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Why the Electoral College Is Bad for America [Paperback]

by George C. Edwards III, Mr. Neal R. Peirce
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 7, 2005 0300109687 978-0300109689
A distinguished political scientist critiques arguments in favor of the electoral college and offers a persuasive argument for direct election of the president.
"[With] excellent descriptions of how the electoral system actually works, [this] is the most cogent and up-todate criticism I have read."--Alexander Keyssar, "New York Review of Books
"This crisp handbook . . . outlines the origins of the electoral college . . . and demonstrates the many ways it violates democratic norms.""--New Yorker
"Timely [and] relevant. . . . [Edwards's] principal lines of argument deserve extensive debate in both the news media and the Congress."--Lewis H. Lapham, "Harper's
"Compelling . . . [and] meticulous."--Glenn C. Altschuler, "New York Observer

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this slim, analytical book, Texas A&M political science professor Edwards (At the Margins: Presidential Leadership of Congress, etc.) offers a robust critique of the intricate device underpinning presidential elections. Naturally, the 2000 election looms large here. The electoral college, not the Supreme Court, awarded the presidency to George W. Bush, contends Edwards, giving the final say to little-known presidential electors. He sees this as a troubling violation of political equality. The remedy? Direct elections, which are favored by none other than "Father of the Constitution" James Madison and a notably bipartisan roster of politicos, from Richard Nixon and Robert Dole to Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. Edwards rebuts a phalanx of pro-electoral college arguments, including claims that the device protects the interests of smaller states and minorities. According to his research, once presidential candidates hit the campaign trail, they pay little attention to regional issues or minorities. Instead, they obsess over winning large swing states and virtually ignore smaller states and states with predictable outcomes. In this manner, some voters become more equal than others based on where they cast their ballots. Electoral college supporters may rush to the ramparts to contest this cogent attack, but as Edwards points out, any move to amend the constitution and set up a new arrangement would likely be stalled by divisive political mudslinging (with those who supported Bush in 2000 touting the virtues of the electoral college and those who supported Al Gore endorsing direct elections). But even if the current system remains in place for a while, this is still a worthy, well-argued contribution to the debate.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

Someday, there will likely be yet another serious effort to get rid of the electoral college, America's weird mechanism for picking its President, in order to replace it with the method used to choose every other elected official in the federal government: a direct election. (The strongest such effort, following the 1968 squeaker, was foiled by a Senate filibuster.) This crisp handbook, by a political scientist keen to bring such a day closer, outlines the origins of the electoral college—which the framers thought would be a kind of nominating convention, with the final choice being made by the House of Representatives—and demonstrates the many ways it violates democratic norms. Edwards uses empirical evidence to demolish such common arguments in the college's favor as its reputed benefits for small states and for minorities.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 278 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (September 7, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300109687
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300109689
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.3 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,449,452 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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3.8 out of 5 stars
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent analysis, wrong prescription October 20, 2004
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Edwards provides a lucid, devastating critique of the Electoral College and its negative impact on American politics and government. After reading this book it will be hard for people to keep a straight face when defenders of this 18th century institution make such outmoded arguments as "candidates will spend time only in population centers" (as if they don't focus all their energies right now on just a handful of states and as if candidates in all races for governor don't try to win votes wherever they are in a state).

My one disappointment is his recommendation that we enshire the principle of "plurality rule" when directly electing the president. That would mean we could have presidents elected with less than 30% of the vote and would maintain the "spoiler" dynamic for any independent and third party candidate trying to offer new ideas to voters. Far better would be to establish a 50%-plus-one majority requirement as proposed by Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. and groups like FairVote-The Center for Voting and Democracy -- or at the very least leave it to Congress to decide by statute.

But Edwards' book should help re-start a national conversation about changing the Electoral College -- which as recently in 1969 came close to being abolished after the House voted by a 4-to-1 margin to go to direct election.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Best Critique of the Electoral College Available November 14, 2007
By Jordan
Format:Paperback
This book is the spiritual successor to the "Electoral College Primer" series that was discontinued in 2002 due to the death of its primary authors. For opponents of the Electoral College it's a good thing the mantle has been passed, because this book represents a far more damning case for the abolishment of the Electoral College than those books did.

A large portion of the material is lifted verbatim from those books, but in addition to exhibiting the voting power distortions created by the Electoral College, this book also tackles the practical arguments put forth in defense of the Electoral College head on. Edwards effectively dismantles the idea that it is a bastion of federalism, and also the specious "vote fraud deterrent" argument often trotted out. Perhaps the single most impressive argument in the book is a quote cited from James Madison that "The President is to represent the people, not the States". Edwards supports his refutations to EC-defender favorite slogans such as "national coalitions" not with counter-taglines but instead with cold hard numbers that prove that the Electoral College doesn't actually engender the development of any of those things.

Where Edwards falls flat on his face, however, is in his contention that the Electoral College encourages third parties to run. This is easily refuted in both theory and practice. Extremely specific circumstances would have to come about for a third party candidate to have even a prayer of winning even one Electoral vote, much less accrue enough to throw the election into the House of Representatives. and even if such a circumstance should arise, the third party candidate would have absolutely zero chance of winning such a contingency election.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Electoral College Isn't Commonsense Federalism May 12, 2006
Format:Paperback
Texas A&M University political science professor George Edwards, III, brings an interesting and thought provoking study with "Why the Electoral College is Bad for America" (2004 paperback). His 198 pages provide significant research (with 21 pages of endnotes and a plethora of helpful graphs, accommodating statistical tables, and informative charts). His resource data alone is worth the cost of the book!

Starting from the premise- the Electoral College has a wide range of advantages and disadvantages for American policy- Edwards precedes to focus on the problems with the 18th century presidential election system. He notes, "the electoral college poses a real potential for deadlock" (page 61). And, of course, the political party in power always appreciates the electoral system while the party out of presidential power wants to altogether eliminate the program.

Encouragement of a third party system (page 140) or direct election by the national populace- or as Bob Dole calls it "commonsense federalism"- (page 121) could provide a better election system. Will the U.S. ever abandon the Electoral College?- probably not.

Although Edwards' seven chapters are informative, his writing style is a bit tedious (his chapters average 30 pages in length!). The book is not necessarily quickly read.

If there is disappointment in this book it is that Edwards allows his Democrat politics to entangle his political theory. He also, disappointingly, too often references contemporary news media (almost a third of his sources from chapter 6 alone are news papers and political periodicals!).

Edwards is a good read. His book explains the role and sometimes abuse of the Electoral College. It is recommendable to all political science readers, students of American history, research collectors, and those interested in the Electoral College.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Abolish Electoral College? Then what? September 12, 2008
Format:Hardcover
How would we of the 21st Century elect our Pres and VP without the electoral college? Edwards has no answer for that, but all the details are clearly laid out in The New Election Game.

New Election Game: A Replacement for the Two-Party System of Electing Presidents
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