This petition from the secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts suggests the necessity of a constitutional amendment to change the method for choosing the President. It called for abolishing the Electoral College in favor of direct election of the President: “The national election of nineteen hundred and sixty-eight has once again demonstrated the dangerous potentialities for deadlock inherent in the Electoral College system.” The petition also described the system as “archaic, obsolete, and undemocratic.” The 1968 U.S. presidential election mirrored the cultural, social, and political upheaval of the nation at the time. President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s decision not to run for re-election, the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in California, and bloody riots at the Democratic Convention in Chicago roiled the Democratic primary. The general election pitted Johnson’s Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, against Republican Richard Nixon and a late-entrant, third-party candidate George Wallace. When the election results came in, the popular vote was very close: 31.8 and 31.3 percent for Nixon and Humphrey, respectively. However, the Electoral College—whose members are apportioned based on the size of each state’s congressional delegation—gave Nixon the victory by a much larger margin of 301 to 191 votes. (Wallace received 45 electoral votes.)
The Electoral College system is mandated by the Constitution. Its original intention was to give equal weight to the votes of each state in a time when most U.S. citizens lived in a few densely populated areas. Close elections, especially those featuring third-party candidates, called its continued efficacy into question.