Thursday, November 29, 2012
It is a shame that this nation which has been the fountainhead of liberty and democracy, has such a feeble and antiquated democracy. This shows in the rotten choices faced by the electorate, consequent abysmal voter turnout and the dismal rate of progress in confronting our national problems. We can correct this failure by demanding a direct vote of the people with runoff counting when no candidate secures a majority vote. The first and obvious candidate for this reform is a Constitutional Amendment to abolish the Electoral College. Then we could turn to the House and Senate.
While the outcome of the Electoral College vote usually agrees with the popular vote (for President and Vice President), there are times it disagrees (like in the 2000 election). The Electoral College is then undemocratic. And because the Electoral College greatly complicates the vote for President, it raises the potential for political crisis. The current system of winner take all, in 48 of our states, retards the growth of third parties and consequently denies us the solutions they might provide.
For the sake of our:
We need a Constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College and replace it by a direct vote of the people. The President-elect should be the one who secures a majority of the (first choice) votes, cast. Direct voting would require that all votes be added to a nation wide total. The voter's state residency would be irrelevant. In the event that no one secured a majority of the (first choice) votes cast in the first counting there would be a runoff counting of the votes. If there were more than 2 candidates, voters would be allowed a first choice and a (single) second choice when they cast their ballots. Consequently it would be unnecessary to actually hold a runoff election at a later time if no one secured a majority of the first choice votes. A runoff counting might avoid some problems posed by the delay of a second election. See the end of this article for the details of the runoff counting procedure. In harmony with this nation wide voting system, there should be uniform Federal standards for voter eligibility/registration, voting machinery and counting to insure that all voters are treated equally in the Presidential election, independent of their domicile. The election of the Vice President should follow in the same manner as that for President.
Currently 538 Electors are chosen for the Electoral College and they are the ones who actually select the new President. Each state provides a number of Electors equal to its number of Representatives (in the House of Representatives) plus two (corresponding to its 2 Senators). Additionally there are 3 Electors from Washington D.C.. The Constitution (see Article II of the US Constitution and its twelfth and twentieth amendments) says the state legislatures shall appoint the Electors in a manner the state legislatures shall direct. The President-elect will be the candidate who captures a majority of the votes by the Electors. If no candidate wins a majority of those votes, the choice will then fall to the House of Representatives. But in that event, the Constitution stipulates that each state delegation will have only one vote.
Two scenarios are described above, and they are both undemocratic. In the first case some candidate does win a majority of the Electoral votes. But how will the Electors, themselves, be selected and what should guide their vote? This is left up to the state governments. The Constitution doesn't even mention a popular vote. That is undemocratic. However the states (on their own) have directed that their Electors vote in accordance with the popular vote. Forty-eight of the states have directed a winner take all approach. That sounds okay if you believe in the supremacy of the states. That a state should vote with a single voice (vote for one candidate). But in 2007 it is a phony, state centered mentality, more fitting for 1787 when the Constitution was written. Back then there were no electronic communications and it took weeks for news or people to move from one end of the 13 states to the other end. How could the average person in one state know and acquaint himself with the ideas of a Presidential candidate from a far away state? Consequently, back then, it seemed more reasonable to give the Presidential choice to knowledgeable state representatives...the Electors of the Electoral College. Also the average citizen was much more reliant on local production and consumption that was also less diversified. His welfare had a stronger connection to the common interest of the state. And that common interest could better be served by voting in the Electoral College with a unified voice.........winner take all. Contrast that isolated existence with what we have now. This country is becoming more homogenized every year. With so many people changing their state residency, with modern transportation and communication, we are Americans first....not New Yorkers or Texans or (add your state). Do all Californians have the same interests? Or does a liberal, urban Californian have more in common with a liberal, urban Georgian than a conservative, rural Californian? Why should all Californians have to vote with a single voice? We need a system that gives power to the people, not the states! The President is OUR representative, the people's representative....not the state's representative. He or she is responsible to all of us, plain and simple...let's elect him or her directly!
And what is the effect of the winner take all system and the Electoral College?
