Beacon of Democracy?

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Beacon of Democracy?

The United States is supposed to be the beacon of democracy in the world, but the way it elects its president can be downright undemocratic.

Under the Electoral College voting system, all of the electoral votes in each state are cast for the candidate who wins the most popular votes in that state. As a result, the person who wins the most popular votes overall can actually end up losing. That odd result hasn''t happened since 1888, but it may be in the process of happening this year.

In the history of the United States, only one presidential election ended in a tie. In 1800 Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr both claimed to have won 73 electoral votes for president. (Burr had actually been a candidate for vice president, but he insisted that the electoral votes with his name on them had been votes for president).

Following the U.S. Constitution (Article II, Section 1), the election was thrown into the House of Representatives, with each state getting one vote. On the 36th ballot, Jefferson won 10 out of the 16 states in the United States at the time and was elected president.

In 1876, another presidential election was settled by the House of Representatives.

Although the popular vote was 4.28 million for Samuel Tilden to 4.03 million for Rutherford B. Hayes, the outcome depended on contested electoral votes in three Southern states. If all the disputed electoral votes went to Hayes, he would win. A single vote would elect Tilden.

Congress set up a commission to review the contested votes, and the commission decided that the votes should all be cast for Hayes, who became the president even though more voters favored Tilden.

There have been two other cases where the candidate who won the most popular votes nonetheless lost. Andrew Jackson won in 1824 and Benjamin Harrison won in 1888 even though more people voted for their opponents.

In the presidential voting this year, Vice President Al Gore received more popular votes nationwide than Governor George W. Bush. But the outcome hinges on the voting in Florida, where the total is so close that the ballots are being recounted. Mr. Bush is leading, and if the recount confirms his victory in that state, he will get all of Florida''s 25 electoral votes and be the next president of the United States.

Alexis de Tocqueville, an aristocratic Frenchman who went to the United States in 1831, praised American democracy to the sky: "In America I saw more than America; I sought the image of democracy itself, with its inclinations, its character, its prejudices and its passions, in order to learn what we have to fear or hope from its progress."

We seem to see the true flower of democracy in this year''s presidential election.

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