While the Founders never intended that the President of the United States should be chosen directly by the American people, fidelity to democratic principles, rising expectations of presidential power and entrenched partisan consciousness have seemed to dictate more insistently over the last two centuries that the official widely believed to be the sole representative in government of the entire populace be appointed in the most democratic matter possible. Despite this evolution, the Electoral College remains entrenched in the Constitution despite the offense to democracy inherent in its disproportionate guarantee of at least three electoral votes to every state in the union. So many small states are presumed jealous of the power they gain from this arrangement that reformers concede the impossibility of abolishing the College by the usual amendment process. Instead, some small-d democrats have proposed an informal abrogation of the College by persuading states, each of them having the right to decide how its electors are chosen, to award all of their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote nationwide. The National Popular Vote movement has support in at least 20 states already, but while its intentions are as purely democratic as you could wish for, it finds itself opposed by a caucus of Democratic party assemblymen in New York State, despite a resounding victory in the state senate last year. As this report explains, Democratic opposition to the plan is based partly on calculation and partly on fear. With the electorate as polarized as ever, all the happy talk of the last fortnight notwithstanding, a razor-close vote on the model of 2000 and 2004 is likely in 2012. It's quite possible that a Republican candidate will win the popular vote next year, but it's also possible, as history shows, that a candidate can lose the popular vote and still win the electoral vote, thanks to the undemocratic disproportion built into the Electoral College. Democrats in New York clearly don't want to deny their incumbent any road to victory, while their own pride makes them unwilling to assign their electors to a Republican despite a Democrat winning the state.
I'm not keen on the NPV myself. Under current conditions, it would only make it even more difficult for independent presidential candidates. Call me perverse, but I wouldn't mind seeing presidential elections decided by the House of Representatives if no candidate gets an electoral-vote majority. If the Founders provided for it, it can't be a failure of their system, and if that seems undemocratic, then you ought to rethink the President's role in government. Having declared my opposition, however, I have to say that Democratic excuses, if reported accurately, are lame from a democratic perspective. I'm sure that their intolerant partisanship is reflected by Republican legislators elsewhere, and in either case partisanship itself is contradictory to democracy. It makes you wonder what Democrats mean by their name.