In 2000, Gore won over 540,000 votes (nationwide) more than Bush, but was denied the Presidency by the Electoral College. (See http://www.archives.gov/federal_register/electoral_college/2000/popular_vote.html ) And it's not the first time we've suffered an undemocratic outcome. It also happened in 1824, 1876, 1888. This happens because a candidate can win by a small margin in the more populous states, take all of their Electors, while loosing by a wide margin in the other states. For example in the 2000 Florida election, Bush had just 537 popular votes more than Gore (just .009 percent of the Florida popular vote) and yet won all of Florida's 25 Electoral votes. If the award of Electoral votes was proportional to the popular vote, an undemocratic outcome would be less likely.
But the Electoral College system has many more flaws that violate the democratic principle. The small states have a greater voice than their population would mandate, because they are given an extra 2 Electoral votes independent of their population size. Again that goes back to a phony state centered mentality (phony for nowadays). Besides our Constitution does protect the smaller states in the US Senate where they are accorded an equal voice with their larger brethren.
Worse than this is the absence of a runoff when there are third party candidates and no one wins a majority of the votes. In a significant number of the elections the President elect did NOT win a majority of the popular vote, but just a plurality (the most votes). That happened in 1824 (not even a plurality), 1892, 1912, 1948, 1968, 1992, 1996 and 2000 (not even a plurality). If we could have a runoff vote or counting, there might be enough vote changes to alter the election results. That would have easily happened in 2000 if the 2,858,843 (nationwide) Nader voters could have given a second choice vote to Gore. Or in 1996 and 1992 if the Perot voters could have given their second choice to the Republican candidate. Which shows our current system has worked against both the Republican and Democratic parties at different times. Aside from all of that, the Constitution is silent on how Electors should vote. While the states have directed their Electors to vote in accordance with the popular vote, nevertheless, in 24 states the Electors are not bound by state law to vote for a specific candidate (see http://www.archives.gov/federal_register/electoral_college/2000/laws.html#top ). On more than one occasion an unfaithful Elector did not follow the will of the voters. Then any link to the democratic principle vanishes. The worst scenario, however, is when no candidate wins a majority of the Electoral vote. The Presidential selection is moved to the House of Representatives, but each state delegation is only allowed one vote. That means California is given no greater voice than Wyoming. That formula is certainly undemocratic. It happened in 1824 and in an altered form , in 1876, when the House, without precedent or Constitutional guidance, established a 15 person commission to study the issue of who deserved the decisive Electoral votes.
Equally offensive but more frightening is the potential for controversy and even bloodshed that the Electoral College system brings us. It's true the nation has survived undemocratic elections. But credit for that should go to the civility of our citizens not the Electoral College. The Electoral College is not part of the solution, it's part of the problem. How many times can the Electoral College pick a President who is opposed by the popular majority and not cause a political crisis. Consider again the 2000 election. Bush won Florida by a margin of 537 votes. With that type of margin, it's a lot easier for an unscrupulous state official to miscount the vote. Remember in the nationwide vote there was a margin of more than 540,000 votes. Or how about a tie vote in the Electoral College. There's only 538 votes there as opposed to the national electorate of over a 100 million voters. Where is a tie more likely? And what about unfaithful Electors. When the election is close and the pressure is on, will an unfaithful Elector do this system in. And what about the ultimate fiasco...if the selection process moves to the House of Representatives, as it did in 1800 and 1824 (the 1800 election prompted the passing of the Constitution's 12th amendment). Do we really want politicians to decide who should be the next President? And how would 53 Representatives from California agree to vote as one. Would there be back dealing? Without the current system, how much simpler and less trouble prone, it would be... just to rely on a direct vote of the people!!! Now it's true we've survived this long with the Electoral College. But should that reassure us? Should we be complacent? Like NASA was before the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters. Bad things do happen! So for the sake of domestic tranquility, abolish the Electoral College.
The Electoral College and the winner take all system are impeding the progress we sorely need in this country. The winner take all system throws the spotlight on the "battleground states", the states predicted to have the closest election results. Our votes are all supposed to count the same, so why do we have to tolerate an electoral system that forces the candidates to give SPECIAL attention to a few states. Their policy stances are distorted and the distortion continues after the election, in contemplation of the next election. Even worse the Electoral College and winner take all system have entrenched the political power of the two leading parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, while working to discourage the rise of other parties. In 1992 Ross Perot won more than 18% of the nation wide popular vote but didn't receive a single vote in the Electoral College. How can third parties develop when the Electoral College doesn't give them any standing? They aren't the only losers. We are. We are deprived of fresh ideas. Who believes that only the Democrats and Republicans have the right answers? If so, why is there such low voter turnout (51% of the voting age population in 2000, see http://www.fairvote.org/turnout/preturn.htm )? Note that in 1992 when third party candidate, Perot, ran the first time, the voter turnout was more 5 percentage points higher than in either 88 or 96.
