It’s here! The Republican Convention — the big show we’ve been waiting for. I’m sure it’s the hottest thing to hit Cleveland since 1997 when they won the American League Pennant but lost the Series.

This first day wasn’t quite the thrilling event pundits have been touting, though it had its moments, at least a few of which will become sound bites on the late news.

No shootings, no riots worth noting, in or outside the convention hall. Trump didn’t say anything wildly outrageous, or at least nothing I remember. Frankly, after last night, when Trump declared Obama as personally responsible for the shootings in Baton Rouge while his so-called running mate said Hillary Clinton invented ISIS, he’d be hard put to top that.

GOP convention 2016 hall-2

This is about how our electoral system does — and doesn’t — work. It’s a rewrite of a post from last March when we were in the early stages of political self-destruction. We are much further down that road now.

The United States isn’t a democracy. We are a constitutional republic. Over all, the system is pretty good and usually works. Eventually. Except when it comes to election law and picking a president.

jefferson election poster2

The first time this became apparent, it was 1800. The U.S. was a mere 24-years old. It was only our second real national election because George Washington was selected, not elected.

Due to a glitch in the architecture of the electoral college, the Democratic-Republican candidates — Thomas Jefferson, for President and Aaron Burr for Vice President — won the same number of electoral votes.

According to History Central: 

… no one had the majority of votes, and the election was turned over to the House of Representatives. The House deliberated from February 11th to February 17th and voted 36 times. The Federalists had decided to support Burr … (and) would have won since they were the majority of the outgoing House. However, the constitution called for the election of a President by the House on a state-by-state basis. The Federalists could not carry enough states. On the 36th ballot Jefferson was selected.

That glitch got fixed in time for the next election in 1804, but twenty years later, there was a four-way election starring John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, William H Crawford, and Andrew Jackson. The electoral vote was Jackson – 99, Adams – 84, Crawford – 41, Clay – 37. The three leading candidates went to the House of Representatives for a final decision. With a little help from media-fueled scandal, J.Q. Adams won on the first ballot of the House. After taking office, he appointed Henry Clay Secretary of State. Hmm. Nothing suspicious there.


This was the last time the House made the pick, but it wasn’t the last race to be decided outside the ballot box.

In 1876 the Democrats nominated Samuel Tilden while the Republicans nominated Rutherford B. Hayes. Tilden won the popular vote by 250,000 votes (out of approximately 2 million), but the vote was tight in South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana. Exactly how this got resolved is complicated. Suffice to say, it was a cooperative bag job by Congress and the SJC. The final decision landed Hayes in the Oval Office and brought an end to Reconstruction. Which, coincidentally, is what the south wanted all along.

cleveland-tilden campaign poster

In the election of 1888 Grover Cleveland (incumbent Democratic President) faced Republican Benjamin Harrison. Cleveland won the popular vote, but lost the electoral vote. Harrison became President, but lost to Cleveland in a rematch four years later, making Cleveland the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms. It’s also the only “disputed” election settled by an election.

The first memorable election of my life was the tight race between Kennedy and Nixon in 1960. It was the first election I watched on TV. It went on through the night and was still undecided as the sun rose.

kennedy election posterI was 13. I liked Kennedy. He made great speeches and was cute. The electoral vote was extremely close, but Kennedy held a lead in the popular vote for the entire race. This was the first time I remember hearing everyone say (after Nixon conceded) “We should overhaul the electoral college.” I’m still waiting.

Forty years later, the Supreme Court stepped in and stopped the recount of the tightest election in our history. Just over 537 votes out of more than 6 million separated Gore and Bush. Evidence strongly suggests Gore was the true winner, but the Supreme Court called the play. Which they had — have — no authority to do. The problem is, no one else had (has) the authority to decide a disputed presidential election. What’s a country to do?

bush-gore time mag

There are precedents, but each is a one-off, a solution cobbled together to patch up the crack in the liberty bell. If it happens again — we can safely assume it will — a new quickie solution will be thrown together.

When the Supreme Court stopped the recount in 2000 — a vote which was entirely along party lines (party lines don’t officially exist in the Supreme Court) — nothing in the Constitution gave the SJC the right to do it. But in the U.S., the Supreme Court is “the final word.” You can’t argue with the Supreme Court, can you? With no precedent for disputing the authority of the SJC, we accept it. The buck stops there. We grumble, complain, rail, and rant. But no one refuses to obey a Supreme Court ruling.

It’s something to ponder while we watch a terrifying election. Maybe it’s not the most terrifying election ever. As Stephen Colbert noted, “Trump might not actually be the worst ever president. We’ve had some really bad presidents …”


Indeed we have had some terrible chief executives. The constitutional requirements to become president are that he or she be 35 years old, a resident of the United States for 14 years, and a natural-born Citizen (a term not defined in the Constitution). No requirement for education or experience. We are free to pick nominees from the bottom of the barrel. We are also free to pick the best and brightest — but apparently, we don’t want smart, capable people running things.

