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Under a direct popular election of our President and Vice President, and only under such a system, we can be certain
That no man could be elected President receiving fewer votes than his opponent;
That no citizen's vote would be discounted or have more weight than any other;
That election results could not be distorted by faithless electors, by out-of-date census figures, or by a one-State, one-vote ballot in the House;
That every citizen would have reason to vote for President, even if his State or district should be dominated by the opposite party, just as he now votes directly for every other office; and, finally,
That presidential campaigns and presidential-vice presidential tickets would be devised for their appeal to all voters in all States without extra emphasis to large States and without an extra bonus for small States; 350,000 people in Omaha, Nebr., for example, would have the same influence and importance as 350,000
people in Oakland, Calif. Opponents of the direct election of Presidents often cite the words of Senator John F. Kennedy in opposition to this proposal in 1956. Inasmuch as I had some connection with those statements, I should point out that Senator Kennedy, as a Senator from a populous State, was defending the big-State preference inherent in the present system; that he felt obligated to oppose all changes in order to maximize the opposition he was leading to the proportional and district division schemes which had a real prospect of passage that year whereas direct elections had none anyway; that he spoke of maintaining the balance of an entire “solar system” of advantages and disadvantages in our political system, in which the urban advantage in the electoral college was needed to offset the rural advantage in the House of Representatives, the latter not then having been emasculated by the Supreme Court's one-man, one-vote decision; and, finally, that he spoke before the 1960 and 1968 elections provided us with not only examples of faithless and unpledged electors but electoral vote results so close as to bring us to the brink of constitutional crisis.
I realize that the direct popular vote is not the only alternative. But to retain the present system of electoral votes while splitting each State's votes along proportional or congressional district lines would only add further distortions to those presently threatening an undemocratic result.
I prefer the present system either to the district or proportional systems because they would be a step backward.
I realize also that the possibilities of corruption and uncertainty will exist under any system; but they are best confronted in a system that is fundamentally democratic, easily understood and applied to every other election in the country.
To achieve this critically needed reform, I urge this subcommittee to report as clean and simple an amendment as possible. I do not believe that a runoff provision or a 40-percent plurality is absolutely essential; or that the problems inherent in a national primary system have yet been overcome; or that it is necessary to include in this amendment controversies over national voting standards. I do believe in the words of Lincoln's first inaugural:
This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it * * *. Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the world?
Senator BayH. Thank you very much, Mr. Sorensen. I must say that was a very compelling and concise argument supporting the direct election proposal.
Senator Ervin, do you have any questions you would like to ask?
Senator Ervin. Mr. Sorensen, it seems to me you conjure up a lot of possibilities that could happen under the present system which have never happened. It is easy enough to conjure up some possibilities that could happen under a popular election system, is it not? Mr. SORENSEN. Of course it is, Senator.
Senator ERVIN. In other words, it is possible under a popular election system that a President could be selected by the one voter, he casting the determining majority vote of one, and that his vote was either purchased or it was coerced against his will or that it was even a vote of a dead man who had been fraudulently voted under an absentee voting law.
Mr. SORENSEN. Senator, that is true in the election of Senators, Congressmen, Governors, and everyone else, and since we have experience with that system, it seems to me we ought to be able to share that experience in a presidential election.
Senator ERVIN. Well, I had a man tell me one time, he was in a certain large city, and the same thing could happen in an urban area, and said he was a stranger there, he was not even registered to vote, he was not even a resident of the State, but he was hauled around different precincts of the city and paid a dollar every time he cast a vote in the name of somebody else and he managed, he said, to make $17 that day by voting fraudulently in 17 precincts, and it is possible under that kind of a system, a popular election system, that a man like that could have given a President a majority by having him vote in that way.
Mr. SORENSEN. Yes, Senator; I have even heard in Southern States where that has happened in election for Senators.
Senator ERVIN. I have heard about that in Northern and Western States.
Mr. SORENSEN. Exactly. My point is since it is going on now, we ought to root out political corruption everywhere, but do not deny people their rights.
