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In messages to the Congress in 1965 and 1966, President Johnson urged adoption of an amendment to the Constitution to reform the electoral college system. The President described several major defects in the system which he said “should be eliminated in order to assure that the people's will shall not be frustrated in the choice of their President and Vice-President.” The President urged in his special message of January 20, 1966, that "elimination of these defects in our Constitution is long overdue. Our concepts of self-government and sound government require it.”
Among the defects to which the President referred was the possibility that the constitutional independence of unpledged electors might be exploited and their votes manipulated in a close election to prevent the election of a major candidate and to throw the election of President into the House of Representatives. He referred to the undemocratic procedure of electing a President in the House, under which each state has one vote regardless of population. The President also called attention to the fact that there exists no provision in law covering the case of death of a candidate before the counting of the electoral votes.
To accomplish the objective of electoral reform, various proposals on the subject have been introduced in Congress. Three of the four basic proposals would retain the system of allocating to each state a number of electoral votes equal to the number of Senators and Representatives to which the state is entitled in Congress. The “unit vote” proposal would write into the Constitution the present practice of awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the candidate who wins the greatest number of popular votes in the state. The “proportional vote” proposal would divide the electoral vote of each state among the candidates in proportion to the division of the popular vote in the state. The “district vote” proposal would divide each state into electoral districts comparable to congressional districts; the
winner of the popular plurality within the district would receive that district's electoral vote, and two additional electoral votes would go to the candidate receiving a plurality of the popular vote in the state. Most of these proposals would eliminate the office of presidential elector.
The fourth basic proposal would abolish the electoral college system altogether and provide for the election of the President on the basis of a direct, nationwide popular vote.
It is the consensus of the Commission that an amendment to the United States Constitution should be adopted to reform the method of electing a President and Vice-President. The amendment should: 1 provide for the election of the President and Vice-President by
direct, nationwide popular vote; 2 require a candidate to obtain at least forty percent of the popular
vote in order to be elected President or Vice-President; 3 provide for a national runoff election between the two top can
didates in the event no candidate receives at least forty percent
of the popular vote; 4 require the President and Vice-President to be voted for jointly; 5 empower Congress to determine the days on which the original
election and the runoff election are to be held, which days shall
be uniform throughout the United States; 6 provide that the places and manner of holding the presidential
election and the inclusion of the names of candidates on the ballot shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof, with the proviso that Congress may at any time by law make
or alter such regulations; 7 require that the voters for President and Vice-President in each
state shall have the qualifications requisite for persons voting therein for Members of Congress, with the proviso that each state may adopt a less restrictive residence requirement for voting for President and Vice-President provided that Congress
may adopt uniform age and residence requirements; and 8 contain appropriate provisions in case of the death of a candi
Direct, nationwide popular vote
The electoral college method of electing a President of the United States is archaic, undemocratic, complex, ambiguous, indirect, and dangerous. Among other things, the present system allows a person to become President with fewer popular votes than his major opponent; grants all of a state's electoral votes to the winner of the most popular votes in the state, thereby cancelling all minority votes cast in the state; makes it possible for presidential electors to vote against the national candidates of their party; awards all of a state's electoral votes to the popular winner in the state regardless of voter turnout in the state; assigns to each state at least three electoral votes regardless of its size; fails to take into account population changes in a state between censuses; allows for the possibility of a President and a Vice-President from different political parties, and employs an unrepresentative system of voting for President in the House of Representatives.
It is claimed that the system gives too much weight to some voters and too little to others; discourages voter turnout in many states; gives excessive power to organized groups in states where the parties are evenly matched, since such groups sometimes are able to swing the entire electoral vote of a state to one candidate or the other; limits campaigns to pivotal states and nominations for the Presidency to persons from large states; places an undue premium on the effects of fraud, accident, and other factors since a slight change in the popular vote may determine who receives a state's entire electoral vote; and allows for possible abuse and frustration of the popular will because state legislatures have the plenary power to establish the method of appointment of electors.
While there may be no perfect method of electing a President, we believe that direct, nationwide popular vote is the best of all possible methods. It offers the most direct and democratic way of electing a President and would more accurately reflect the will of the people than any other system. The vote of every individual in the constituency (including the District of Columbia) would be of equal weight, as it now is in elections for the United States Senate and House of Representatives and for statewide, municipal, county, town, and village offices throughout the United States.
Direct popular vote would eliminate the principal defects in the present system. It would eliminate the unit vote rule or the winnertake-all feature which totally suppresses at an intermediate stage all
1 Our recommendations are applicable to both the President and Vice-President,
whom, we believe, should be voted for as a team, i.e., there should be but one vote for the two officers.
minority votes cast in a state. It would do away with the ever-present possibility of a person being elected President with fewer popular votes than his major opponent, as has happened on a few occasions in American history. It would abolish the office of presidential elector, which is an anachronism and a threat to the smooth functioning of the elective process. It would minimize the effects of accident and fraud in controlling the outcome of an entire election. It would put a premium on voter turnout and encourage increased political activities throughout the country.
We do not consider the objections that have been made to direct popular vote as sufficient to overcome the numerous advantages which attach to such a method.
Perhaps the most important objection that has been voiced to direct election is that it would lead to a proliferation of parties and weaken the American two-party system. The winner-take-all feature of the electoral college system undoubtedly is conducive to the bipartisan pattern by limiting the effectiveness of votes for minorityparty candidates, although there have been times when third parties have played an important, if not decisive, role in presidential elections.
It should be noted that several factors, not the electoral college alone, have worked to produce our two-party system. Authorities who have studied our party system in great depth attribute the dualism to both noninstitutional and institutional factors. There is general agreement that, institutionally, the selection of representatives by plurality vote from single member districts has strongly encouraged and reenforced the two-party structure. Neither this factor nor other contributing factors would be changed by direct election of the President. They would continue to operate to support the two-party system. Moreover, our recommendations do include factors which, we think, would have a substantial tendency to support the twoparty system.
We recommend that a candidate should receive at least 40 percent of the popular vote in order to be elected President. A 40 percent plurality requirement would encourage factions and splinter groups
2 See, e.g., Key, Politics, Parties, & Pressure Groups 205-11 (5th ed. Thomas Y.
Crowell Co. 1964); Schattschneider, Party Government 65-84 (Farrar & Rinehart 1942); Sindler, Political Parties in the United States 49-59 (St. Martin's
Press 1966). 3 The Presidential Election Campaign Fund established by Public Law 89-809
(1966) surély will be a new factor tending to preserve the two-party pattern. Under this law minor parties are entitled to receive no payments unless they polled more than 5,000,000 votes in the preceding presidential election.