Election process prompts lively EvCC discussion

By ERIC STEVICK

Herald Writer

Put on the same panel three Everett Community College faculty members interested in American government during a razor-thin presidential election and all sorts of content bubbles up.

That’s what happened over lunch in the student union building Monday with 90 minutes of discussion that yielded historic and modern-day observations aimed at providing perspective to the yet-to-be-decided presidential election.

For example:

  • When Rutherford B. Hayes defeated Samuel Tilden in 1876, it was the most disputed presidential election in U.S. history. Congress had to create a special Electoral Commission to decide the winner.

    Tilden won the popular vote; Hayes’ won the Electoral College election by one vote despite questionable political party practices on both sides.

    Hayes became known as "Rutherfraud" in some circles EvCC history instructor Tom Gaskin said.

    Of his popular vote showing, Tilden said "… I shall receive for posterity the credit of having been elected to the highest position in the gift of the people without any of the cares and responsibility of the office."

    On March 2, 1877, just 56 hours before Inauguration Day, Hayes was formally announced as the winner.

  • The framers of the Constitution seriously considered having up to three executives leading the country. Imagine what that might be like at election time in this era, said Gary London, an EvCC political science instructor.

    Another proposal was to have the president chosen by the legislative branch instead of the populace, London said.

    The Electoral College system was eventually agreed upon to provide states with smaller populations more say in who is elected president.

    It could come under attack in Congress after the recent election but "my guess is it will survive," London said.

    "… I am not convinced the small states would do any worse under the popular election than they would under the Electoral College," he said.

  • The punch ballot, which has been the bane of the Florida presidential election returns, dates back to the last century and is still used in many Washington counties.

    London believes the Florida experience will be "the death knell" for the punch ballot.

    Some observers of the panel discussion questioned the media’s use of exit polling and its quick conclusions.

    Given First Amendment guarantees, no one on the panel expected changes in federal law to restrict the media. However, the premature decision to say Vice President Al Gore won Florida was "seared into the skin of certain television executives," Gaskin said.

    London actually would like to see more exit polling by competing companies. The information is valuable to political scientists, but now there is only one firm doing it. Ideally, there would several organizations to cross-check results, he said.

    Regardless of the outcome, the 2000 presidential election is a reminder that "sometimes we don’t get instant gratification," London said.

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