- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2000

Last of three articles

No one can say for sure who will be elected our next president on Nov. 7. But of one thing we can be relatively sure: The majority of Americans will have rejected the man who is sworn in as our president next January.

How is that possible? Are you talking about the Electoral College, which can skew the system by confirming someone who won the state tallies but lost the popular vote?

No, not really. While that can happen anytime, including this election, it is not common. That distortion of democracy came into play only twice in our history of 53 presidential elections since 1789. It happened in 1876 when Rutherford B. Hayes was named president instead of the real victor, Samuel Tilden, then again in 1888 when popular-vote-loser Benjamin Harrison denied Grover Cleveland the White House.

But the true threat to democracy is a more common situation in which our system fails us miserably, one that must be reformed if we are to ever boast that we are a true democracy.

In what way is there a distortion of the people's will? Simply when the accumulated tally of the small party candidates or the vote of just one outstanding person is large enough to elect a majority party candidate with less than 50 percent of the votes. That means the man who will occupy the Oval Office did not receive a majority and therefore takes power without the true approval of the people.

In no other truly democratic nation in the world is this possible. Unfortunately, only in America.

Is this again, like the Electoral College anomaly, a rare 19th century occurrence? Hardly. Not only has it happened 11 times in our history, but is has dominated the last two elections and threatens to upset the democratic result of next Tuesday's contest as well.

When Mr. Perot gained almost 19 percent of the vote in 1992, it pushed Mr. Clinton's plurality down to 43 percent, making him still another president rejected by most of the people. George Bush, the incumbent, received only 38 percent, losing by 5 percent. But who knows what would have happened had there been a second election, a runoff contest between the top two vote-getters, Messrs. Bush and Clinton a system that is common in the rest of the Western world?

In the 1996 election, we once again elected a minority president, Bill Clinton, with 49 percent of the vote, while Ross Perot received 8 percent. This election, Ralph Nader may well force the nation to name another president with less than a majority.

The third-, fourth-, fifth-, ad infinitum-smaller party candidates (there are 15 in this presidential election) are insulted as "spoilers" who twist the presidential election one way or another. That charge is merely another distortion meant to throw the blame on them instead of where it belongs on our undemocratic system of electing presidents. We should encourage smaller parties outside the two institutionalized ones to participate. One, like the new Republican Party of 1856, pushed out the Whigs and four years later elected Lincoln, providing the nation with fresh, idealistic blood.

But it can't happen here under the present rules.

The answer to this dilemma is quite simple. We have to imitate the Europeans, where the majority rules. In the case of parliamentary elections, a coalition is often formed to make up such a majority. In those nations with strong presidencies, such as France, and even the new democracy, Russia, everyone who wants to can run for president. In France's most recent election, eight men ran for president, but no one received 50 percent of the vote. A runoff on the top two then made the selection approved by a majority final.

Not only does our constricted system often elect someone rejected by most of us, but it discourages citizens from voting their conscience whether for Teddy Roosevelt in 1912 or Robert La Follette in 1924, John Anderson in 1980, Ross Perot in 1992, or even Ralph Nader in 2000. Some people fear their vote for third-party candidates might help them elect someone they don't favor, making them "spoilers."

(The present system fails at the state level as well. Former Gov. Lowell Weicker of Connecticut was rejected by 61 percent of the voters. Present Minnesota Gov. Jessie Ventura failed to get the support of 63 percent of the state's electorate.)

The answer to this antidemocratic mayhem is a constitutional amendment, number XXVII, which first eliminates the Electoral College as a necessary step. But then, most important, it requires that all elected officials in the United States, from city councilman to the president, must receive a majority of the vote before they can take office.

This will of the require a runoff. In the case of the presidency, it should take place between the two top vote-getters four weeks after the initial vote on the traditional Election Day.

Will it ever happen?

Only God knows. But until that day, we can rest assured that more times than we want to think about, a majority of the American voters will have rejected the man sworn in as their new president.

Martin L. Gross is the author of three New York Times best sellers on the federal government. His latest is "Government Racket 2000: All New Washington Waste From A to Z," an original paperback published by Harper Collins.[p]

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