Usually there is no third party candidate and many people are not inspired to vote for the major party candidates. Too often their candidates are waffling, fence sitting politicians short on honesty and innovation. The resulting voter apathy (especially the youngest voters) leads to a viscous circle. When new voters are scarce, the growth of third parties is restrained. And without those third parties, voter turnout remains low. Even when there are third party candidates, many people won't vote their true convictions for fear of wasting their vote or won't vote at all because the winner take all system in their state gives no effect to their vote. Let's have a direct popular vote with a runoff counting of the vote when no one wins a majority of the vote. It will create a flow of new ideas and solutions that this country has not witnessed in a 100 years. And that would be the greatest benefit of abolishing the Electoral College. It is time that our political system, cease to stifle all the voices that aren't Republican or Democratic. Neither does the current system encourage the growth of new voices from within the major parties. The major parties are held captive by their core constituencies. So for the sake of national progress, abolish the Electoral College.
Is the original Constitution sacrosanct? Did the nation's founders write a document so perfect, we should not tamper with it? Definitely not. The founders, themselves, realized that and included a procedure for amending it. If that doesn't convince you, remember the original Constitution recognized and accepted slavery. The original Constitution has been amended in the past and we need at least one more amendment to give us democracy both in letter and spirit. The original Constitution also, didn't allow for popular election of Senators. That was changed by the 17th amendment in 1913. Isn't it time we did the same for the Presidency. Do you think only a minority favors reform? The American Bar Association has criticized the Electoral College as "archaic" and "ambiguous" and its polling showed 69 percent of lawyers favored abolishing it in 1987. Public opinion polls have shown Americans favored abolishing it by majorities of 58 percent in 1967; 81 percent in 1968; and 75 percent in 1981 (see http://www.archives.gov/federal_register/electoral_college/faq.html)
There are advocates of the Electoral College who ask us to imagine its shortcomings are actually advantages. Some claim minorities are endangered by the will of the majority. But history shows the greatest abuses of minority rights occurred under undemocratic systems...kings, dictators, the rule of the intellectual elite (like the socialist intellectuals whose ideas forged the Soviet Union or the racist intellectuals behind Nazi Germany). The Electoral College system forces a candidate to be inordinately influenced by the swing vote in the battleground states. It gives undue influence to small minorities and can sabotage the will of the majority. In a democracy, the election result is SUPPOSE to represent the will of the majority. The beauty of democracy and the pride of America is that the majority will eventually get it right. They will eventually see that is not in their interest to hurt or ignore legitimate minority concerns. Besides the combined alliance of minority concerns is often a majority. Trust, in democracy! Ultimately, minority interests are protected by our Bill of Rights and our independent judiciary. Besides if democracy is such a bad idea, why don't those advocates of the Electoral College demand the elimination of all democratic elections...like for Senator, Representative, Governor, etc.
Some Electoral College advocates suggest the complexity of the Electoral College is an advantage. Was it an advantage that the 2000 election had to effectively be rendered by the Supreme Court? That it hinged on the actions of Florida State officials whose ethics became suspect. All that while the nationwide popular vote clearly indicated a winner. Or would it be better to simply count the popular vote and install the best voting machinery possible. Those with common sense know the answer.
During runoff counting, first and second choice votes for each candidate would be combined. However second choice votes would be weighted to count half as much as a first choice vote to reflect the lower preference of the voter. Also the voter would not be allowed to give his first choice and second choice selections to the same candidate The candidate with the highest total of first and weighted second choice votes would be declared the winner. Some examples will illustrate how this runoff counting procedure would better reflect the will of voters.