You wouldn’t hire someone to mow your lawn without knowing if they can use a lawn mower, yet we are nominating a guy to run for president because he has a lot of money and wants the job. Otherwise, he has no experience that would lead anyone to believe he can or should do the job.

That’s the thing about freedom. We are free to trade our freedom for a bag of baseballs or a puff of hot air. We won’t be the first or last country to choose a terrible leader. I hope we survive our choices.

Categories: American history, Election, Government, Humor, Politics

Tags: , , , ,

23 replies

  1. Reblogged this on Sarah's Attic Of Treasures and commented:
    There have been questions about the Electoral College. Sharing another post.


  2. A fascinating circus show. Fun to watch from the sidelines, a nightmare to live through


  3. I am neither republican or democrat. I have voted for both in the past depending on who I like. So far this election…I don’t like either choice very much. And, it is rather embarrassing to know the rest of the world is seeing this circus unfold. I too hope we survive.


  4. We’re watching it here – blow by blow, right down to the plagiarism of Trump’s wife’s speech.


  5. There is a lot to say there for me, so I do not think I will say anything except for who is this trump guy – a joke? I just lived through the english election for prime minister. quite a nice domestic affair, some lost their job and some got a new one. Lots of discussions on the TV, so now let’s see what happens.


    • We ALL thought he was a joke. We didn’t believe — NO ONE believed — he could end up as a candidate for President. We grossly underestimated so many things.

      The good news? Our government contains a LOT of checks and balances. Built into our government via the Constitution. Even if elected, there’s a very good chance Trump will be unable to get anything done. The president on his own has little real power. He needs Congress to pass laws and start ward. As everyone has seen for the past 8 years, when Congress doesn’t want to do it, they don’t. They can sit on their hands until Trump goes away as they have done with Obama. It would not be good for the country or the world, but probably better than if Trump were to actually effect the things he claims he wants to do.

      We have had some really AWFUL presidents in the past. We survived them. We will survive this too, but it’ll be ugly.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Certainly not the first or last country to choose a terrible leader but it’s a pretty worrying prospect as none of the candidates are confidence inspiring. I guess no electoral system is perfect. Our federal election, one of the closest in years, took a week of counting and recounting votes before a decision was reached. I’ve heard stories of ballot boxes disappearing and of people turning up to find they could not vote because either their name was not on the rolls or the booth had run out of ballot papers. I had never heard that last one before. Voting is compulsory here so you’d think they would print enough papers and some over. I was one of the ones who turned up to find that my name was no longer on the rolls but I did get to vote, the electoral commission have someone at each booth to deal with that sort of thing so I don’t know what to think about that. This was considered a long election campaign for us as the election date was announced two months or so ahead, three weeks to a month is considered normal here. I don’t know how we’d cope with the eighteen months or so that a Presidential campaign seems to last.


    • Our system is ridiculous. It badly needs updating.


    • I should amend my original response. The electoral part of our system needs to be revised and updated. It made sense — sort of — in 1789, but the world has changed and American has changed. The system was designed to do exactly what it does: prevent “upstart demagogues and the otherwise unqualified” from being able to grab the people and gain power. It was intended to provide a check on pure democracy. And it does that, but not in the way it was intended. It is as likely to backfire and prevent the right guy from getting in as it is from stopping the wrong one. When it was created, I think we had maybe 15 states (I’d have to look it up).

      Today we have 50 states and several hundred million voting age citizens from every ethnic group, with roots from all over the world. No longer a country of disaffected Englishmen, It’s time to revise the concept and the process. Everyone knows it.

      But. It will take smart and dedicated leaders — plus the backing of BOTH parties in Congress — which is why is has NOT been done. We are a fractious bunch of people. Getting us to agree on anything is the next thing to a miracle.


      • Electoral reform is hard to achieve when it has to be approved by politicians who have an interest in keeping things as they are.


        • I think, in this case — unlike reforms to election FUNDING — the way we count votes is pretty neutral. It is equally likely to hurt or help either side. It’s just a really big thing because it involves changing the Constitution. And passing an amendment to the constitution is (intentionally) difficult. Not impossible, but it requires a lot of America to agree at the same time and this is not easy to achieve in such a big, diverse population. That’s why it hasn’t been done. Usually, the system works and the person with the most votes gets elected. When the system fails, then everybody gets really upset and we all agree it needs to be fixed and then … it gets forgotten until next time.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. I just hope the rest of us can survive your choice! Vote for a Green candidate and tell the big two they’ve had their day, please.

    Liked by 1 person

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