In his letter of March 3, Jay Lustgarten calls for scrapping the Electoral college. While it is a rather odd and convoluted system, it solves some problems. Because of the prevailing fear of an overly powerful and repressive central government, the writers of he Constitution very wisely left the electoral process to the states. They didn’t want someone like Donald Trump tinkering with a national election commission. That is fine for state offices, but the nominating process breaks down completely for a national office.
Would each state nominate two candidates with the result of twenty six or more candidates running? Would two or more of the largest states collude to dominate the election? What if nobody wanted the job? What if the only people who wanted the job were obviously unfit? If there were multiple candidates ... would there be a run-off election?
The solution to the problem was both obvious and brilliant. The Electoral College was, effectively, not so much a means of election as it was a search committee. It was a way to search out and to find the best candidate who was willing to take the job. As it turned out, it took some doing to get George Washington to take the job. A simple popular election would be easier and cheaper than the system we have. But would a simple plurality be enough or would we need a run-off election?
The real problem is not the election but the nominating process. That is what has changed. It used to be a perennial joke that to get into politics you would first run for town dog-catcher. While we may not have elected dog-catchers today, the point was that you had to start at the bottom and work up by party participation. They used to say that all politics is local. Two things have changed that. The first is television. That changed the need for party participation to the need for fundraising. The other change is the shift to open primaries. That has brought in the single-issue voters who don’t care about party identity. Party conventions today don’t hotly debate party platforms the way they used to.
Rather than scrap the electoral college we should work to keep it and make it work the way it should. How that can be done is a good question. One possibility is some “tweaks”to the rules. The other and better way may be to promote other political parties that can widen the debate.