Electoral College Reform

November 19, 1976

Report Outline
Reappraisal After Close Election
Evolvement of Presidential Voting
Issues Raised by Reform Proposals
Special Focus

Reappraisal After Close Election

‘What If’ Factors in Nov. 2 Vote Distribution

When americans went to the polls on Nov. 2 they did not, technically speaking, cast their votes for any of the candidates running for President or Vice President. Rather they chose slates of pledged electors who will vote for their party's candidates on Dec. 13 in the 50 state capitals and the District of Columbia. After these votes are cast, official state certificates will be sent to Washington where they will be opened by the President of the Senate, Nelson A. Rockefeller, and counted by tellers at a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6. The candidate receiving a majority of the electoral votes will formally be declared the winner.

This year, as after almost every close presidential election, there has been a sigh of relief that the electoral-college system functioned properly. James Earl Carter won the presidency with 51 per cent of the popular vote and 297 electoral votes—27 more than the 270 needed for a majority. But the system could easily have plunged the United States into political turmoil, even a constitutional crisis. A shift of only about 4,000 votes in Ohio and 4,000 in Hawaii could have swung their electoral votes to Gerald Ford and given him just enough for victory (270 to Carter's 268) even though Carter would still have had the most popular votes nationwide. Such fears are more than conjectural. Twice in the last century, the electoral college awarded the presidency to men who did not win the popular vote.

A stronger showing by third-party candidate Eugene McCarthy in several of the closely contested states also could have given an electoral-college majority to Ford without a popular-vote plurality. As it was, McCarthy was credited with swinging four states to Ford by taking votes away from Carter. “Only by sheer luck have we survived another round of electoral roulette without the popular will being thwarted,” Sen. Birch Bayh (D Ind.) said Nov. 4 in announcing he would reintroduce his proposal to abolish the electoral college and elect the President by direct, popular vote. Bayh is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Electoral College
Aug. 30, 2019  The Electoral College
Dec. 08, 2000  Electoral College
Nov. 19, 1976  Electoral College Reform
Aug. 18, 1944  The Electoral College
Jul. 10, 1940  Abolition of the Electoral College
Mar. 22, 1924  Effects of a Deadlock in the Electoral College
Campaigns and Elections
Voting and Suffrage