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Color Draining Out of Modern Elections

If you're not already suffering from Electoral Map Fatigue, the American Presidency Project has a nifty collection of electoral maps dating back to George Washington's 69 electoral vote blowout — he got
all 69 electoral votes! — of 1789. (He killed again in 1792, with all 132 electoral votes then on offer.)

We like the APP site because it's a one-stop shop, with all the elections' maps on a single page, so you can get an instant appreciation both of the various fortunes of different parties and of the physical growth of the United States itself. Starting with 1824, the site lists state-by-state results. That year, 1824, is also interesting for those who feel the two-party system is an immutable feature of the U.S. electoral landscape.

That election saw a complete sweep by one party — the Democratic-Republicans — who took all the electoral votes. Of course, they fielded four candidates in the general, and all four won electoral votes, from 99 for Andrew Jackson to 37 for Henry Clay. The winner, of course, was John Quincy Adams ... hey, wait. He got 15 fewer electoral votes than Jackson and 5 percent less of the popular vote. The split vote was decided by the House, the first and only time it's done so since the 12th Amendment passed.

A dozen years later, five candidates received electoral votes, although the guy who came in fifth — Willie Person Mangum — won firebrand South Carolina because its Legislature awarded him the votes. (It wasn't until after the Civil War and South Carolina was readmitted to the Union that it allowed for direct election of presidential electors.) In that election, three Whigs split the silent-consonant vote, allowing Democrat Martin Van Buren the keys to the White House. It's all there on the map in — if not black and white — blue, green, orange, purple and yellow.

That was the high-water mark for multiple crayons in presidential votes, although the nation's most important vote ever — the 1860 election that Abraham Lincoln won — used four coloring sticks. Quick: Who came in second on that one? If you said Stephen Douglas, you'd be wrong — he came in fourth, taking only the original swing state, Missouri, and 3 of 7 electoral votes in New Jersey. Then-Vice President John C. Breckenridge of the Southern wing of the Democratic Party took second. A sore loser, he soon after took up arms for the Confederacy.

In the 20th century, only a handful of elections have required a third crayon, with third-party or breakaway candidates winning electoral votes in 1912, 1924, 1948, 1960 and 1968.

Barring an unexpectedly strong showing by Bob Barr, 2008 looks like another two-crayon year.

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