Rep. LaHood: Electoral College 'antiquated'

Karen McDonald

Calling the Electoral College "antiquated," U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood told junior high school students individual votes for president don't count, and the current system should be changed.

"All these people in America are going to go out and vote on Election Day 30 days from now and the truth is that their vote doesn't really count because it's the Electoral College who will decide who the next president is," LaHood told about 130 students Wednesday at Holy Family School.

Earlier this year, Illinois became the third state to support choosing the president by the nation's popular vote instead of the Electoral College, which is set up by the Constitution. Maryland and New Jersey also embrace the idea, but dozens more states would have to join the effort before it could take effect.

"The reason why we use the Electoral College is because that's the way the Constitution is written, and what it does is it protects the small states," said LaHood, R-Peoria, who has been critical of the Electoral College in the past.

"It's an old, antiquated system that should be changed, but it would take a huge, huge effort to do it."

The number of votes per state is based on the size of congressional delegations. Illinois has 21 lawmakers - 19 in the U.S. House and its two senators.

Electoral votes often are given to the candidate who wins the popular vote in that state. However, a candidate who gets the most votes nationwide still may not win the presidency, as was the case with Al Gore in the 2000 election.

LaHood said key states will be Florida, Ohio, Pennyslvania, Missouri, Colorado and Nevada. "Not that the other states don't count," LaHood said, adding Southern states likely will vote for McCain and Northeastern states and California likely will vote for Obama.

A change would require a constitutional amendment, approval by a super-majority in the House and Senate and approval by 38 states, LaHood said, adding that's unlikely to happen.

LaHood taught constitution and civics at Holy Family and said his return there to speak to students represented going full circle in his career. He is retiring from Congress in January, when his seventh two-year term expires.

Also on Wednesday, LaHood defended his support for the $700 billion bailout package of the financial markets, stressed the importance of bipartisanship in Congress and weighed in on the presidential race.

"He's just a regular person like us and still has important decisions to make as a Congressman," said eighth-grader Jenny Bush.

LaHood said he supports U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for president because of his experience, particularly in foreign policy. He called U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., "smart" and "well motivated" but said he lacks the world experience that McCain can bring to the office.

"He's a Republican and didn't say anything bad about Obama and was supportive of either one," said eighth-grader Keeghan O'Brien.

LaHood said important issues the next president will face include the struggling economy, energy and health care.

"We expect the president to solve all the problems, but it's up to Congress to help the president and it would nice once in a while if the two presidential candidates would say 'I'm going to work with Congress,' " LaHood said.

Karen McDonald can be reached at (309) 686-3285