THE BLOG
11/14/2012 12:38 pm ET Updated Jan 14, 2013

Parenting and the Electoral System

Phew! Luckily, the electoral vote winner this time around was also the biggest popular vote getter. No matter how many times I explain it to them, my kids can't seem to grasp that the people's choice in the world's oldest democracy is not necessarily the one who assumes the country's highest office, but they're only 10 (twins).

We also managed to avoid an electoral tie. The possibility of such an outcome, though exceedingly remote, was tantalizing enough to generate a small flurry of articles and blog commentary in the couple of weeks before the election. There was even speculation about a Romney/Biden administration as the fallout of House and Senate votes to break a 269-to-269 split.

Various bizarre and embarrassing electoral scenarios having been avoided, we'll manage to forget, as we do after every presidential race, that we continue to employ an unnecessarily archaic, flawed and incomprehensible-to-10-year-olds mechanism for choosing our chief executive.

It has already been altered once by the 12th amendment, and the catalyst for the change was, ironically, an electoral tie. In 1800, the Democratic-Republican party candidates for president and vice president, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, each ended up with 73 electoral votes. Jefferson and Burr were running mates on the same ticket. It could not have been clearer who was standing for which office. But when the count showed that he and Jefferson had tied, Burr suddenly had visions of living in the White House. While professing loyalty to Jefferson, he maneuvered to usurp the presidency. The Constitution made allowance for cases in which no single candidate received an absolute majority of electoral votes and, after 36 ballots, Jefferson was elected in a House vote. Astoundingly, Burr had the gall to stay on as vice president. Compared to how Jefferson must have felt about Burr, a Romney/Biden pairing sounds like a bipartisan dream team. Lesson learned, no more ties between running mates.

Time now for another amendment that simply states, "The president and vice president of the United States shall be elected by the people thereof." We could handle it.

For the first century and a quarter of the country's existence, U.S. senators were selected by their state legislatures. The 17th amendment, ratified in 1913, allowed the people of each state to elect their senators and the sky did not fall in. In 2013, on the 100th anniversary of that progressive step, we should amend the Constitution again and let the people choose their presidents directly too.

I know... it will never happen, but it's embarrassing as a citizen and a parent that we can't make such a simple, visible and functional improvement in the structure of our republic. And it doesn't bode well for our capacity to cope with the many, much bigger challenges this century will bring.

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