Broken system cheats voters - 6/27/04

Americans should reform elections so every vote counts

As Americans gear up for the Nov. 2 presidential election, they might ask themselves if their vote will really matter — because if they don’t live in one of 17 battleground states (like Michigan), it won’t.

It didn’t count during the primary season, either, unless they lived in Iowa, New Hampshire or a couple of other early-to-vote states. And if they vote in a congressional race, their choice won’t matter unless they live in just one of 35 congressional districts. The other 400 districts have been gerrymandered to guarantee the re-election of the incumbent.

The sad truth is that millions of Americans are being disenfranchised by the archaic architecture of an outmoded electoral system. It’s time to fix it.

In the Federalist No. 10, written in 1787, James Madison warned that “democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property....” Madison was a republican, with a small “r,” who wanted “the delegation of the government ... to a small number of citizens elected by the rest.”

But even the elitist Madison might be surprised at just how few votes count in electing a president today.

Look at the current campaign. The balkanization of America’s polity into red and blue states, and the winner-take-all Electoral College mean that the 2.4 million Democrats in Texas and a combined 85 million Republicans in New York and California will have no political representation. All the electoral votes Texas casts will probably go to President George W. Bush, and all the votes California and New York cast will probably go to John Kerry. The result — dissenting voices go unrepresented.

Since the country is evenly split between red and blue states, presidential candidates focus more of their time and money persuading a smaller number of voters in a shrinking number of competitive swing states to vote for them.

In the ‘70s, up to 40 states were in play in presidential years. Today, it’s down to 17 or 18. A BusinessWeek analysis shows that Ohio, Florida and Missouri will have clout utterly disproportionate to their population.

Worse, it is possible that either candidate could triumph in the popular vote and lose in the Electoral College. A Florida reprise would create a serious crisis of legitimacy in America. No wonder people feel alienated from the political system to the point where voter participation is down to 54.5 percent — 139th among the world’s 172 democracies.

There is an obvious solution: one person, one vote. Americans indulge the Electoral College but do not subscribe to the principles behind its creation. Madison and the Founding Fathers wanted an Electoral College to temper majority rule and to preserve the power of small agrarian and slaving-owning Southern states. Today, Americans are perfectly capable of electing their own president. Direct popular elections or proportional voting for Electoral College representatives are long overdue.

But more is needed. An astonishing 98.2 percent of incumbents won re-election to the House of Representatives in 2002. Thanks to gerrymandering, there is less competition and more polarization than ever. Computers allow politicians to sift through demographic data to create convoluted election districts that divide, conquer and bury opponents.

Candidates are then chosen in primaries dominated by core left-wing Democrats or right-wing Republicans. It all means less competition and more polarization. No wonder there are so few moderates left in American politics.

Gerrymandering is an electoral monster killing U.S. democracy. Redistricting should be taken out of the hands of politicians and given to nonpartisan panels that draw reasonable districts and give incumbents no special edge. Iowa has done this since 1981 and has the country’s most competitive House districts.

Low turnout may be fine for the pols and ideologues who dominate the process, but it isn’t fine for the rest of the nation. Special interests support incumbents, and challengers must be rich to have a chance of winning.

Alexis de Tocqueville, chronicler of all things American, was never more prescient than when he characterized the collision of egos and beliefs that is a U.S. election. What this admirer of a young nation’s vibrant institutions could not have predicted, however, was that one day the delicate machinery of the Founders’ design would break down, creating a serious destabilizing condition.

Increasingly, votes don’t matter in the United States. Fewer competitive races, increased political balkanization, more big-money politics and the absence of a true popular vote for the president are making a mockery of America’s democratic ideals. We must do better.

I agree with the premise of this article. Though the 2000 election was more favorable to my views in that Gore was defeated (notice, I didn't say that Bush won), I believe that the Electoral College is hopelessly outdated. Before the Information Age, the Electoral College was likely a necessity and insured that candidates fought for every state. This is no longer the case.

The only problem I have is that it doesn't go far enough. The current electoral process is so stacked against any 3rd party that it is nearly impossible to have a 3rd party candidate listed on the ballot. Mere exposure on the ballot would help a 3rd party (such as the Libertarian Party) gain legitimacy...and votes. Obviously, candidates from the 2 major parties do NOT want a 3rd party candidate...they fear the "none of the above" vote.

Unfortunately, this will continue until people get pissed off enough at BOTH parties that they will flock to a 3rd party...we just aren't there yet.


Blogger eskadoni said...

glad you're back. i agree that we need to get more representation out of our representitive government, and that legitimate "third" (why just three?) parties would be a welcomed addition to our political landscape. (legitimate in chances. i think they are legitimately parties) with the strangle hold on process the two biggies have, what measures would you endorse to level the playing field?

June 28, 2004 at 10:11 AM  
Blogger Liberal_Slayer said...

The major hinderance to a 3rd party is the hoops that a 3rd party must jump to get on the ballot. In Michigan for example, the Libertarian party is listed on the ballot in all other areas but is excluded from begin listed on the Presidential ballot. For a candidate to be listed on the ballot, they need a 5% vote in a Senatorial election. Pretty ridiculous eh? Of course, the powers-to-be cite the expense of adding others to the ballot (ink?), but that's hogwash. They just don't WANT other parties to be listed.

I find it interesting that the Republicans are threatened by the Libertarian party and the Democrats are threatened by the Green Party.

Even more interesting is how Nadar was not nominated as the Green Party candidate...leaving him off more state ballots.

June 28, 2004 at 12:03 PM  
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