As of this writing, on the afternoon of Wednesday, Nov. 8, America does not know who its next President will be. The state of Florida is still ground zero for this election, and everybody – the candidates, the media and the public – are deep into uncharted territory.
This has been, and continues to be, the mother of all elections. The Bush-Gore race is our generation’s Nixon-Kennedy, our generation’s Dewey-Truman and our generation’s Cleveland-Harrison.
In 1888, Grover Cleveland beat Benjamin Harrison in the popular vote, but still lost – 233 to 168 – in the electoral college. Should it turn out that Texas Governor George W. Bush is the 44th President of the United States, Vice President Al Gore will join Cleveland in that dubious distinction.
The debate over the merits of the electoral college system have raged loud and long as long as anyone can remember, and now the spotlight is directly in this issue. The most recent internet polls, albeit polls taken in the anger-glow of this fluid election situation, favor ditching the electoral college by about 3-to-1.
In addition to the ideological problem that a President who lost the popular election is not the people’s choice, there is another more practical dilemma: one of governing power. No matter who wins this thing, the new Commander-in-Chief will lack the decisive mandate that is necessary to unite Congress behind legislation.
All this would seem to suggest that the popular vote is a more valuable, and therefore more viable, tool in choosing the leader of this nation.
But it’s not that simple. It hardly ever is.
If not for the electoral college, presidential campaigns would be vastly different. The candidates would most likely haunt the cities, where they could garner the most media coverage and reach the most voters. Rural and backwater locations would not only be left off the campaign trail, but they wouldn’t even be courted on the issues. Who would care about what middle-American farmers think, since they make up such a thin slice of the population?
Within the present system, presidential candidates can’t afford to abandon anyone, even North Dakota.
And that’s the beauty of the electoral college. It turns the presidential race into a chess match, a dizzying test of endurance and organizational skill unlike any other in the world. More importantly, it is an apt test of the ability to be President.
Nowhere else is a single, central figure forced to trust so many people in such far-flung places with such crucial responsibility. Every major candidate has camps in every state running state-by-state campaigns for them.
As President, Gore or Bush will have to be delegate most of their power. The rigors of an election by electoral college make it fairly certain that the victor will have people in line who can get things done.
A couple more things about this election: barely audible this morning are the first death tolls for the print media as a source of breaking news. The Philadelphia Inquirer, along with thousands of other papers throughout the country, got it wrong today, reporting on the front page of some editions that Bush had won.
We all love newspapers, God knows, but a re-accurance of the “Dewey defeats Truman” debacle, in this day and age, is making this particular medium a laughingstock.
Also, if one thing can be put belatedly to rest by this historic election, it is the irresponsible excuse that one vote does not count.
Every single vote counts in Florida today. Next time, it could just as easily be Pennsylvania or New Jersey.