Voting Behind the Veil of Ignorance

Every four years our political intellectuals kick off the presidential campaign season by putting forward proposals to reform the system by which Americans choose their leaders. The will of the people has been frustrated by all this elaborate machinery of voter registration, party primaries, and media hype, so they say, and those few who have some dim recollection of American history can point to the occasions on which a President's election was clouded by doubt: John Quincy Adams, whose victory over Andrew Jackson was engineered by Henry Clay in the House of Representatives; Rutherford B. Hayes, who only secured election by cutting certain deals, most notoriously with the Wade Hampton forces in South Carolina. Most recent and most hushed-up is the dubious election of John F. Kennedy, whose victory depended upon the key states of Illinois and Texas, delivered to him on a platter by the masters of machine polities, Richard Daley and Lyndon Johnson. A less patriotic man than Mr. Nixon might have plunged the United States into civil strife by protesting the results—Julius Caesar staged a coup d'etat with less justification.

But the ease that is most often brought up as an indictment of the system is the relatively benign example of Benjamin Harrison, who lost the popular vote but won the electoral vote by a narrow margin. This proves, we are told in civics classes and on CNN talk shows, the essential unfairness...

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