Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Forget Electoral College...1 person...1 vote...Do it!

From TomPaine.com :

One Person, One Vote, Really
Jamie Raskin
May 01, 2007

Jamie Raskin is a Maryland state senator and a professor of constitutional law at American University’s Washington College of Law. He introduced the legislation that made Maryland the first state to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

Sometimes it is said that the president is the only official in America that the whole nation elects. But this is wrong. In picking the president, we act through the filter of 51 separate elections in which presidential electors are appointed on a winner-take-all basis in all states but two, Maine and Nebraska, which each award two electors statewide and the others by congressional district. In this fragmented system, the goal of presidential candidates is not to win a majority vote in the nation but to stitch together enough states and districts to accumulate 270 presidential electors regardless of the national popular will.

In practice, this patchwork regime quickly reduces the competitive election to a small minority of states. Most Americans live in the 34 states where our Electoral College votes are safely taken for granted by one major party or the other. I live in Maryland, which is safely blue. My brother and older sister live in Virginia, safely red. My younger sister is in Washington, D.C., which is blue. I have family and close friends in New York (blue), Texas (red), Connecticut (blue), Mississippi (red), Massachusetts (blue), Utah (red), California (blue), Alaska (red), Hawaii (blue) and South Dakota (red). The dominant party wastes no money on seeking votes in these states and the weaker party considers it a lost cause and won’t spend a dime either.

The presidential campaign planes fly over all of us in red and blue America in search of “swing voters” in the dwindling set of “swing states.” Fully 99 percent of presidential campaign funding in the last two cycles went to move voters in a mere 16 states, and two-thirds of the money was poured into five states. The majority of Americans have become long-distance spectators to the exciting action in the battleground states where issues are debated and campaign ads air. We watch as the candidates, the campaign staff and the media bear down on Florida, Ohio, New Mexico and a handful of others states blessed with closely divided electorates. Voter turn-out in the general election sometimes approaches 70 percent in the swing states but hovers in the mid-50s in demoralized spectator states, driving our national turn-out rates down to among the lowest on earth.

Through the lens of political democracy and majority rule, this system is an accident waiting to happen again and again. The 2000 presidential election, a dramatic turning point in American history, propelled the national popular vote loser to the White House for the fourth time in our history. Vice President Al Gore, the winner of the national popular vote by more than 540,000 ballots, was denied office because his opponent tortured out of Florida’s contaminated electoral process a 527-vote victory and all of the state’s 25 electors. Florida’s Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, removed more than 17,000 voters from the rolls, falsely accusing them of being felons, and a 5-4 majority on the U.S. Supreme Court ordered that 175,000 “undercount” ballots not be counted at all. Partisan mischief and manipulation of the Electoral College—which one of my students called “the biggest party school in America”—made the South solid for George W. Bush and thwarted the national political will. The 537 votes in Florida’s dubious majority for Bush were worth far more than the 540,000-vote majority Gore assembled nationally.

Public opinion polls have long shown that upwards of 65 percent of Americans favor a direct national popular vote for president in which all of our votes count equally. The puzzle has been how to reconcile a national popular election with the antique mechanics of the Electoral College, which Thomas Jefferson called “the most dangerous blot on our Constitution.”

But now the state of Maryland has taken a bold and creative step to show how it can be done. On April 10, 2007, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law a plan to have Maryland enter and launch an interstate compact in which all member states agree to cast their Electoral College votes for the winner of the national popular vote. The agreement takes effect when it is enacted by a number of states representing a majority of electoral votes (270).

The National Popular Vote plan rests on the powers that states have to create interstate compacts and to appoint electors. Article II, Section I provides: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors…” This power has been deployed by legislatures in different ways. When the nation began, the legislatures mostly named Electors directly and they operated as a deliberative body and voted their consciences. In 1800, for example, Maryland saw seven of its electors vote for Adams and four for Jefferson. When states began in the last century to award their electors in winner-take-all fashion based on a statewide popular vote, smaller states complained that this newfangled “unit” bloc voting diluted the power of small states (and they were right). They sued. In the aptly named Delaware v. New York in 1966, the Supreme Court rejected this challenge and emphasized that the states’ power to award electors may be exercised in any manner they see fit. The power is “plenary.”

Thus, from California to New York, from Texas to Utah, our legislatures—led by the spectator states--can now unite to give America something we have promoted for the rest of the world but never achieved ourselves: a truly national election for president based on principles of majority rule, one person-one vote and all votes counting equally. Such an election will revitalize our democracy by emancipating and energizing tens of millions of currently superfluous voters. It will also provide a fitting end to the long assault on America’s democratic values that began with the toxic election of 2000.

Revised 3:10 p.m. for minor corrections.


1 comment:

Alexander White said...

That would be so incredible if we could do a popular-vote only series of elections. I believe that the swift flow of communication is what enables this changeover.