- The Washington Times - Monday, November 20, 2000

It's hard to imagine that the hand-to-hand, internecine legal war that is being fought out in Florida could get any worse, but the situation would be multiplied 50-fold if we elected our presidents by popular vote.

Instead of multiple lawsuits restricted to a single battleground state whose pivotal 25 electoral votes will decide who will be our next president, we could have voter lawsuits all over the country.

As this is being written, Al Gore leads in the popular vote by 230,000 votes, though thousands of absentee ballots remain to be counted. If the election were determined solely on the total national vote count, lawyers would be converging on state capitals from coast to coast with petitions for investigations, recounts, the dismissal of challenged ballots and the addition of uncounted ballots.

Outside of Florida, where he trails by 300 votes, Mr. Gore has narrow leads in a number of states, including Wisconsin, Iowa, New Mexico and Oregon. In some, there have been reports of missing ballot boxes showing up in warehouses, unopened envelopes filled with uncounted ballots, homeless people given cigarettes if they voted for Mr. Gore, and voters casting their votes multiple times on behalf of Mr. Gore.

Hundreds of Wisconsin college students boasted that they voted repeatedly. I have received numerous e-mail messages from voters around the country complaining that no one at the voting places asked them for identification. In one case, a California voter told me she was listed in the voter registration rolls three times. The rule in some states seems to be to vote early and often.

It is unlikely George W. Bush will challenge these close states. The deadline for such challenges has passed in most of them. Still, it is conceivable that if Mr. Bush lost Florida's 25 electoral votes, he could get more than the 270 he needs to win by overturning the results in Iowa (seven electoral votes), Wisconsin (11) and Oregon (seven).

But what if the outcome of the election hinged on the popular vote alone? It is easy to see how a candidate could find opportunities for vote-hunting in many states where there were spoiled ballots that were counted, multiple voting, or other circumstances and other anomalies that we have always had in elections. Emotions run high during elections, and people can do illegal and irrational things to win them.

Under those circumstances, the idea of challenging and picking up 1,000 votes here, 10,000 votes there in order to win the election is not so far-fetched. The only game under the popular vote system would be to mount challenges in as many states as possible in order to question every error and every questionable county return.

If the outcome pivoted on, say, finding 100,000 or 200,000 more votes from anywhere in the country, there would be enormous pressure to find additional votes you know how that could work in the big populous states where one party exerts firm political control in the precincts. Mysteriously missing ballot boxes or absentee ballots could suddenly turn up to swing the election one way or the other.

The more mischief-proof mathematical equations arising out of the Electoral College vote system created by the Founding Fathers work to contain such situations in this year's case, to a single state, or at most to a handful of disputed states.

Fearing the uncontrolled passions of "the mob," the Founding Fathers established a constitutional hurdle between the popular vote and the election of the president. Under our federalist system, the voters do not vote directly for president. They vote to decide how their state will vote.

Next month, 538 electors each state has as many electors as it has members of Congress will officially elect the next president when they cast their vote in their respective state capitals on Dec. 18. Their votes will be read before a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6 by the president of the Senate, Al Gore.

So-called faithless electors who vote for someone other than the winner of their state are rare. Since the founding of our country, 99 percent of them (all chosen by the winning candidate's party) have followed the wishes of their states.

There is another important reason why the electoral system has served our country well for more than two centuries. It has served to protect the smaller states from the tyranny of the larger, more populated states. Thus, while Mr. Gore had megastates such as New York, California and Pennsylvania in his hip pocket, the election to a large degree hinged on who would carry smaller states, where the candidates spent more time campaigning than they expected to.

Under the popular vote system, the candidates would have spent most of their time and money pandering to the biggest states, whose inhabitants tend to be liberal. And the smaller, less populated, often more-conservative states would lose the pivotal political leverage they have in choosing our presidents and protecting our democracy.

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