Ahead of His Time: Sen. Birch Bayh, Electoral College Reformer 50 Years Ago

Editors’ Note: For more on the Electoral College, see today’s reposting of our 2018 article.

Related imageFormer Indiana Senator Birch Bayh, who died last week at 91, served from 1963 to 1981, and has rightfully been called a trailblazer; he was the only person since the Founding Fathers to draft more than one amendment to the Constitution (the 25th, dealing with presidential disability and succession; and the 26th, lowering the voting age to 18). His major interest, however, was a Constitutional amendment to eliminate the Electoral College and replace it with direct popular voting.  Later in 2006, he joined the National Popular Vote coalition, which aims to effect Electoral College reform through an interstate compact. Bayh wrote a foreword to the 2013 edition of the book Every Vote Equal by John Koza, a co-founder of National Popular Vote [www.nationalpopularvote.com]; it reads, in part,

In the final analysis, the most compelling reason for directly electing our President and Vice President is one of principle. In the United States, every vote must count equally. One person, one vote is more than a clever phrase, it’s the cornerstone of justice and equality. We can and must see that our electoral system awards victory to the candidates chosen by the most voters.

In September 1969, the House voted overwhelmingly to abolish the Electoral College and replace it with a direct popular vote.  When the amendment reached the Senate, it was blocked by Southern segregationists, led by Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who were well aware that the Electoral College had worked in their favor from the time of the 3/5ths compromise that bloated their electoral count.

Bayh was also active on other national issues: He was the chief Senate sponsor of Title IX to the Higher Education Act, which became law in 1972 and gave women equal opportunities in public education; it is best known for expanding opportunities for female athletes.

Bayh campaigned for the 1976 Democratic nomination for president, won by Jimmy Carter. 

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