What do Samuel Tilden, Grover Cleveland and Al Gore have in common?
They all lost presidential elections despite winning the popular vote (though Mr. Cleveland did win the Electoral College, and thus the presidency, twice).
Now Mr. Gore is backing a plan that would eliminate the risk of future popular-vote winners losing White House races.
During a recent panel discussion on his Current TV channel, the former vice president said: “It’s always tough to amend the Constitution and risky to do so, but there is a very interesting movement under way that takes it state by state, that may really have a chance of succeeding. I hope it does.”
Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who has a show on Current TV, and Mr. Gore advocated the “National Popular Vote” initiative. The group wants to give the Electoral College votes of enacting states to the winner of the national vote.
Under that format, if Mitt Romney won the popular vote in South Carolina on Nov. 6 while President Barack Obama won the national popular vote, our state’s electoral votes would go to the president.
The proposal would only be put in place if states accounting for 270 Electoral College votes signed on to it. Eight states and the District of Columbia, accounting for 132 electoral votes, already have.
More below on why this idea is gaining ground.
Yet it’s a misguided notion.
The Electoral College matches each state’s electoral-vote total to its combined number of U.S. Senate and House members (South Carolina now has nine, thanks to our newly added House seat).
Even a small popular margin gives a candidate all of a state’s electoral votes. For instance, in 2008, Mr. Obama picked up North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes by getting roughly 14,000 more popular votes than John McCain out of more than 4.2 million cast.
The Electoral College protects the input of smaller states — and smaller communities. If the national popular vote decided presidential elections, candidates would inevitably spend much more time in large cities and much less time elsewhere.
And as the Founding Fathers repeatedly — and wisely — stressed, they weren’t creating a mob-rule democracy. They were creating a democratic republic with a representative government.
The current case against the Electoral College: Experts say a dozen states — at most — are still up for grabs in the ongoing presidential race.
South Carolina is not among them. Barring a shocking upset here, S.C. voters know that our electoral votes will go to Mr. Romney.
And because 37 other states also seem locked up for either Mr. Romney or President Obama, a significant majority of U.S. voters will cast presidential ballots knowing that they have virtually no chance of affecting the decisive Electoral College count.
The candidates know that, too. Voters in 38 states — including ours — won’t be seeing much, if any, of them.
As Mr. Gore lamented: “I’ve seen how these states are written off and ignored, and people are effectively disenfranchised in the presidential race. And I really do now think it is time to change that.”
Yet Mr. Gore also said that “the logic” of the Electoral College is that “it knits the country together, prevents regional conflicts, and it goes back through our history to some legitimate concerns.”
Those concerns remain valid.
So does the previously stated case for keeping the Electoral College as is.
As for the lack of presidential-race competition in many states, including ours, the solution for that problem lies in both major parties doing a better job of reaching out beyond their political bases.
And if you share our view that the Electoral College should remain in place, let’s hope that neither Mr. Romney nor Mr. Obama joins Mr. Tilden, Mr. Cleveland and Mr. Gore on that hard-luck list.