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N.C. Must Lead Way to Reform U.S. Elections

It would be absurd for the president not to have the support of the majority of voting Americans, but that's the way it looked last night.

This potential problem is just the most obvious evidence that the Electoral College is unsuited to today's political process.

The Constitutionally mandated time line shows how archaic the system is.

Electors from each state meet on the Monday following the second Wednesday in December - Dec. 18 this year - to cast their electoral votes.

The votes are then sealed and transported to the president of the Senate, who opens them and reads them in front of Congress on Jan. 6, two months after the popular votes were cast.

Just imagine the surprise on senators' faces when they hear who won, a fact they knew at the end of last night if they stayed up late enough.

It's ridiculous. Today's communication technology ensures not only that the nation knows the election's outcome soon after the polls close, but also that the voters are well-informed about the issues before they vote.

This was one of the framers' main concerns in establishing the Electoral College. The country's widely spread population made campaign communication virtually impossible.

In addition, sectional rivalries and opposition to political parties led the framers to choose a system relying on the most informed men from each state to select the president based on merit without regard to political party or state of origin.

None of these issues are relevant anymore and haven't been for a long time.

Electoral College reform is overdue.

The ideal plan would determine the president by the general election percentage - the popular results. Every vote would count.

Critics say such a plan would turn the campaigning process into a nationwide media blitz with little incentive for grassroots organizing or regional appeals by the candidates.

The other drawback is that it would take a constitutional amendment to eliminate the Electoral College. It might take years to get the necessary number of state ratifications.

A simpler strategy would be for each state to reform the way it chooses its electors. All but two states use the "winner-takes-all" plan, in which the candidate winning the popular vote takes all the electoral votes.

Maine and Nebraska follow a plan allowing them to split their votes, though it happens infrequently. The winner of the state's popular vote receives the two votes corresponding to Senate seats. The other electoral votes are decided by the popular vote in each congressional district.

It's the perfect plan for North Carolina, which was ignored by the major candidates in this year's elections. This is the 10th largest state in the country, but the candidates saw it as a lock for Bush and didn't campaign here.

A different method of distributing votes could change that, said Curtis Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate.

"This would bring the results closer to the popular vote and would force candidates not to abandon districts where they could win," Gans said. "Democrats will focus on the South because they could win some districts. They could easily win the Raleigh-Durham district."

Under the Maine-Nebraska plan, Gore would have taken at least that one electoral vote in North Carolina's 4th Congressional District, which he won easily. The election went to Bush in the state's other metropolitan areas but the vote was close; with campaigning, Gore could have taken them too.

The N.C. General Assembly has actually considered switching to this system. The Senate passed a bill in the 1991 session that died in the House.

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Regardless of the election results, the General Assembly should take up this issue again, as should other states in the union.

Although the best solution might eventually be a popular election, North Carolina can be a leader in enacting Electoral College reform right now.

Columnist Anne Fawcett can be reached at fawcetta@hotmail.com.

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