Historical Highlights

A Constitutional Amendment to Abolish the Electoral College

September 18, 1969
A Constitutional Amendment to Abolish the Electoral College Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration The clerk tallied the official electoral count for the 1968 presidential election.
On this date, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a constitutional amendment to eliminate the Electoral College and provide for the direct election of the President using the results of the national popular vote. The effort in Congress to overhaul America’s election system followed the contentious 1968 presidential contest. That fall, former Vice President Richard M. Nixon defeated the incumbent Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Alabama Governor George Wallace for the White House. Although Nixon won 301 votes in the Electoral College, he received just 43 percent of the popular vote. Moreover, for much of the campaign it appeared possible that Wallace would win enough votes in the Electoral College to prevent any candidate from capturing a majority, throwing the election to the House. Congress wasted little time seeking changes, and only days into the new 91st Congress (1969–1971) both Speaker John W. McCormack of Massachusetts and House Republican Leader Gerald Ford of Michigan called for electoral reform. Importantly, House Judiciary Committee chairman Emanuel Celler of New York also wanted to eliminate the Electoral College. In April 1969 Celler’s measure, H.J. Res. 681, which replaced the Electoral College with the national popular vote and a runoff election if no candidate captured at least 40 percent of the nationwide total, was approved in the Judiciary Committee 28 to 6. When H.J. Res. 681 went to the House Floor on September 10, Celler opened debate by criticizing a system where the winner of the most popular votes could still lose the election. “We will be like spineless—and I put it that way—jellyfish to continue an elective method that entails such tragic and idiotic factors,” he said. Speaking a little while later, William Moore McCulloch of Ohio, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, noted that “anyone who subscribes to the neutral principles that Government should be representative, that every vote should count, that individual voting power should be equal, that winners should be declared winners and losers should be declared losers must also subscribe to the direct election proposal.” On September 18, after six days of consideration, the House passed H.J. Res. 681 with widespread bipartisan support, 338 to 70. The measure never made it out of the Senate, despite its own ambition for reform.

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