WASHINGTON (AP) _ That George W. Bush could join John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes and Benjamin Harrison as White House winners who lost the nation's popular vote is fueling new calls to abolish the state-by-state Electoral College.
``The people would decide. A majority would rule,'' said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. ``The point we're trying to make is that this is no way to run a country.''
Durbin is co-sponsor of a proposed amendment to the Constitution that would require direct election of presidents, ending the two-centuries-old system of state-based electors. More than 700 attempts to overhaul the system over the decades have failed.
With Florida's recount scheduled to be completed Thursday, Bush trailed Democrat Al Gore in the popular vote but will get the required 270 electoral votes if he wins the Sunshine State, where his lead was too small to avoid a recount. Many voters and lawmakers say such a result should not be possible.
``The awkwardness comes in that the principle of one man, one vote, is not precisely reflected,'' said Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa.
Apart from the inherent difficulty of amending the Constitution, turning to a nationwide popular vote to pick a president has long faced extreme difficulties. People from smaller states, already struggling for attention in most presidential races, worry about being ignored altogether by candidates who choose to campaign exclusively in the populous regions.
``I happen to think it may help the smaller states,'' Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said about the Electoral College. ``South Dakota isn't the biggest state in the country, and we're going to look at those three electoral votes with some degree of concern if we lose it.''
The Founding Fathers created the Electoral College in 1787 as a buffer between the citizens and election of the president. It was to protect the nation from mob rule and ensure power for less-populous states.
In a presidential election, voters cast ballots for 538 electors, not directly for the president and his vice presidential candidate. The electors, distributed according to each state's number of House and Senate members, meet in December officially to complete the state-by-state electoral process. Large states get more electoral votes because House seats are based on population.
Most states use a winner-take-all system, except Nebraska and Maine. They allocate one elector to the winner of each congressional district and two electors for the winner of the state overall. The two states, taken together, account for nine electoral votes.
``The Electoral College is meant to require that a candidate have a broad geographic reach,'' said Michael Malbin, political science professor at the State University of New York at Albany. ``It requires people to have different kinds of constituencies.''
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., put it this way: ``If we did away with the Electoral College, an awful lot of states would never get a visit from a presidential candidate.''
Durbin and his supporters argue that the Electoral College also dictates where candidates campaign by focusing attention on a few battleground states with large numbers of electoral votes. This year, Michigan, Florida, Illinois, Ohio and Missouri were visited time and again.
``If a state is not in play, it doesn't make any difference,'' Durbin said.
This year's tight race between Bush and Gore did put several smaller states in play during the campaign's final days, including New Mexico, West Virginia and New Hampshire.
Sen. Robert Torricelli, a Democrat from populous New Jersey, said the Constitution's framers meant to make the presidential election a vote of the people in each state, not a vote of the country as a whole.
``This is not the federal republic of America,'' Torricelli said. ``It is the United States of America. Our sense of union, and everyone's inclusion, has now been based on this Electoral College.''
There may be hearings and debate in the coming months on Capitol Hill on the proposed amendment, but backers realize the difficulty of pushing it through. To amend the Constitution, both the House and Senate must pass the amendment with two-thirds majorities. Then legislatures in at least 38 of the 50 states must ratify it.
``Before we change it, I think we need to look at it and think about it pretty hard,'' said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss. ``But we should not put it outside the realm of possibility.''
Dozens of constitutional amendments are introduced in Congress every year. Only 27 have been added to the nation's cornerstone document.