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The Waiting Game

It is nearly noon on Wednesday, November 8, and America still waits for word of who its next president will be. Given the slim lead – 1784 votes – which Texas governor George W. Bush holds in Florida, and given the fact that the remaining absentee ballots are likely to be a) from military personnel and b) for Bush, it appears that George W. Bush will be moving to the Oval Office.

But this may not be official until December 18, when the Electoral College votes. Even then, some states allow members of the Electoral College to “vote their conscience,” even if they were themselves selected as a Republican or a Democratic elector.

A few thoughts on this waiting game.

First, it helps to put the imperial presidency in its place. America, it will turn out, will be able to survive for six weeks or more without clear knowledge of who will be the next president. Men and women will go to church, go to work, eat, and procreate, all without knowing who will occupy the Executive Mansion. State legislatures can convene and go about the business of the states. In short, life will go on.

Second, it may foster discussion of the uniquely American institutions which have been designed to safeguard freedom, such as the Electoral College. Now that the Democratic candidate, Al Gore, appears to have won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote, one can expect howls from the leftist Coastal Establishments to get rid of the Electoral College. As a political science professor from American University declared on one of the networks last night, “It is time to abolish this anachronism.”

Rather than signal that it is time to scrap the Electoral College, this election may be a good case for keeping it in place. According to the Washington Post, Al Gore won the popular vote by a tally of 48,566,617 to 48,332,264, pending the final results from Florida.

Yet Gore’s many votes came mostly from a few populous states. Gore won California by a margin of 5,242,816 to 4,052,422. (1.2 million votes). He won Illinois by 2,551,733 to 1,991,525 (560,208). He won New York by 3,736,036 to 2,210,142 (1,525,894 votes – larger than his margin in California), and Pennsylvania by 200,351. In the predominantly “minority” District of Columbia, where “minorities” make up roughly 80% of the population (shouldn’t that make them a majority?), Gore took 85% of the vote – clubbing Bush 162,004 to 17,020 (a margin of 144,984). Finally, Massachusetts favored Gore by 706,390 votes, Maryland by 322,440, Michigan by 204,855, New Jersey by 480,794 and Connecticut by 237,532.

Gore’s margin of victory in those 9 states (and the District of Columbia) is therefore a combined 5,573,842. Again, that is not his popular vote total for those states, that is the number of votes by which he beat George Bush. Notice that this number slightly exceeds the total number of popular votes cast for Gore in California (by 331,026).

Suppose, for example, that Gore had won every vote cast in California. As actually happened, he would still get the state’s 54 electoral votes. But he would also have 4 million more popular votes. Whether Gore receives 100% or 51% of the popular vote of California, there is no reason to dismantle the Electoral College. In other words, the Electoral College serves its purpose when it allows California to influence the rest of the nation only to the proportional extent of its representation in Congress – 54 electoral votes. If Gore had won all 9 million or so popular votes from California, while the rest of the nation’s votes turned out just as they actually did, there would be no compelling case that Gore was therefore more deserving of the Executive Office.

Third, this election helps to make the case for the disintegration of the Union which Abraham Lincoln and the Republican party put together by force of arms. In contrast to the large Democratic margins in the leftist, Eastern states (and California) mentioned above, Gore took a beating in the South and West. Mississippi, for example, went for Bush, 58% to 41%. Wyoming went for Bush 69% to 28%, Idaho by 68% to 28%. Bush carried his home state of Texas 59% to 38%. Significantly, among persons identifying themselves as “religious conservatives,” 78% went for Bush.

To simply ignore the votes of some Americans in the name of “popular sovereignty” would be immoral, and brings to mind the pigs’ slogan from George Orwell’s Animal Farm: some animals are more equal than others.

The cry to abolish the Electoral College is in reality a thinly-veiled cry to abolish the states. This is because the Electoral College preserves the role of the citizenry of the states in picking the president. It should be noted that the cries to abolish the Electoral College come from the same crowd who cries out to abolish the states: those who favor a centralized government with fiat power to simply declare that its will be done.

(Maybe the Supreme Court will strike down the Electoral College, then, on the same grounds which it repeatedly uses to strike down term limits, namely, that the states allegedly cannot set the requirements for federal office. The case of Maine, which divides its four electoral votes by giving two to the popular vote winner and one to each Congressional district, is therefore highly suspect in Supreme Court jurisprudence. But I digress.)

The election reveals a case to be made for secession. The Northern, left-leaning states are populated by persons who favor centralized power and the nanny state, but disfavor and distrust individual freedom. The South and West, in contrast, are peopled by those who want small government, religious freedom, and strong property rights. Although I revile Lincoln, he did get one thing right: a house divided cannot stand. So let’s leave. Despite the myth that secession is not permitted by the Constitution, the dispute over Northwest Angle, Minnesota, which sought to join Canada after being snubbed by Washington, DC in a fishing-rights dispute, provoked newspaper stories which claimed that secession could be achieved by the same process used for amending the U.S. Constitution.

Fourth, the election has been a wonderful history lesson. Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin – who must go into the category of those favoring fiat power from DC – stated on NBC last night that this is the closest race since the 1876 race between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden – which Hayes won, 185 to 184 electoral votes. Yet she also stated that the 1876 race was a disaster for Southern blacks, allegedly because it spelled the end of Reconstruction. The election of 1876 was decided in the Congress, and Southerners – who supported Tilden – only acceded to Hayes on the condition that the federal troops, which had been marauding the South since 1863, went home.

Contrary to Goodwin’s assertion, Reconstruction was largely responsible for the mistreatment of blacks in the South. The Union League, which not only armed free blacks but encouraged them to acts of violence, directly lead to the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. Southern whites were wholly disenfranchised for having supported the Confederacy, and the South was ruled by unscrupulous (to put it mildly) profiteers from the North. Southern women sold themselves in prostitution in order to feed their families. The scars of Reconstruction linger to this day. Obscenely, Illinois forbade free blacks from entering the state, and the Northern states continued to prohibit blacks from owning property.

Sadly, while many may study the 1876 election, it is unlikely that the Northern myths regarding Reconstruction and the South will be dispelled any time soon. But the more that people study the past, the more likely they are to cease believing in fairy tales. Although I am descended from a member of the 83rd Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers – the brigade led by Col. Strong Vincent, which held Little Round Top at Gettysburg – it was precisely this family history which led me to sympathy for the cause of Southern independence. I studied Gettysburg, and wondered why the Rebels fought. After six years of extensive reading, their reason is clear to me: they wanted their independence from Washington, DC.

Maybe such an historically close election is worth waiting a month to decide. Time will tell.

November 9, 2000

Mr. Dieteman is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.