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Crawford: Its high time to shut this college down
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It was a moment for the history books last week as 15 Georgians gathered at the Golden Dome to play their role in finalizing the Electoral College outcome of this year's race for president.

The ceremony was duplicated in state capitols around the nation as the members of the Electoral College formally decided that Democratic nominee Barack Obama would become the first African-American to be elected president of the United States.

Republican candidate John McCain, who lost the election to Obama, carried 52 percent of Georgia's popular vote so he received the state's 15 electoral votes, which were officially cast by 15 persons selected by the state Republican Party.

Gov. Sonny Perdue told the electors sitting at antique wooden desks in the state Senate chamber that their actions symbolized the peaceful transition of power that takes place with every change of administrations.

"We understand the other side got more votes and we accept that," Perdue said. "We're Americans, and I want this administration to be successful because I want America to be successful. We'll have another shot in four years."

The certificates from the electors for Georgia and the 49 other states will be forwarded to the U.S. Senate, where they will be formally counted and a winner declared in a joint session of Congress held on Jan. 8.

The Electoral College is a process as old as the American republic, but it has also been a target of criticism for many years. You can say that it's unfair because presidents, unlike every other elected official in this country, are not required to win the office by popular vote.

You can also make the argument that it thwarts the will of the people because it allows a candidate to win the presidency even if he receives fewer popular votes than his opponent, as we saw with George W. Bush in the 2000 election.

Critics also contend that the "winner take all" aspect of awarding a state's electors to one candidate effectively disenfranchises those who vote for the other candidate: this would include the 1.8 million people in Georgia who voted for Obama, as well as the 5 million people in California, the 4 million people in Florida, and the 2.7 million people in New York who voted for McCain.

While the Electoral College system has not been eliminated, it is slowly changing. Two states, Maine and Nebraska, now provide for a portion of their electoral votes to be awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in a congressional district. This feature enabled Obama to get one electoral vote in Nebraska, even though McCain carried the overall statewide vote.

Several states have also adopted laws that provide for their electoral votes to be awarded to the candidate who gets the most popular votes nationwide, with a proviso that these laws will only take effect when they have been adopted by states controlling a majority of the electoral votes.

Maryland last year was the first state to adopt this "national popular vote" compact and similar bills have been passed by New Jersey, Hawaii and Illinois. The same measure has been introduced in Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina and Rhode Island.

A group of Democratic legislators in Georgia plan to introduce their own version of a "popular vote" bill in next year's session.

"This is not a partisan issue, this is an issue about expanding democracy," said Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, at a news conference held shortly before the Republican electors met at the capitol.

While nearly 47 percent of the state's voters supported Obama, they "will have no voice, no representation in the votes today that are cast for Georgia," Orrock said.

"We believe it's time for a change in this state and time for a change in this country," said Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, D-Decatur, who called the Electoral College "flawed and outdated."

"I should think this is a nonpartisan issue, because at some point this state could turn blue and Republicans would want their votes to count," Benfield added. "This is something everyone should be supportive of."

It is not likely that the popular vote bill will be adopted in Georgia's Republican-controlled legislature, but the idea is obviously picking up support in other states.

"I think momentum is growing," Orrock said. "It's not going to happen overnight. Change rarely does."

Tom Crawford is the editor of Capitol Impact's Georgia Report, an Internet news service.