Emerson Democrats debate Electoral College

by Beacon Staff • December 12, 2007

"Ralph Nader, Apologize for 2004!" was the plea, and the title of the presentation which Boutillier, co-president of the recently reignited Emerson Democrats, shared with a small group of eight students discussing the flaws of and alternatives to the United States Electoral College.,While most Emerson students were feeling sorry for themselves as they crammed for finals on Dec. 12, sophomore Christopher Boutillier was demanding an apology of his own.

"Ralph Nader, Apologize for 2004!" was the plea, and the title of the presentation which Boutillier, co-president of the recently reignited Emerson Democrats, shared with a small group of eight students discussing the flaws of and alternatives to the United States Electoral College.

"We still have this ancient theory created by the founding fathers who wanted to base this nation heavily on a republic side rather than a democracy," the organizational and political communication major said of the Electoral College.

The Electoral College is a group of 538 electors who cast ballots to elect each president, usually based on which candidate wins the popular vote in their state. This system is outlined in Article II of the Constitution.

In the 2000 presidential election, Al Gore received over 500,000 more popular votes than George W. Bush, according to the Federal Election Commission. However, Bush won 271 electoral votes over Gore's 266, and took the election.

Boutillier asked those present how they felt about Ralph Nader's campaign in 2004, a candidacy he said could have diverted many liberal votes from John Kerry, that year's Democratic candidate and Massachusetts' junior senator.

Sophomore Billy Palumbo disagreed that those who voted for Nader would definitely have voted for Kerry and that a third-party candidacy should not be challenged.

"It's not really an American thing to do, to ask him to apologize for running for president," the film major said. "He was an American citizen getting votes from American citizens."

The question was raised as to whether more votes would have mattered in the 2004 election at all.

"The bottom line is that we're not voting," said Lily Borgih, a freshman political communication major. "Our vote is more of a suggestion."

She said she favors the adoption of an election based entirely on the popular vote as opposed to giving so much power to the 538 delegates who now decide elections.

Otherwise, the consensus at the event was that a few states would continue holding the power to choose the president. Iowa and New Hampshire, hosts of the race's first caucus and primary, have historically played a definitive role in who is elected president.

The battle to take these states has led to an unfair amount of attention by candidates to win the favor of the few and to ignore the many, Boutillier said.

"I'm from Pennsylvania," he said. "So when it comes to primaries, I've never seen a candidate, ever."

Pennsylvania is among the three "swing" states whose electoral colleges have been projected to go to either party.

Boutillier proposed a system of regional primaries and also suggested an emulation of the French government which, when no absolute majority was determined in the presidential election earlier this year, held a second election, known as a runoff, to find who truly won the popular vote.

At the end of his presentation, Boutillier opened the floor to any other points of view.

"If the Democrats were winning under the current system, I wouldn't care," said Aaron Bacon, a sophomore political communication major and treasurer of Emerson's Communication, Politics and Law Association.

Emerson Democrat co-president sophomore Alex Pearson was quick to challenge him.

"I know a lot of Republicans and I'd hate to see them feel the same way I did in 2000," the political communication major said.

Boutillier said in a later interview that he expected the small turnout for this event due to finals but wanted Emerson Democrats to host an event before the end of the semester. He ended the evening by encouraging everyone to invite their friends to attend future events, whether they are conservative or liberal.

And if the discussions don't inspire interest, he said, there are other incentives.

"I work at Upper Crust," he said. "So there will always be free pizza."