Recovering Your Voice

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In America, each citizen is supposed to be entitled to the equalizing power of one vote – regardless of age, gender, race, wealth, or geography. However, this is simply not true under the Electoral college.

There are two weeks left before Americans will go to the polls and vote their choice for President. Who did you vote for four years ago? Was it Obama, McCain, or a third-party candidate?

Actually, without even seeing you, I already know the answer… you didn’t vote for any of them. What you voted for was a political party.

In 48 of the 50 states, whichever party receives the simple majority of votes in the Presidential election gets to choose the voters to send to the Electoral college with that state’s Electoral votes. Ultimately, that means the Presidential candidates’ interest is how they can jigsaw together at least 270 Electoral votes that are needed to guarantee a Presidential win out of the 538 total votes. I know the Electoral college was created in the Constitution, but I have two major problems with the way the college works.

First, in America we learn from the cradle that each citizen is entitled to the equalizing power of one vote – regardless age, gender, race, wealth, or geography. This is simply not true under the Electoral college. In Texas, the most recent census calculated that we had about 25 million people. Given our 38 allocated Electoral votes, that means that each Texas Electoral vote represents about 660 thousand people. Vermont, with a population of about 600 thousand people, is entitled to three Electoral votes. Simple math tells you that each Texan is worth slightly less than one third of a Vermonter – democratically, and as a Texan, something just doesn’t feel right about this.

What makes the situation even worse is that 48 of 50 states allocate their Electoral votes through a process called “winner takes all “. That means that if one party gets 50.1% of the popular vote in that state, they will be given control to vote 100% of that state’s Electoral votes.

So what do these compounded flaws mean for the Electoral college? Well, for example in 1980 President Reagan won what has been frequently called a “landslide” victory by carrying 90.5% of the Electoral votes. Do you know what percentage of the national popular vote he won? 50.7%. Doesn’t sound like a landslide victory to me, but at least he had a majority.

In 2000, President Bush won 271 Electoral college votes against Al Gore’s 266… but Bush lost the popular vote by over 500 thousand votes. Our winning President was not the first choice of the majority of voters!

My second major issue with the Electoral college is the effect it has on the choices that candidates make. Under “winner takes all” the candidates have no incentive to take their campaigns to a state where they not guaranteed to win. For example, in Texas, which is pretty certain to go Republican in 2012, why would Obama come to Texas to listen to our issues when, no matter how narrow his losing margin, he still gets zero Texas Electoral votes? With the same logic, why would Romney waste his time in Texas – he can’t win any more than 38 Electoral votes.

Over a year ago political analysts decided that only 8 of the 50 states were considered “swing states” – that is to say that in only eight states was the margin between the Republican and Democrat vote less than 6%. Further that if a candidate could win only two of those swing states – Ohio or Florida – the candidate would win the Presidential election. Under the current system, more than year ago over 80% of the states knew that they would have no significant voice in choosing their next President and were highly unlikely to see candidates spend any significant time in their state.  Sounds like a great way to create a near-universal feeling among voters that they are simply not significant in selecting a President.

You may have noticed that neither Obama nor Romney has spent any significant time in Texas with its 38 Electoral votes, but both have spent close to the entire month of October in Ohio – which has only 20 Electoral votes.

Now that I’ve convinced you that as Texans you and I are insignificant, the next question should be what can we do about this short of a revolution? Since the Electoral college is based in the Constitution, your first thought might be a constitutional amendment, but there have been over 700 proposals made to the US Congress to modify or abolish the Electoral college – and every one has failed. I’m pretty sure that’s a dead end.

Where the opportunity lies to restore the power of our individual vote and to make every citizen and every state important and relevant to any Presidential candidate is actually at the state level. Unlike the Electoral college, the choice to use the “winner takes all” is a decision which each state decides for itself. If the Texas legislature were to decide to allocate its Electoral votes in proportion to the percentage of the popular vote a candidate receives, it would make sense for every candidate to swing through Texas, to talk to us, and to listen to us.

If you want a state where your individual vote is important, if you want Texas to have an impact at the national level for every Presidential candidate, then what you need to do is to talk to your local legislators – your state senators and representatives – and tell them you want to own the power of your own vote, that you want them to support an allocation of the Texas Electoral votes on the basis of the state’s Presidential popular vote.

Ultimately, the power to recapture the value of your vote is in your own hands. If you don’t demand it, the powers that be will never give it you.

Article by Tim DeRosa, a believer in a transparent government acting in the best interests of the average man. For a  more in-depth analysis, refer to “On Introducing Proportionality in American Presidential Elections: An Historical Analysis, 1828-2008” written by Jose Pavia which was published in the July-September 2011 issue of The Political Quarterly.

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