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Reforming the Electoral College

Friday, October 29, 2004; Page A22

In his Oct. 21 op-ed column, "Electoral Fixes," David S. Broder discussed the merits and demerits of the electoral college and every alternative except one: the method used by Maine and Nebraska to allocate their electoral votes. Their method is to give two votes -- those that the states get for their senators -- to the winner of the statewide vote and one vote to the winner of each congressional district. This is superior to the winner-take-all rule or to direct election.

The Maine approach, if applied elsewhere, would encourage candidates to campaign across the nation. And it would not disenfranchise huge blocks of votes in individual states.

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President Bush was awarded all of Florida's votes even though he got less than 50 percent of the popular vote. On the other hand, huge numbers of Republicans in New York, California and Illinois are disenfranchised in many elections. The Maine rule would not encourage splinter parties or fraud. In particular it wouldn't encourage an Al Gore to ask for a recount in counties where he won big in the hope that his party's workers could mine enough additional votes to win the state and all of its electoral votes. Such a stunt would win him at most two more votes, probably not enough to make a difference.

Finally, I note that the rule used in Maine and Nebraska is perhaps the only alternative to what we have that does not require a constitutional amendment.

Clearly, not only is winner-take-all not in our interest, because it can give us fiascos such as Florida in 2000, but it also is a gross violation of one man, one vote. The Supreme Court has determined in other contexts that the equal pro- tection clause requires one man, one vote. Perhaps the court can be convinced that winner-take-all is no longer an acceptable method of allocating a state's electoral votes.

ROBERT C. RICHARDS

Sanford, N.C.

Praise to David S. Broder for discussing the important subject of the Constitution's highly flawed electoral college method for presidential elections.

I believe the Constitution should be amended to award each state's electoral votes proportionally to its popular vote, with some minimum percentage popular vote needed -- say 5 percent -- to get any electoral votes.

The amendment might have to include some additional tinkering to make it highly probable that one of the candidates would achieve a majority in the electoral college even when a third-party candidate picks up some of the electoral vote. If such modification doesn't prove feasible, I suspect that direct election of the president would still be better than the current system.

Also, it would be great to get rid of the "bonus" -- Mr. Broder's word -- two electoral votes each state gets for its two senators. The bonus seems contrary to the principle of one man, one vote, because less populous states get the same bonus votes as more populous ones. Unfortunately, it seems politically impossible to amend the Constitution to do away with the bonus, because smaller states are likely to oppose such a change.

PAUL REINSTEIN

Rockville


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