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by Wendy Vapors, 11/3/00

Dc: This is DCR, a news program that's reality free. There is quite a bit of speculation that the closeness of this year's presidential contest may lead to a split between the electoral college and the popular vote. Meaning one candidate could get an overall majority of votes and still not be elected. Many people don't understand how the electoral college works. So we asked Wendy Vapors to figure it out.

Wendy: The first thing you have to know about the Electoral College is that it's not a college at all. No buildings or professors or ivy covered walls. Or admissions department. Or fee statements. And yet people always joke about it being a real academic institution. Why? I asked Buzz Gladhand, who holds the Rodney Dangerfield chair in Tired Humor at Pratfall University.

Buzz: Pretending that the Electoral College is a real college is one of the flattest, going nowhere jokes in all politics, but what else can you do with something you don't understand? It's a reflex. But then a lot of humor grows out of ignorance. I mean... look around.

Wendy: The Electoral College was set up by the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The popular vote in each state selects "electors" who then cast the actual votes that elect the president of the United States. Professor Charles Confundo is an expert on the Electoral College. He wouldn't be quoted directly for this story, but sent a surrogate, graduate student Mary Beth Jefferson.

Mary Beth: Dr. Confundo asked me to tell you that one reason this system was set up was to provide a "failsafe,"... a kind of "padding" to make the selection of the president indirect. That way, it protected the country in 1787 from voters who, because of slow communications, may not have had the information to choose a national leader.

Wendy: Maybe it made sense then, but how can something that is so distrustful of people... survive in a democracy?

Mary Beth: I don't know. Want me to go ask him?

Wendy: Sure.

(sfx: chair push back, footsteps)

Mary Beth: (fade off) OK, I'll be back in a bit. Sit tight.

(sfx: door open and close)

Wendy: (annc) It's very common for Electoral College experts to be indirect, since the system itself is designed to do things in a roundabout way. In modern times, it has been the custom for electors to follow the popular vote in their states when casting presidential ballots. Many states award all their electoral votes to the top vote getter...

(sfx: door open and close)
(sfx: footsteps approach)

Mary Beth: (fade on) I'm back. I asked Dr. Confundo your question, how can something as basically distrustful of the people as the electoral college survive in a democracy. And his answer was... "I don't know."

Wendy: That's it?

Mary Beth: That's all he said.

Wendy: Well you have to admit... getting information isn't a problem anymore, so isn't that enough to justify abolishing the electoral college?

Mary Beth: Want me to go ask?

Wendy: (sigh) Well...

Mary Beth: He's just outside. It doesn't take long.

Wendy: Why can't he come in and answer the questions directly?

Mary Beth: That's not the way we do it.

(sfx: chair push back, footsteps)

Mary Beth: (fade off) Hang on! I'll be back.

(sfx: door open and close)

Wendy: Political scientists agree that if the next president is placed in office by the electoral college without winning the popular vote, it could seriously handicap the president by placing a cloud over his mandate...

(sfx: door open and close)
(sfx: footsteps approach)

Mary Beth: (fade on) I'm back. I asked Dr. Confundo your questions, and he says... that's the way it is and he doesn't think it will change soon. And if you want to know more, he says "bring me the wicked witches' broomstick, and I will grant your request."

Wendy: (vo) And so... many Americans are left with the feeling that the electoral college is stupid. A stupid college, imagine that. But this stupid college might make the election of the year 2000 more interesting than anyone ever thought it would be, or wanted it to be. And more worrisome, and frustrating too. I'm Wendy Vapors, and I'm reporting!


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