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Bayh's 40% rule would scrap the constitutional lever that permits a "spoiler" like George Wallace to mount a sectionally based threat out of proportion to his popular strength. To swing an election, any future third party would have to win more than 20% of the nationwide vote. Some observers fear that this would severely check the historic power of third parties to press new ideas or important compromises on the major parties. Reform advocates, however, contend a major party that loses badly enough is always in the market for the new ideas and voting groups a minority party reveals. Nixon's alliance with ex-Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond, for example, seems aimed at siphoning off Wallace votes into the Republican tank.
Though the chances of an electoral debacle in 1968 may seem remote, the very tempo and tone of U.S. democracy demand reform of the anachronistic Electoral College. The long-term trend of the American political system is toward direct democratic participation of the voter in government at every level. State legislatures, which originally chose most presidential electors, ceded that role in the early 1800s; their constitutional right to elect U.S. Senators was relinquished to the electorate 55 years ago by the 17th Amendment. State laws restricting the vote to landowners virtually disappeared by 1850, and in 1920 women won the vote. Recent franchise laws and reapportionment decisions have dramatically advanced the work of ensuring a fair and equal vote for every citizen. Direct popular election of the President is the next logical step.