- 9.28.1 MYTH: The state-by-state winner-take-all method for awarding electoral votes produces good Presidents.
9.28.1 MYTH: The state-by-state winner-take-all method for awarding electoral votes produces good Presidents.
- State winner-take-all statutes have nothing to do with producing good Presidents.
UCLA Law Professor Daniel H. Lowenstein has argued that there are “11 good reasons” not to change the current system of electing the President:
“The Electoral College produces good presidents. The Electoral College has produced Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, and Reagan.”
Although these 11 Presidents were indeed distinguished, Lowenstein does not offer any argument connecting the ascension of these 11 individuals to the Presidency and the state-by-state winner-take-all rule (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most votes in the state).
Moreover, Lowenstein does not offer any argument as to why these same talented individuals (or other equally talented individuals) could not have risen to the Presidency without the winner-take-all rule. How, for example, was the winner-take-all rule essential to the emergence of, say, Eisenhower or Reagan?
Moreover, Lowenstein provides no argument as to why a system in which the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia would necessarily not result in good Presidents.
Tellingly, Lowenstein includes two Presidents on his list who were defeated in the Electoral College by a candidate who received fewer popular votes nationwide, namely Andrew Jackson in 1824 and Grover Cleveland in 1888. Why does Lowenstein credit the Electoral College with success when it elected “good Presidents” such as Jackson in 1828 and Cleveland in 1892, but not acknowledge the failure of the Electoral College when it rejected “good Presidents” such as Jackson in 1824 and Cleveland in 1888?
Why does Lowenstein credit the Electoral College with success when it elected “good Presidents” such as Thomas Jefferson in 1804, but not acknowledge the failure of the Electoral College when it defeated Jefferson in 1796 or handed Jefferson a tie in the Electoral College in 1800 (requiring 36 ballots in the House of Representatives to resolve)?
Moreover, Lowenstein includes two Presidents on his list who were elected before the era when the state-by-state winner-take-all rule became widespread. Only three states used the state-by-state winner-take-all rule when George Washington was elected in 1789 and 1792. Only two states used the state-by-state winner-take-all rule when Thomas Jefferson was elected in 1800.
Lowenstein also credits the winner-take-all rule for producing Theodore Roosevelt and Harry Truman, even though they both ascended to the Presidency on the death of their predecessor.
Tellingly, Lowenstein’s list of 11 Presidents fails to account for the 33 remaining Presidents produced by the Electoral College, including those who were totally ineffectual when the country was at a moment of crisis (e.g., Pierce, Buchanan, Hoover), those whose administrations were exceedingly corrupt (e.g., Harding, Grant), and those who were thoroughly mediocre and forgettable (but cannot be named here because we have forgotten their names).
 Panel discussion at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on October 24, 2008.
 Debate entitled “Should We Dispense with the Electoral College?” sponsored by PENNumbra (University of Pennsylvania Law Review) available at http://www.pennumbra.com/debates/pdfs/electoral_college.pdf.
 Lowenstein includes Thomas Jefferson on his list even though the Electoral College defeated Jefferson in 1796.
 New Hampshire, Maryland, and Pennsylvania used the winner-take-all rule in the nation’s first presidential election (1789) and in the second (1792).
 Only Virginia used the winner-take-all rule in the 1800 election. The legislatures of New Hampshire and Pennsylvania directly appointed presidential electors in 1800, and Maryland switched to a district system in 1796.