2004-10-28 / This Week's Attitude

Vote — Because We Don’t Need Another Civics Lesson

Most Americans are taught in elementary school that voting is a valued democratic privilege for which millions have fought and died. That lesson appears to hardly be taken seriously when only 51 percent of registered voters went to the polls four years ago and presidential election numbers have steadily diminished since 1960 when 63 percent voted. Many voters, it appears, are asserting their right not to vote, no doubt due to apathy and a powerless feeling that their individual vote doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

Four years ago when the counting and the arguments were over, the candidate who amassed the majority of the popular vote by a razor-thin margin — Al Gore — was the loser, which led to a quandary not seen since 1876. Then, after a compulsory delay, we learned that George W. Bush was the first Su-preme Court-decided president in American history. There had been questionable presidential elections before, but the results, even when close, were never challenged to the degree they were in 2000.

That shouldn’t happen again. But with the current system, it could.

When they drew up the Constitution, the Found-ing Fathers surely had more honorable intentions in mind than overlooking the popular vote. It certainly puts a damper on the theory of democracy.

That unique outcome may have substantiated the excuses of non-voters. Nevertheless, if just one tenth of one percent of those who stayed away had voted, the results probably would have been different.

On the other hand, maybe the gloomy lesson of 2000 has sunk in because it’s predicted this election is expected to attract around 60 percent of voters, which, when you think about it is still miserable, but better than recent turnouts. Moreover, registration nationwide is reportedly higher this year than ever before with millions of new voters signed up.

However, it doesn’t solve the dilemma of the archaic Electoral College, which bestows the ultimate decision in presidential elections, and, once and for all, should be abolished. (That would take a constitutional amendment, which is a cumbersome method outlined in last week’s column.)

Chosen by political parties and voters, the Electoral College comprises 538 electors, who officially elect the president and vice president several weeks after the popular vote is tallied. It was the result of a compromise when some framers were afraid the populous North would outnumber the sparsely populated South. It is, nonetheless, incompatible for modern politics. (The presidency, by the way, is the only elective office not determined solely by the popular vote.) Every state gets one electoral vote for each senator and representative. (New York has the third most with 31, while California and Texas have 55 and 34, respectively.) Most states use a formula where one candidate may win by a single vote, but gets all the state’s electoral votes.

The presidential election process needs to be restructured to create an uncomplicated one-person, one vote, winner-take-all direct election system. Whoever amasses the most popular votes is the

winner. Period. No electors. No Supreme Court. No nonsense.

Foremost, the integrity of the process must include safeguards against voter fraud and has to be guaranteed beyond question. Of course, in a close race the losing candidate is likely to challenge the results, leading to a painstaking procedure to settle disputes. (Integrity in the upcoming election is already under scrutiny as Republicans and Democrats have, according to reports, combined to hire 10,000 attorneys in battleground states where discrepancies might occur next week.)

Years before the chaotic 2000 fallout, one constitutional law expert said the Electoral College was “a train wreck waiting to happen.” Well, we witnessed the wreck, endured a three-week delay before an outcome was known. We stand again on the brink of another accident waiting to happen.

After lots of grumbling, nothing’s changed and the possibility of another blemished election still exits. To avoid voter erosion, restore confidence in the system and remind voters that every vote is critical, it needs to be determined if the Electoral College makes sense nowadays.

Even so, those troubled by the accuracy of the vote or troubled by the nastiest campaign in memory, should put those concerns unease aside since campaigns are rarely fair, but elections should be.

Thomas Jefferson said it best, “An elective government is the best permanent corrective of the errors or abuses of those entrusted with power.”

Until our rights are threatened or curtailed, we Americans tend to take our freedoms for granted. Every four years we have an opportunity to exercise a valued right that more than half the world has never known. That right should not be squandered.

Heck, pulling that lever on Election Day might even make you feel a little patriotic.

This Week’s

Attitude

By Neil S. Friedman

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