The First (And Last) Serious Challenge to the Electoral College System

Getty Images
Getty Images

No election cycle would be complete without a debate over whether or not the Electoral College should be abolished. But have we ever come close to actually replacing the system that everyone loves to hate?

The short answer is: Almost. Once. It all started when Richard Nixon was elected ...

The 1968 presidential election season was messy and contentious. The Vietnam War, widespread race riots, the assassination of Robert Kennedy, and lame duck Lyndon B. Johnson’s dissolving popularity created a perfect political storm for a third-party candidate. In 1968, that candidate was former Alabama Governor George Wallace, who ran on the American Independent Party ticket against Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat Hubert Humphrey.

Wallace’s pro-segregation platform was popular in the South, and when the ballots were counted, he ended up snagging 46 of the available 538 electoral votes. Though Nixon garnered 301 electoral votes and Humphrey went home with 191, the two were separated by less than 1 percent of the national total—just 510,314 votes. The disparity between the popular and electoral votes, as well as Wallace's success, led New York State Representative Emanuel Celler to introduce House Joint Resolution 681, a proposed Amendment to abolish the Electoral College and replace it with a system that required a president-vice president pair of candidates to win 40 percent or more of the national vote. In the event of a tie, or if no pair reached 40 percent, a runoff election would be held between the two tickets with the highest number of votes.

Proponents argued that this system was friendlier to third parties (while not being too friendly to third parties, as 50 percent was deemed to be), less complicated, and would never result in contingent elections by the Senate and House for president and vice president (which is a possibility with the Electoral College).

The Amendment was passed easily by the House Judiciary Committee in April 1969. By September of the same year, Celler’s Amendment passed with strong bipartisan support in the House of Representatives.

President Nixon endorsed the proposal and urged the Senate to pass its version, now called the Bayh-Celler Amendment after it was sponsored by Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana. A Senate Judiciary Committee approved the proposal with a vote of 11-6 in August 1970.

But things looked grim for the Bayh-Celler Amendment as the proposal prepared to move to the Senate floor. The measure was expected to fall short of the 67 votes needed to pass, so Bayh called Nixon for backup. While he never withdrew his support, the president didn’t call for any more favors regarding the Amendment. On September 17, 1970, the Bayh-Celler Amendment was met with a hearty filibuster from both parties, mostly from Southern states.

Senators from Mississippi, Arkansas, North Carolina, Nebraska, Hawaii, and South Carolina argued that they would lose influence in the national election, and even though the Electoral College is complicated and has some potentially messy loopholes, it had served the country well and there was no real reason to change it. But most explicit in his reasoning was Carl Curtis of Nebraska, who said, “My state of Nebraska has 92/100ths of 1 percent of the electoral vote. Based on the last election, we had 73/100ths of the popular vote. I am not authorized to reduce the voting power of my state by 20 percent.”

It was the beginning of the end for the best attempt in history to abolish the Electoral College. Eventually, the Senate voted to lay the Amendment aside to attend to other business. It officially died with the close of the 91st Congress on January 3, 1971.

A version of this story appeared in 2012.

This $49 Video Game Design Course Will Teach You Everything From Coding to Digital Art Skills

EvgeniyShkolenko/iStock via Getty Images
EvgeniyShkolenko/iStock via Getty Images

If you spend the bulk of your free time playing video games and want to elevate your hobby into a career, you can take advantage of the School of Game Design’s lifetime membership, which is currently on sale for just $49. You can jump into your education as a beginner, or at any other skill level, to learn what you need to know about game development, design, coding, and artistry skills.

Gaming is a competitive industry, and understanding just programming or just artistry isn’t enough to land a job. The School of Game Design’s lifetime membership is set up to educate you in both fields so your resume and work can stand out.

The lifetime membership that’s currently discounted is intended to allow you to learn at your own pace so you don’t burn out, which would be pretty difficult to do because the lessons have you building advanced games in just your first few hours of learning. The remote classes will train you with step-by-step, hands-on projects that more than 50,000 other students around the world can vouch for.

Once you’ve nailed the basics, the lifetime membership provides unlimited access to thousands of dollars' worth of royalty-free game art and textures to use in your 2D or 3D designs. Support from instructors and professionals with over 16 years of game industry experience will guide you from start to finish, where you’ll be equipped to land a job doing something you truly love.

Earn money doing what you love with an education from the School of Game Design’s lifetime membership, currently discounted at $49.


School of Game Design: Lifetime Membership - $49

See Deal

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

The Arlington National Cemetery Just Opened Its Time Capsule from 1915—See What’s Inside

That red ribbon is the literal "red tape" that we now use as an idiom to describe bureaucratic processes.
That red ribbon is the literal "red tape" that we now use as an idiom to describe bureaucratic processes.
Arlington National Cemetery, YouTube

In the decades following the Civil War, thousands of people assembled in Arlington National Cemetery’s James R. Tanner Amphitheater to honor the fallen soldiers each May on Decoration Day (which we now call Memorial Day). By the early 20th century, the event had grown so popular that Congress agreed to build a new, larger arena in its place: the Memorial Amphitheater.

When President Woodrow Wilson laid the cornerstone on October 13, 1915, it contained a copper box with documents and mementos that captured the spirit of the era. Though the contents weren’t kept a secret, you can now actually see them for yourself—on May 15, 2020, Arlington National Cemetery celebrated the centennial of the amphitheater’s dedication ceremony by opening the time capsule and displaying them in a virtual exhibit.

Inside the box was one of each coin used in 1915; uncirculated stamps bearing images of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin; an autographed photo of Wilson; a Bible signed by amphitheater architect Thomas Hastings; the dedication ceremony program; directories of both Congress and Washington D.C. residents; Civil War veterans’ pamphlets; four issues of local newspapers, including The Washington Post and The Washington Times; copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution; an American flag; and a map of Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s blueprints for building the city.

As reports, a few of those documents became outdated soon after being sealed in the box. The 1915 version of the Constitution had 17 amendments, but two new ones had been passed by the end of 1920: the 18th, prohibiting alcohol, and the 19th, giving women the right to vote. The American flag, on the other hand, was already inaccurate when it went into the time capsule. Though Arizona and New Mexico had both been annexed in 1912, bringing the state total to 48, the flag only included 46 stars.

Some of the items were wrapped in red tape, a seemingly insignificant detail that Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero found especially exciting.

“All of the records in the National Archives, when they were moved into that building, were carefully protected with wrappings that were held together with this red tape,” he said in a statement. “This is where the saying comes (from) about cutting through the red tape. It is actually—literally—the red tape.”

For the last few decades, the copper box shared its hollow cornerstone abode with another, less official time capsule: A Peter Pan-brand peanut butter jar, stuffed with business cards and other notes. The box had been relocated to the National Archives while the amphitheater underwent repairs in 1974, and the workers snuck the jar into the hollow when replacing it during the 1990s.

“It was sort of a rush job,” conservator Caitlin Smith told The Washington Post. “But you can understand the impulse to add your name to history.”

You can learn more about the history of the Memorial Amphitheater and discover more about the exhibit here.