Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
The Electoral College is the only college where George W. Bush did really well. He and his cohorts used it to steal two consecutive presidential elections and put the nation through 8 years of political hell.
Now the GOP wants to make the purgatory permanent.
The plan is to convert the historic winner-take-all means of deciding a state's electoral votes into one by which the electoral votes will be decided on the basis of Congressional districts. Since those "rotten borough" districts are ridiculously gerrymandered in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Virginia and Florida, such a plan would virtually guarantee the Republicans a stranglehold on the White House.
Had it been in place in 2008 and 2012, either John McCain would be entering his second term (with Sarah Palin as Vice President) or Mitt Romney would be our new leader. Barack Obama would've been a two-time loser.
The question is: Why is the Electoral College still in existence?
It was invented essentially to guarantee the power of southern slave-owners. At the Constitutional Convention, there was a demand that the presidency be insulated from a direct vote of the people. And the small states wanted some device to protect them from the power of the big ones.
But the essence of the Electoral College was awarding slaveowners a "three-fifths bonus" for their "black property." Though the slaves themselves couldn't vote, their owners added three-fifths of a vote for each corpus they could count.
Thus in 1800, Thomas Jefferson lost to John Adams among actual eligible voters, but won the presidency based on the "votes" of slaves, including his own. Through the Civil War, the bonus helped guarantee that every president or his vice president was a slaveowner. It also guaranteed the slaveowners disproportionate power in the US House, since Congressional districts were weighted to include three-fifths of their slave populations.
It took a Civil War and 620,000 deaths to rid us of that "peculiar institution."
But when slavery was abolished, and the small states stopped yelling at the big ones, the Electoral College was somehow left in tact. It had been used by John Quincy Adams to steal the election of 1824, and would put the guy who came in second into the White House again in 1876, 1888, 2000 and 2004. It has also been remarkably effective at marginalizing third parties.
Now the GOP wants to carve that all in stone. While the 2012 election seemed to cement the party's deepening demographic irrelevance, the follow-up is a perfect formula for giving the Republicans a lock on the White House.
Ohio, for example, voted 51% for Barack Obama and 48% for Mitt Romney. But the gerrymandering of Ohio's congressional districts resulted in its U.S. House of Representatives delegation to be 12 Republicans versus 4 Democrats. Despite a majority vote count for the president, the state Senate is 23 Republicans versus 10 Democrats. The Ohio House is 61 GOP versus 38 Dems.
So with a Republican governor (selected in 2010 with a very dubious vote count -- the exit polls indicated he lost) and a GOP-dominated state Supreme Court based on illegal money laundering from the Chamber of Commerce, a state that voted a majority for Obama is a hard-core Republican stronghold. Under the new plan, it would have gone to the GOP presidential candidates in both 2008 and 2012, despite majority votes for the Democratic presidential candidate.
Under the Republican plan, backed by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, Obama's majority vote would have garnered him six electoral votes to Mitt Romney's twelve. Although failing to win the popular vote, Romney would have gotten two-thirds of the electoral delegation vote.
Similar situations abide in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida and elsewhere across the union. Should the GOP succeed in basing Electoral College votes on gerrymandered Congressional or state legislature districts, the Democrats can forget about any demographic, ideological, generational or other advantage they might think they have. America will be every bit the Republican stronghold that "Democratic" Ohio is today.
The solution is simple: Abolish the Electoral College. There is simply no excuse for its continued existence. This latest maneuver would enshrine our system of proportional misrepresentation all the way to the White House.
It will take a Constitutional Amendment, and a hell of a lot of work, to abolish this corrupt anachronism. But unless we want to see an endless succession of George W. Bushes in the White House, something better be done -- and quick.
Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman have co-authored six books on election protection. Their latest, "Corporate Vote Theft & the Future of American Democracy," will be issued later this month with an analysis of the 2012 election.