Example 1 Example 2
candidates A B C A B C D
first choice vote %'s 42 38 20 26 22 28 24
second choice vote %'s 2 48 50 15 30 5 50
weighted 2nd choice %'s 1 24 25 7.5 15 2.5 25
combined 43 62 45 33.5 37 30.5 49
winner B D
candidate A B C D
first choice votes %'s 26 22 42 10
second choice votes %'s 15 30 5 64
weighted 2nd choice %'s 7.5 15 2.5 32
combined 33.5 37 44.5 42
In Example 1 , B didn't win the first choice vote (by a small margin) but is the second choice of so many voters, he is declared winner. This happens again in Example 2 for D. In Example 3 , the weighting of second choice votes prevents D
from winning. The weighting of second choice votes would remind voters that their second choice must indeed be their lower preference. And D in that example was the first choice of very few voters, so the result is fair. This runoff counting procedure is quite different from the usual runoff election where only the two leading candidates run again. But the runoff counting is more likely to reflect the will of voters as in Example 2. In that example, the vote is almost evenly split between the four candidates and it would be unfair to limit the runoff to the two leading candidates. It is probably impossible to create a runoff counting procedure whose outcome accurately reflects the will of the voters in all situations. But I am sure that this runoff counting procedure is much, much better that the frequently undemocratic Electoral College or any election with NO runoff provision.
The Senate elections should also allow a voter second choice when there are more than two candidates. It should also follow the Presidential model for runoff counting when no candidate has obtained a majority vote.
For the House of Representatives, we should reduce its membership to 100. Certainly, we would save a ton of money, with 335 fewer representatives. More importantly, would be the way those representatives would be elected and how they would vote in Congress... Let us move away from a system obsessed with representation by area and that consequently encourages pork barrel spending, aka earmarks. Aside from that, does area representation well represent the view of the voters? If everybody in the district held the same opinion, it would. Obviously it doesn't. Everyone, who voted for the looser is poorly represented, if at all. Multiply that by 435 congressional districts and maybe ,in the worst case, 45% of American voters are poorly represented. Even if you voted for the winner, with basicly 2 choices at election time, how likely is it that your opinions are well represented? Quite unlikely !! Area representation is a throwback to bygone times when communication and relocation were much more difficult and the area residents were more closely united in a common occupation or culture.
Our opinions could be much better represented if 100 representatives were elected at large. In that system...let's call it: Opinionated Voting ..... the 100 candidates who received the most (first choice) votes (in a nationwide election) would become Representatives. Also in the new House of Representatives, each Representative would vote on legislative matters NOT with 1 vote, but the actual vote tally they received in the nationwide election. Thus the legislative vote in the new House would directly reflect the popular vote. In the Opinionated Voting System, it would be very likely you voted for one of the 100 winning candidates, and that his/her opinions would closely match yours. Just in case, you didn't, let's also give you a second choice. Your second choice would substitute for your first choice, if the first choice was not a winner and the second choice was. This would help if the number of candidates was huge and each only received a small number of votes.
We also need a constitutional amendment to limit voter eligibility for the House of Representatives. Eligibility should be limited to those who can at least pay a small per capita federal tax. How taxes are levied must reflect the benefits provided by government. One of those benefits is certainly personal safety afforded to each person by government. It is logical then that everyone pay a federal per capita tax for themselves and all their dependents. It should probably be much smaller than the one imposed on property or income. If someone is poor enough they might not pay any property or income tax but still pay the per capita tax. If they are so poor they cannot even pay that, they should be excused from it.... but loose their voting rights for Federal Representative. It is only just that if someone cannot even make a nominal contribution to the support of the national government they should suffer some loss of influence over its direction. Especially the direction over tax matters (which is initiated in the House) where liberal and socialist demagogues seek to gain power by buying the votes of the poor with wealth stolen from the self supporting. It is only because the poor are a minority in numbers that this demagoguery has been somewhat restrained. This amendment, all by itself, would do wonders for our national governance.
Hand in hand with these new electoral systems, we should publicly finance a minimal voter exposure for each candidate. So that lack of wealth would not prevent a candidate's election who might otherwise be favored by the public. It is certainly in the interest of everyone to do so. That minimal exposure would include a free website, participation in mandatory televised debates broadcast by public TV (which is subsidized by the government anyhow), and say a 1/2 hour opportunity on public TV to state his/her positions. The objective would NOT be to guarantee public exposure for a candidate but to provide at least a minimal opportunity for the interested voters to learn of the candidate. From that point onward, voter support for a candidate could be expected to translate into increased private funding for that candidate. We would also need computerized voting so that the voter could quickly select from the large list of candidates for the new House of Representatives.