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Jackson's arguments against the process came back to life in 1876, when New York's Democratic Governor Samuel J. Tilden won the popular presidential vote with 4,287,670 ballots (50.9%). Even so, a special commission awarded the electoral votes of four disputed states to his opponent, Ohio's Republican Governor Rutherford B. Hayes, who thereupon squeaked into the White House by one electoral vote. Newspapers promptly pilloried Hayes as "His Fraudulency."

Nearly a century ago, Sam Tilden made light of his electoral loss by saying: "I shall receive from posterity the credit of having been elected to the highest position in the gift of the people, without any of the cares and responsibilities of the office." It is doubtful if a loser in one of today's superheated campaigns would be so graceful—or indeed whether a minority President like Adams or Hayes could deal with Congress or the world on so minuscule a mandate. Both Harry Truman in 1948 (with 49.6% of the popular vote) and John Kennedy in 1960 (49.5%) were hampered in their dealings with Congress by their minority status.

Most free-world governments grant their Chief Executive a more powerful mandate. Save for Argentina, Finland, India, Portugal and West Germany, which use modified Electoral College systems, democratic nations that have written their constitutions in the years since 1787 have generally avoided the Electoral College compromise in favor of either direct popular election (as in France and Mexico) or a variation on the English parliamentary system.

Over the years, would-be reformers of the U.S. system have looked both abroad and inward for a better electoral technique. Their proposals have taken four general tacks:

THE AUTOMATIC PLAN was first described by Thomas Jefferson in 1801 and was urged as recently as 1966 by Lyndon Johnson. It would abolish the electors, award their votes to each state's popular winner, and thus eliminate unpledged and "faithless electors" (17 in the past two decades) who might break their party pledges. Chief drawback of the automatic system: it would not abolish the two features that contribute to the election of minority Presidents: the winner-take-all system, and the unequal weights given to voters in different states.

THE RUNOFF PLAN would keep a deadlocked election out of the House by holding a runoff election between the top two candidates in order to determine their electoral vote. It, too, would maintain the chance of a minority President.

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