Is America Ready for Democratic Elections?

Written by Josh Rogers on . Posted in Opinion and Column, Opinion Our Town, Opinion West Side Spirit, Our Town, Politics, West Side Spirit.


A realistic way to disarm the electoral college, so every voter has a voice

New Yorkers just don’t thank the one percenters enough. Of course the wealthiest seldom get thanked at all. It’s not at all surprising given their not-so-flattering name was coined by their opponents, Occupy Wall Street

But regardless of whether you think billionaires should be taxed a lot or not, they do deserve our gratitude. If not for all of the Wall Street money floating around, we’d never see presidential candidates at all and they would have no interest in helping the city. New York has been solid blue for almost 30 years, and one of the 40 or so things that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney can agree upon is that the president will carry all of New York’s 29 electoral votes.

Only about 10 states are being contested this November, so “200 million Americans are ignored,” said Patrick Rosenstiel, spokesperson for National Popular Vote, a nonpartisan organization trying to make presidents accountable to all voters.

His group has figured out a clever and apparently legal path to circumvent the Electoral College short of a constitutional amendment. Already eight states and Washington, D.C., which controls 132 electors, have passed laws to someday award all of its presidential votes to the popular vote winner. “Someday” comes when states with a majority of electoral votes, at least 270, sign onto the compact. The Electoral College would remain, but it would be tied to the popular vote.

The idea seems to have a good chance to win enough support. For one, conservative and liberal states have equal incentive to join the effort. The Electoral College is a nonpartisan weapon that can be unfair to either party. Republican George W. Bush of course won the White House despite losing the popular vote in 2000, but four years later, Democrat John Kerry came very close to doing the same thing to Bush. Had Kerry changed about 60,000 votes in Ohio, he would have won the presidency.

The classic civics defense of the Electoral College is that it protects small states and all regions of the country. National Popular Vote blows that argument up, pointing out that the 12 smallest noncompetitive states have roughly the same combined population as a key battleground state, Ohio, but twice the number of electors. Even though these small-state dwellers are twice as powerful on paper as Buckeyes, they are ignored like most New Yorkers.

The electoral college in its current form hurts states small, medium and large, most notably California, a compact signer, Texas and New York. The Constitution doesn’t require winner-take-all—originally most state awarded electors by Congressional districts—but making the Electoral College fairer with a uniform proportional system is dependent on 50 wise and functional state legislatures (insert joke here).
The beauty of the Popular Vote effort is that all Americans could get a voice even if their representatives didn’t think it was a good idea.
New York may actually be one of the next states to act wisely. The national vote effort has twice passed the State Senate, most recently in June with strong Democratic and Republican support.

Jeffrey Dinowitz, the bill’s chief champion in the Assembly, said, “We’re bystanders in this election. I usually tell voters that every vote counts, but the truth it is every vote doesn’t count equally.”

He told me this week he has the votes to pass the bill, about 100, and he will try again to bring it to the floor next year. Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver of Lower Manhattan supports it although an aide says there’s “not yet enough support” to bring it to the floor.
Dinowitz thinks he has 76 Democratic votes, the usual unwritten threshold number, which means the bill could pass without GOP support, but in this case he might need more because Assembly Member Denny Farrell, the powerful chairman of the State Democratic Committee, is an opponent. His spokesperson did not explain his opposition.

Nationally, the effort has gotten more support from Democrats. If Obama wins re-election with fewer votes than Romney, Republican support would rise. With the president polling better in swing states than nationally, the scenario is plausible.

If that happens, “I don’t think there’d be any bigger catalyst to change,” said Rosenstiel, although he anticipates continued momentum regardless of this year’s outcome.

Meanwhile I hope—as people living in Arab Spring countries once did— to one day be able to help pick my country’s leader. This week, I’m heading down to vacation in North Carolina and to see what it feels like when candidates care about winning votes. I understand that down there, political ads are actually paid for, and don’t get aired as news items.

Maybe I should be careful what I wish for.

Josh Rogers, contributing editor at Manhattan Media, is a lifelong New Yorker.

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