Massachusetts' Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. has started work on a legislative project which may take him the rest of his life to complete. He has put forth a constitutional amendment altering the time-honored way in which America chooses a President. Under the Senator's plan, electoral units would take the place of presidential electors. Each state would keep its present total of electoral votes--but with a difference. Instead of the leading candidate garnering all the electoral votes of one state, Senator Lodge would divide electoral units among the contenders in proportion to the popular vote. And to make sure that his plan would not result in elections going to the House of Representatives, Lodge has also proposed that a plurality of electoral votes (rather than a majority) be necessary for election.
The Lodge Plan would correct the two major evils of the present system. Large states now have exaggerated importance in an election, since in these states a difference of a few thousand votes can shift huge stacks of electoral votes from one column to the other. Twice since the Civil War this has meant that the man with a majority of popular votes has lost the election. Tilden beat Hayes by over 200,000 votes in 1876; yet he lost. Cleveland beat Harrison by over 100,000 votes in 1888; yet he lost. And in the 1948 election a few more votes for Dewey in two key states would have given the decision to the House--despite the fact that Truman had a 2,000,000 vote edge over Dewey.
The second defect in the present system is that it places a variable factor between the voter and the official election result. Right now several electors in the South are talking about throwing their votes to Truman, despite the statistical fact that the voters chose J. Strom Thurmond. Such a move might be shrewd politically, but it would violate the principle of free election.
Both major defects would be almost completely corrected by the Lodge Plan. But it will take years of plugging and popularizing before the Plan is passed. Determined opposition has already appeared from two sides. Many persons, including influential Congressmen, think Lodge doesn't go far enough. They urge a direct popular election, claiming that under both the present system and the Lodge Plan, the states' electoral votes are not proportional to population. (Nevada, for instance, has one-sixteenth the electoral vote of New York, but only one one-hundred-and-thirtieth of the population of New York. This is because under the Constitution every state has a base electoral vote of three.) But this idea is politically out of the question. Southern states with suffrage restrictions would lose much influence in national elections; they would battle any plan for direct election.
Professional politicians will not accept the Lodge Plan because it would take one form of patronage--the job of elector--away from the party faithful. And many Republican big shots are expected to fight the Plan because they like to receive large chunks of electoral votes from big Middle Atlantic states under the all-or-nothing system.
Although it has wide support, the present method of election should be replaced. Back in 1787 the Constitution's framers set up an indirect method of election, because, among other reasons, they felt the people were "too little informed of the personal characters" of the nominees. This has all changed. In the last election every whistle stop and hill country hamlet saw or heard all about the major candidates.
And with increased knowledge of the candidates has come increased emphasis on the right to vote. This right should not be hampered by an obsolete and not entirely democratic electoral structure. The Lodge Plan seems the most practical substitute for the present structure, the most practical way to achieve presidential elections that truly represent the nation's choice.