WASHINGTON (AP) – It could happen again: One candidate captures the popular vote, but his opponent wins the presidency in the Electoral College.

Such a replay of the 2000 election is an outcome of Tuesday’s balloting that many Americans dread. It also could be the one that finally would drive the nation to a serious debate about the future of the Electoral College.

Proponents of changing the way the United States elects its presidents say another mixed result would help build support, particularly if the parties’ roles were reversed.

There was no groundswell to abolish the Electoral College in 2000, perhaps because of the partisan standoff that continued more than a month after Election Day.

Several Democrats eagerly proposed scrapping the Electoral College in favor of direct election of the president, but Republican-controlled congressional committees wouldn’t schedule hearings.

When a national commission led by former Presidents Carter and Ford explored voting changes in 2001, they focused on balloting and voting machines and omitted any discussion of the Electoral College.

Vice President Al Gore won a half-million more votes nationwide than President Bush, who nevertheless became president by virtue of getting a majority of electoral votes.

This year, the possibility exists that Bush could be denied a second term despite winning the popular vote if Democrat John Kerry were to come up with enough narrow wins in battleground states, proponents of change in both parties said.

“That might cause Republican reconsideration just as there was Democratic angst in the last election,” said GOP Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa, a longtime supporter of an overhaul of the Electoral College system.

Or, as Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, said: “That would be like having the shoe on the other foot.”

Called outdated and antiquated by its critics, the Electoral College has endured despite four elections in which candidates have become president despite finishing second in the popular vote.

Most polls find majorities favor getting rid of it. “People think of it as somewhere between bad and stupid,” said Harvard University history professor Alexander Keyssar. “But that’s been true for 50 years.”

Because it is enshrined in the Constitution, the Electoral College could be abolished only through a constitutional amendment, and more than 700 attempts have failed. Amending the nation’s basic law requires a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress and ratification by 38 states – no easy feat, especially because the Electoral College gives small states disproportionate influence. States have a minimum of three electoral votes, no matter their size, as does the District of Columbia.

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