Friday, October 31, 2008

Louisiana Voters are Irrelevant in presidential election

Thursday, October 30th, 2008
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Louisiana voters are gearing up for election day in record numbers. Spurred on by the presidential election, more than one quarter of a million people cast absentee ballots which is an all-time record. And for good reason. This is certainly one of the most important elections in modern history. But if you live in Louisiana, your vote is looked on as irrelevant to the process. Your sway on who will win American Idol has more influence than who will be the next president of the United States.
Louisiana has been written off as a “red state,” which means, for all practical purposes, your vote does not count. You might as well write in “none of the above” or leave a hanging chad. Why? Look no further than the Electoral College. We are about to elect our country’s and the world’s most powerful leader, but the system we have in place causes us to abdicate our right to have our vote count.
Under the present system, the Electoral College rules require that all the state’s electoral votes go to the winner, no matter how close the election might have been. If, for example, Obama gets 45% of the Louisiana votes, he still gets 0% of the Louisiana electoral votes. If McCain ends up winning by one vote in Louisiana, he receives all of Louisiana’s electoral votes. In fact, it is mathematically possible for one of the candidates to get 49% of the popular vote and 100% of electoral votes. Go figure.
Right now, there are fewer than 10 competitive “battleground” states that are receiving the focus and the money from the presidential candidates. In a state like Louisiana, where McCain will easily win, or a state like New York, where Obama is a cinch, why even vote for president? All of the electoral delegates get assigned to the winner, and we know who the winner is going to be, so your vote for president, for all practical purposes, has been taken away.
Now when it comes to other statewide races on the ballot, like Governor or U.S. Senator, strangely enough, we use the popular vote. So what is so important about having the electoral vote system that allows Louisiana voters and the voters in the majority of the states in this country to be disenfranchised in a presidential election? An idiosyncratic system that on four occasions in our nation’s history has created a quagmire where the winner of the largest number of popular votes did not win the largest number of electoral votes, and therefore did not become president. Remember some guy named Al Gore?
The system in place was confected in the early days of the republic by our founders, where electors were supposed to be independent agents exercising their best judgment in choosing a presidential candidate from a list of several contenders. Why? Because the Framers of the Constitution, our Founding Fathers, the champions of democracy, did not trust the voters to make an intelligent choice. Check out these quotes from the Constitutional Convention of 1787.
“The extent of the country renders a popular vote impossible, that the people can have the requisite capacity to judge of the respective pretensions of the candidates.” Delegate Mason, July 17, 1787.
“A popular election in this case is radically vicious. The ignorance of the people would put it in the power of some one set of men and throughout the Union, and acting in concert, to delude them into any appointment.” Delegate Gerry. July 25, 1787.
“The people are uninformed, and would be misled by a few designing men.” Delegate Johnson, July 19, 1787.
So what this all comes down to is that the Founding Fathers were trying their best to insulate the selection of the president from the whims of the public. They didn’t trust voters then and the system does not trust you now to make your choice. So because of conservative political persuasions, Louisiana is left out of any serious attention from the presidential candidates.
Since receiving their respective nominations, neither McCain nor Obama have set foot in Louisiana. Neither candidate has said a word about hurricane recovery, wetlands protection, or supporting a larger percentage of oil and gas revenues for the state off the Louisiana coast. From each of their perspectives, Louisiana issues are irrelevant in the current campaign. Their just is no political capital to gain by either coming to or speaking about the Bayou State.
By being so out of the mix, just what else is Louisiana missing? How about the lack of all that attention? No knocks on the door by college students from out of state with leaflets about what an old, unhealthy guy John McCain is. No robo-calls in the middle of dinner telling you that Barack Obama is a terrorist. And no presidential TV ads. In Louisiana, you are left out of the national political bombardment that is taking place in the likes of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida where those voters are taught that McCain is a Bush clone and that Obama will socialize the country. Besides those paid for by state and local candidates, all we get are ads about bladder control and erectile dysfunction.
There are a number of reforms being considered for future elections. A proportional electorial vote by congressional districts is as compromise solution that makes sense. In the meantime, don’t forget to go vote for a number of candidates and propositions on the ballot next Tuesday. Your vote might make the difference in many of these local and state races. That is except for President. In this election, you really are irrelevant.
"We've said it before, and we'll say it again - the American Electoral College system sucks. The Daily IowanThe Daily Iowan. (23 Sept 2004). Editorial/Opinion. "Long past time to fix Electoral College."
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown
Jim Brown’s column appears weekly, and is published in a number of newspapers and websites throughout Louisiana. You can read past columns by going to Jim’s website at Jim’s regular radio show on WRNO, 995fm out of New Orleans can be heard each Sunday from 11:00 am till 1:00 pm.


S said...

What the U.S. Constitution says is "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors . . ." The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the state legislatures over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as "plenary" and "exclusive."

Neither of the two most important features of the current system of electing the President (namely, that the voters may vote and the winner-take-all rule) are in the U.S. Constitution. Neither was the choice of the Founders when they went back to their states to organize the nation's first presidential election.

In 1789, in the nation's first election, the people had no vote for President in most states, it was necessary to own a substantial amount of property in order to vote, and only 3 states used the winner-take-all rule (awarding all of a state's electoral vote to the candidate who gets the most votes in the state). Since then, as a result of changes in state laws, the people have the right to vote for presidential electors in 100% of the states, there are no property requirements for voting in any state, and the winner-take-all rule is used by 48 of the 50 states.

The "normal process" of effecting change in the method of electing the President is specified the U.S. Constitution, namely action by the state legislatures. This is how the current system was created, and this is the built-in method that the Constitution provides for making changes.

S said...

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Every vote would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections.

The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

The National Popular Vote bill has passed 21 state legislative chambers, including one house in Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, and Washington, and both houses in California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland. These four states possess 50 electoral votes — 19% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.


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