomes president.

It is, as well, vital to realize that the Electoral College warps and sometimes denies the democratic will of the people—and that the Electoral College, itself, can be gamed by schemes such as the current Republican proposals to alter the ways in which states distribute the votes.

The Electoral College cannot be reformed.

It has to be opposed—and, ultimately, eliminated—by Americans who believe in democracy.

Anyone who doubts this need only consult the results of the 2000 election, when Democrat Al Gore won a solid popular-vote victory—540,000 ballots—over Republican George Bush. It is often suggested that the US Supreme Court made Bush president when it shut down the recount in the contested state of Florida. But once the court had engineered the assignment of Florida’s electoral votes to Bush, it was the Electoral College that formally canceled out the popular will of the people and gave the presidency to the loser of the election.

In fact, a number of candidates who were defeated at the ballot box assumed the US presidency because the Electoral College wiped away actual election results. In recent years, in addition to Gore versus Bush, there have been several instances where candidates who fell well short of a majority of the popular vote—John Kennedy in 1960, Richard Nixon in 1968, Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996—assumed the presidency with overwhelming Electoral College “wins.”

Plenty of arguments are constructed for maintaining the Electoral College. Often they reflect the results of the moment. Many Democrats will delight in Obama’s likely 332 votes, as opposed to Romney’s mere 206. As the fiscal cliff wrangling drags on, Obama’s backers will enjoy this fresh reminder of the president’s substantial win.

Obama did win by a lot.

But not by as much as the Electoral College will suggest. And that’s what ought to concern all of us.

If America aspires to be a democracy, no one should be happy with the fact that a centuries-old political structure — established when elites fretted that democracy might threaten the institution of slavery — will choose a president.

It’s time to do away with the Electoral College and put the voters in charge of choosing presidents, as they are in charge of choosing members of the US House and Senate, governors, legislators, mayors and school board members. We almost made the change in the late 1960s, after Nixon secured the presidency with just 43 percent of the vote.

But America should not wait for the next contested or inconclusive election to make the move. A number of states have endorsed the National Popular Vote initiative of the reform group FairVote, which has the potential to build popular support for amending the Constitution to do away with the Electoral College.

Many of the electors will choose Obama Monday are state legislators. When they are done picking the president, they should endorse National Popular Vote initiative and other moves to make to establish genuine electoral democracy.

Check out Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel on why it's time to end the electoral college.

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