Senator ERVIN. But the question, the thing I am just replying to, the fact that you are a very brilliant man, you have very brilliantly conjured up a lot of possibilities that could happen under the present system, and I could conjure up a lot that could happen under the new system.
But would not your ideas, carried to the logical conclusion, that is, which is a one-man, one-vote system throughout the country, would it not require an abolition of the Senate in order to carry your ideas to the logical--their logical conclusion?
Mr. SORENSEN. But no one is suggesting carrying it to any more conclusions, Senator. I am suggesting that it would be applied to
the presidency which should be an office representing the people. I am very much in favor of the federal system, and the federal system is preserved in our Constitution through the Senate and through the establishment of State units with governors. But I am frank to say that the fact that the electoral vote is divided according to States does not preserve the federal system in the slightest. No State has its power increased by the fact that its electors vote separately in the electoral college. States' rights, I am inclined to agree with you and Senator Thurmond, have been eroded over the years as the centralization of the government in Washington has increased. But the electoral college has neither prevented nor contributed to that.
Senator ERVIN. Take a State like Wyoming which has two Senators and one Congressman. Its powers certainly would be reduced. Whether it is wise
Mr. SORENSEN. No, it would not, Senator. No, I must say, having been through some presidential campaigns, that Wyoming today has considerably less influence than it would have in a popular-vote election. The concentration today is necessarily on the large States, and, as I said, Omaha Nebr., today certainly is not given the same kind of treatment as Oakland, Calif., even though they are the same population,
Senator ERVIN. Mr. Sorensen, how do you reach the conclusion that a State which now has two Senators and one Congressman and now has three electoral votes, that its power, its voice in the selection of a President would not be diminished by the abolition of the electoral vote system?
Mr. SORENSEN. Because the present system necessarily, as has been pointed out earlier, provides—requires the presidential candidate in selecting his vice president and in mapping out his campaign to pay more attention to the large States than-and with the large electoral votes—than with the small States.
Senator ERVIN. Is there any reasonable prospect that that would be altered if the popular vote system was adopted ? Mr. SORENSEN. Yes.
Senator ERVIN. Because still the most votes are going to be in the most populous States, and the same incentive, the same incentive to campaign in those States would exist. Mr. SORENSEN. Not at all. Senator ERVIN. To get the most votes where the most voters are. Mr. SORENSEN. Not at all, Senator.
Senator ERVIN. And it would be less necessity for them to pay any attention to the smaller States.
Mr. SORENSEN. No, just the opposite. In Cheyenne, Wyo., let us sayI am sorry to say I do not know what the population of Cheyenne is, but let us say it has 350,000 people—very little attention is paid in campaigning in Cheyenne, Wyo., today even though it has 350,000 people, but a lot of attention is paid to campaigning in smaller areas, in New York State, because we are trying to get into the electoral vote column of the winning candidate that large electoral vote in the large State. But if we had a direct popular vote election, Cheyenne would be just as important as every other city of that size, the voters there would have just as much influence, they would be given just as much attention.
Senator ERVIN. Well, Mr. Sorensen, I have done a lot of campaigning myself, and for the Senate, in trying to get popular votes, and I
concentrate my effort in the centers of greatest population, and I would spend far more time campaigning, for example, in the county of Mecklenburg, which is our biggest county and which has a very high percentage of our votes, than I would in some little crossroads place that had about 100 residents.
Mr. SORENSEN. Naturally, Senator. That is the democratic system. You want to go where the people are, because those are the people who are going to vote for you, and the President is going to do that as well.
What I am saying is that there are centers of population in small States, as well as in large States, and the centers of population in the small States are ignored in today's presidential elections.
Senator ERVIN. With all due respect, and I have high respect for you, but I think that is a non sequitur. I think that when the President is elected by popular vote, they are going to concentrate their efforts in areas where there are large populations and the small States are going to be ignored then to the same extent that they are ignored now. In fact, I think they are going to be ignored more because their voice in the election of the Preisdent is going to be very much smaller. Today, 36 States under the present population would lose a portion of their present voice.
Mr. SORENSEN. I grew up in a small State, Senator, which was ignored in all the presidential elections.
