Popular vote

In the wake of the 2000 election, the Electoral College came under heightened scrutiny. For the first time in 124 years, the candidate who drew the most popular support did not win the White House.

Ever since, Democrats angry at Al Gore's loss to Republican George W. Bush have floated various proposals to undermine -- or even eliminate -- the Electoral College, put in place by the founders to protect against the "heats and ferments" sometimes associated with direct democracy.

Never mind, of course, that the 2000 election could have gone either way -- or that subsequent elections could result in a Republican capturing the popular vote yet losing the Oval Office. Many Democrats were so incensed they sought to reform the system to their advantage.

But now, they're finding out, two sides can play that game.

On Tuesday, an official in the California Republican Party announced that he will work to put an initiative before voters awarding the state's electors by congressional district, rather than through the traditional winner-take-all scenario. That would be devastating to national Democrats, who count on left-leaning California's 55 electoral votes every four years.

States are free to award their electors however they see fit. Currently, only two states -- Maine and Nebraska -- award their electors by congressional district. In 2004, President Bush carried 22 California districts.

If such a measure passes, said Democratic consultant Chris Lehane, "it will virtually guarantee that a Republican wins the White House in 2008." Mr. Lehane went on to call the plan "an effort to rig the system in order to fix the election." That's rich.

First of all, the measure -- even if approved -- won't be in effect in 2008. Secondly, where were Mr. Lehane and other outraged Democrats when California lawmakers were voting to change the system so the state's presidential electors might be automatically awarded to the winner of the national popular vote?

This was a not-so-subtle effort to gut the Electoral College through a system of interstate compacts that would determine which electors voted for whom. Democrats got behind it because they felt it might benefit their candidates in the future.

How about if each side simply stops playing games? The 2000 election is over. It represented only the third time in our 230-year history that the winner of the popular vote lost the election. But if activists on either side believe the Electoral College has outlived its purpose, let them propose and agitate for a constitutional amendment to get rid of it -- rather than play duck and cover around the edges.