Jewish World Review Sept. 21, 2004 /6 Tishrei 5765
Non-swing states want some love too
We, the people of the non-swing states, feel like second-class citizens.
For those of us who live in states that common sense and the pollsters say will vote dependably "red" for President Bush or "blue" for Sen. John Kerry, the Nov. 2 presidential election seems eerily to be not about us.
That's because we are the huge majority of Americans who do not happen to live in the five or 10 "swing states" made up of people who apparently have a hard time making up their minds.
These are the people, I suspect, who are always in front of me in the supermarket checkout line the people who are struck mute when the clerk asks: "Paper or plastic?"
And what do we, who live in states where most people long ago made up their minds, receive for our decisiveness? Neglect.
Like the proverbial wallflower who never gets asked to dance, we twiddle our thumbs on the sidelines, glancing at our watches and otherwise trying to maintain a smidgen of dignity while the big-time candidates wooed the daylights out of those moody, fickle, wishy-washy, undecided swing states.
Swing states? The term even sounds promiscuous.
Who are these "undecided" voters anyway? I'm beginning to believe that they made up their minds weeks ago but they're enjoying the attention too much to admit it.
C'mon candidates, non-swing state voters want some love too. As the late House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill used to say, people like to be asked.
Help may be on the way. The Electoral College, which is at the root of this mess, has come under renewed criticism since the Florida presidential election debacle in 2000, when Al Gore won a majority of the popular vote but George W. Bush won the race by securing more Electoral College votes with the U.S. Supreme Court's help.
It is the Electoral College, after all, that calls on candidates to win one-state-at-a-time, since all of the electoral votes in every state but Maine and Nebraska go to the candidate who wins a majority of the state's popular vote.
Because the U.S. Constitution allows each state to decide how to choose its electors, Maine in 1969 and Nebraska in 1992 decided to replace their systems with proportional schemes: They award two votes to the overall winner in each state and award the rest by congressional districts. So far, the statewide winners have swept all of the districts in both states, so proportional voting has not made a big difference.
Taking that reform a step further, voters in Colorado will decide on Nov. 2 if their state will change to a proportional system that would award electoral votes to the candidates in proportion to their statewide totals, not by congressional districts.
If it works, other states may rush to follow suit, although the scheme does have pitfalls. For example, if Kerry carries Colorado, he could end up with fewer electoral votes under the proposed plan than under the state's current system. That would be ironic since it is Democrats who have been pushing hardest for the change in the traditionally Republican state.
And if Colorado decides to award its nine electoral votes proportionally, Republicans undoubtedly will try to retaliate with similar measures in Democratic strongholds like California, with its 55 electoral votes.
Either way, the Electoral College is a scheme whose time has passed, yet it keeps holding on, largely because smaller states fear that the major candidates would ignore them. Hey, small states, welcome to my world.
Small-state voters might find reassurance from researchers at the Washington-based Center for Voting and Democracy, which favors direct voting for the president. The center's breakdowns of nationwide population densities find that neither presidential candidate would come anywhere close to victory by campaigning only in the large television markets, according to David Moon, the center's program director.
Between the extremes of abolition and the status quo, proportional voting offers a reasonable compromise, if it can get past party-line suspicions.
The latest remap of congressional districts brought nine new electoral votes to states that favored Bush in 2000 from those that favored Gore. That gives Bush supporters a good reason in the short-term, at least, to hold onto the current system.
With that in mind, it may take another split decision like the 2000 presidential race to ignite a major movement against the Electoral College, especially if a Democrat wins most of the electoral votes and a Republican wins the popular vote, reversing the 2000 roles. Some issues never cross party lines until both parties have felt the pain.
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