Senator ERVIN. You forsook it though for New York State, because opportunities there were better, and the presidential candidates are going to do exactly the same thing, because the votes there are better, more votes. So I think that is an argument which is not valid.
Now, also do you not think you have to agree with me that if you take your argument logically to the extreme it would justify abolishing the Senate, and also justify the position that since Senators and Congressmen have voices in the affairs of all of the States and they are national legislators it would be well if you are going to give everybody in the United States the same voice in the election of Federal officials, that Senators and Congressmen ought to be elected by all of the people of the Nation rather than by States or districts ?
Mr. SORENSEN. No, Senator, with all due respect, I do not think that follows at all.
Senator ERVIN. That would be the logical conclusion though. It might be a very unfortunate result. It would be a logical conclusion, would it not?
Mr. SORENSEN. No, I cannot agree with that.
Senator ERVIN. Why should a man, for example, why shouldn't a small State like Wyoming or Nevada or Alaska, as far as population is concerned, have as big a voice in making the laws of the Nation as a populous State like New York or California ?
Mr. SORENSEN. Because we do have a federal system which I think is peculiarly appropriate to our country with its size and diversity, and I am in favor of preserving that through the Senate and through the Federal-State system which elects our Governors and State legislatures. It does not mean that they are required to elect our President.
Senator ERVIN. But the Constitution, you attack the method of electing the President on the grounds it denies each voter an equal voice in the selection of the President. But does not our present system, especially as far as the Senate is concerned, deny each Ameri.
can voter the same voice in selecting those who are going to control the Senate?
Mr. SORENSEN. But the Senator-each Senator is there to represent his State, and under our Federal system every voter in his State does have an equal voice and an equal vote in electing that Senator. I am very much in favor of that. The President does not represent any State. He represents the people of his country, and I think every citizen of this country ought to have an equal voice and vote in electing him just as they have an equal voice and vote in electing their own Senator.
Senator Ervin. I agree with you on what you say about the Senate, but I do not think that is an answer to my question. My question is from the standpoint of logic, the provisions of the Constitution which give each State two Senators regardless of size denies to the voters in New York the same voice in the selection of the Senate, a legislative body whose concurrence is necessary to make Federal law, in the selection of the Members of the Senate.
Mr. SORENSEN. What you are saying is that the voter in New York has proportionately less influence in the Senate than the voter in Alaska. That is true.
Senator ERVIN. Yes. And since it is so abhorrent to give one voter a greater voice in an election of a President, then logically it ought to be equally abhorrent to give him an unequal vote in the selection of the Senate.
Mr. SORENSEN. No, it is not abhorrent unless you equate the office of U.S. Senator to the office of the President of the United States with all due respect to the three gentlemen before me. I do not equate them. The Senator is there to represent his State, and I believe each citizen of his State should have an equal voice. The President is not there to represent any one State.
Senator ERVIN. Under the one-man, one-vote method of popular Government, necessarily a Senator is a Federal legislator, he votes for legislation for the entire 50 States, and yet you deny the people of 49 States any voice in this election.
Now, as a matter of fact, under the proportional vote- I do not favor, I might say, I do not favor the district electoral system, because it preserves one of the things that I think that is unfortunate about the electoral system, and that is it allows the winner to take all as far as two electoral votes of the State are concerned; the two are based on senatorial representation, and allows the winner to take all of the congressional district. I think it is desirable to divide-my proposal doesdivide the electoral votes of the State or party to the popular vote in each State, and I think it is also desirable to do away with electors, entirely do away with the electors, but not the electoral vote, and I think in the great majority of cases that the winning candidate under the proportional voting system is going to get not only a majority of the electoral vote but is going to get a majority of the popular vote.
Mr. SORENSEN. I am aware of your proposal, Senator, but, as I say, I regard it as a step backward from the present system, as bad as the present system is, because it only introduces further distortions by splitting up each State. If you believe, as I say, in the State as a unit. and as an area which ought to be making its direct influence felt on presidential elections, then it hardly makes sense for a State such as