Forget Florida—Flip the Electors!

Analysis of breaking news events.
Nov. 9 2000 6:11 PM

Forget Florida—Flip the Electors!

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The beauty of this plan is not only its avoidance of chaos and its proper framing of the question for the nation, but its fidelity to the Constitution. Right now, a predictable chorus has sprung up to scrap the Electoral College. But isn't that an overreaction? After all, if a structural feature of government causes a problem only every hundred years or so, let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Going to direct popular election of presidents could usher in a host of unintended problems that prove worse, more often, than today's system--hard as that might seem to believe at this moment. (For an inventory of these dangers, click here.)

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Resolving this crisis through an appeal to elector discretion proves the paradoxical genius of our Constitution. A structure intended to insulate presidential selection from popular will 200 years ago is supple enough to become the vehicle through which popular will might now be honored.

Would a handful of Republican electors switch and vote for Gore? I don't know, but as a Gore supporter I'd rather risk his losing this way than see the nation implode on its current path. Even 271 party hacks could not help but feel the weight of history in ways that would lead most to go beyond partisan interest to consult their consciences. Yes, this would leave things in the hands of a handful of Americans, but that's what the Constitution requires. These electors would be aided and pressured by an unprecedented monthlong national debate on the question of majority rule, rather than the debauched carnival of legalistic wrangling that is unfolding. Whatever they did would be the right thing.

For Democrats, yes, this means rolling the dice, but for the country's sake, that's far better than scheduling the depositions.

Matthew Miller is a nationally syndicated columnist and senior fellow at the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty.