People Used to Hate the Electoral College for Very Different Reasons

tags: Electoral College, voting rights, Nixon

Justin Fox is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering business. He was the editorial director of Harvard Business Review and wrote for Time, Fortune and American Banker. He is the author of “The Myth of the Rational Market.”

In 1969, the House of Representatives voted 338 to 70 to replace the Electoral College with a direct popular vote for president — well more than the two-thirds majority needed for such a constitutional amendment. If no candidate got more than 40 percent, according to the plan, a runoff between the top two vote-getters would ensue. The opponents were conservative Southern Democrats and a smattering of conservative Republicans. Republican President Richard Nixon announced his support for the measure after the vote.

In 1970, the Senate took up the legislation. It made it out of the Judiciary Committee despite a distinct lack of enthusiasm from Chairman James Eastland of Mississippi, another conservative Southern Democrat, and had the support of at least 62 senators, according to the vote counters working for its sponsor, Indiana Democrat Birch Bayh. But that wasn’t quite enough for a constitutional amendment or even, in those days, enough to invoke cloture and force a floor vote. 

That was the closest the U.S. has come to getting rid of the Electoral College, but serious reform discussions continued from the 1950s through the 1970s. The debates from then are enlightening, in part because the arguments are so different from those of today. (If you want even more depth on this topic, I recommend a 2001 article by legal scholar Ann Althouse titled “Electoral College Reform: Déjà Vu.”) 


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