Past Attempts at Reform
The rules of the Electoral College are not set in stone. While Constitutional amendments are rare, they do happen. Twenty-seven proposals have survived the difficult amendment process, and with much less popular approval than the movement for direct election. Over the history of our country, there have been at least 700 proposed amendments to modify or abolish the Electoral College - more than any other subject of Constitutional reform.
Here are just a few examples of past reform attempts:
1950: The Lodge-Gossett Amendment, named for its co-sponsors Senator Henry Cabot Lodge (R-MA) and Rep. Ed Gossett (D-TX), was a classic example of a reform plan known as proportional allocation. The plan was introduced in the 81st Congress (1949-1950) as an amendment proposal that would abolish the Electoral College as it was known, replacing it with a proportional electoral vote.
In this case, electors and the college would remain in place, but electoral votes would be allocated to presidential tickets in a manner directly proportional to the popular votes each ticket received in the states. The proposal was amended in the Senate to also require a 40% threshold of electoral votes for a ticket to be elected to the Presidency and Vice Presidency. If no one received such a threshold, the Senate and the House of Representatives, in a joint session, would then choose among the top two presidential candidates and their running mates.
The Lodge-Gossett Amendment passed the Senate with a super majority by a vote of 64-27, but died a bitter death in the House.
1956: Hubert Humphrey's (D-MN) S. J. 152 was a new, unique proposal of reform introduced in the 84th Congress. In this plan, the Electoral College would be abolished as known, but the then 531 electoral votes would still be put to use. Two electoral votes would be awarded to the candidate winning the overall popular vote in each of the then 48 states. The remaining 435 would then be divided nationally in proportion to the nationwide popular vote. The proposal passed the House of Representatives, but later died in the Senate.
1966: Delaware filed a lawsuit against New York, arguing that its "winner-take-all" system for awarding electoral college votes effectively disenfranchised small states in the presidential election process. The Supreme Court, under whose original jurisdiction the case was filed, refused to hear it. However, Delaware's action generated support from several other states and 11 more joined in the lawsuit: Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.
See these documents from the case:
- Delaware's Petition (Part 1) (pdf, 1.38mb)
- Delaware's Petition (Part 2) (pdf, 2.28mb)
- New York's Response (pdf, 1.48mb)
- Delaware's Petition for Rehearing (pdf, 140kb)
1969: This proposal came to be after the 1968 Presidential election, in which American Independent candidate George Wallace managed to obtain 46 electoral votes, generating concern over the possibilities of contingent elections and electoral vote-trading for political concessions. In the 91st Congress, Rep. Emanuel Celler (D-NY) introduced the proposal, which would abolish the Electoral College in favor of a direct popular election with a 40% threshold and a runoff if no threshold was achieved. The bill was wildly popular in the House, passing 338-70, yet failed to pass in the Senate due to a filibuster.
1979: After the close election between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford in 1976, Senator Birch Bayh (D-IN) introduced a proposal in the 96th Congress to abolish the Electoral College and replace it with direct election. The measure failed the Senate by a vote of 51-48 in 1979. Because of its failure in that chamber, the House decided not to vote on its version of the proposal.
1992 & 1997: Hearings were conducted to consider reform possibilities, but no proposal left the committee chamber.
2004: Colorado proposes, by ballot measure 36, to amend the way it allocates its electoral votes. Instead of remaining a winner-take-all state, the proposal, if passed, would have changed the state to proportional allocation.
See related editorials on the Colorado attempt:
- "Coloradans to Consider Splitting Electoral College Votes" - New York Times - September 19, 2004
- "The Colorado Solution" - The Boston Globe - September 27, 2004
2004: Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) introduces a proposal for Electoral College reform. HJR 109 proposes a majority direct election of president, and is currently residing in the House Judiciary Committee.
*Only two proposals involving the Electoral College have ever reached the ratification stage, and both passed (the 12th and 23rd Amendments).