Our political system may be flawed, but one of the great things about it is that it provides for the peaceful passage of power. We sometimes forget how revolutionary that was.
The world marveled back in 1800 when President John Adams was defeated by Thomas Jefferson. Adams didn’t even think of trying to pull a coup or call out the army to hang on to power.
He just left town and Jefferson, who had won more electoral votes than he had, took over.
That’s the way it has been ever since.
Politicians in South America may rip up their constitutions when they don’t like the way things are going, but not here. Think of Al Gore, who may have been cheated out of the presidency fourteen years ago. More people voted for him than had voted for George W. Bush. Probably more people in Florida intended to vote for him.
But when the Supreme Court ruled against him he immediately and gracefully conceded defeat.
Winning the presidency is a game where the rules are clear. States have a number of electoral votes based roughly on their populations. Carry a state, and a candidate gets all that state’s electoral votes. Whoever puts together enough states to get a majority wins.
It’s been that way always.
In recent times, two small states have decided to divide their electoral votes by congressional district, but in both, all the districts have always voted the same way, except for one district once.
But now State Representative Pete Lund, a term-limited Republican from Macomb County, wants to change that in Michigan, replacing it with a complex system that could have dire national consequences. Lund doesn’t like the fact that Democrats have been winning Michigan in recent presidential elections. Earlier he tried to get a bill through that would have given Republicans most of Michigan’s electoral votes even when they lost the popular vote.
That was seen as too unfair to fly. So now he has a new bill that is almost impossible to understand, but is designed to give Republican presidential nominees a chunk of Michigan’s electoral votes even when they are badly defeated statewide.
This has the potential of doing two things: Making Michigan almost irrelevant in presidential elections, and causing a ripple effect that destroys all public trust in how we choose our leaders.
Right now, everybody understands the rules. President Obama got more than three million votes in Texas last time. But he didn’t get a single one of its 38 electoral votes, because Romney got more. That’s how the game works. You have to have the same system everywhere, a system people can understand, or democracy becomes farce. Lund admits he wants to do this because Democrats have carried Michigan in the last six presidential elections.
However, if he knew history, he’d know Republicans carried this state the five times before that. What goes around comes around. The beauty of our electoral system is that it is designed to accommodate change, and people can easily understand it.
Few things could be more dangerous than a group of small spirited local politicians wrecking the process that gave us Abraham Lincoln for a little short-lived partisan advantage.
Let’s hope it goes nowhere.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. You can read his essays online at Michigan Radio-dot-org. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.