THE CASE AGAINST DIRECT ELECTION OF THE PRESIDENT: A Defense of the Electoral College by Judith Best


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In her enthusiasm for the Constitution's electoral college as against current proposals to directly elect the President, Best begins and ends with the conservative principle that experience is more reliable than logic. However, the book is based on extended arguments which make it as intriguing as pre-Civil War debates over states' rights. Defects of the reform proposals receive more attention than the supposed merits of the electoral college itself. The chief virtues of the present system amount to a reinforcement of moderate two-party politics and a tested means for the orderly transfer of rule. Booby traps involved in direct election, by contrast, are manifold, according to Best. In fact, there has been only one real runner-up or ""minority"" President, Benjamin Harrison, chosen through the electoral college. She suggests that under direct election, demagogic splinter groups could proliferate and a President elected by a plurality could be a very unpopular President indeed. Why runoffs wouldn't work is not fully explained; but Best pessimistically foresees contested nationwide votes and a consequent crisis of confidence. Her reminder that the Constitution itself does not prescribe one-man-one-vote is backed up, not by Tory mistrust of the masses, but by the positive principle of ""creating political majorities, not arithmetic majorities."" The discrepancy between big-state voters' weight as against small-state voters for the Presidency is answered by way of the federal principle--small states are over-represented in Congress, so it balances out. Best's frank desire to minimize the potential for third-party strength is less than democratic. She leaves it to the reader to calculate which system of election would favor his own political goals. But, with its enthusiasm for debate, the book is not ""academic"" in the ordinary sense. It is lively and concrete and it forces some degree of confrontation with a reflex of common sense.

Pub Date: July 28th, 1975
Publisher: Cornell Univ. Press