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4/7/04

SPEAKING OF CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS

By Sheldon Drobny

It is amazing how our leaders are able to divert the public from important issues by appealing to the most basic instincts of hatred and bigotry.  Since the rise of neo-conservatism in the U.S., this wing of the Republican Party has managed to move our attention to issues that would have startled our founding fathers.  These individuals formed a new country at a time when people around the world were experiencing the age of enlightenment.  The founders would have abhorred the idea that a constitutional amendment to prevent gay marriage, the latest of George Bush’s pandering to his base, would even be considered.  This is just one of many trivial issues that have become part of our national agenda.

Why?  Because we have constitutionally limited ourselves to only two political parties.  The two parties in the U.S. do not represent the vast majority of people, and the problem is more a consequence of the Constitution's Electoral College than anything else.

The winner take all approach in most states prevents a third party from having any meaningful impact on the electoral process.  In 1992, Ross Perot received 20% of the popular vote, but not a single electoral vote.  The lack of proportional representation in our only national election, for president, keeps the people powerless and allows money to have an undue influence in the state contests.  The Electoral College allows the party in power in a particular state to control the election process.  It also forces each presidential candidate to fund fifty state elections, rather than one national election.  The cost of the Presidential election could easily decrease by at least 90% if the candidates had one campaign office instead of fifty.

Al Gore lost the 2000 election because of a corrupt election process in Florida and a biased Supreme Court.  In 1960, the Republicans cried foul about Cook County corruption, which they said caused Kennedy to win Illinois.  But Kennedy would have won the presidency without Illinois, and he also won a majority of the popular vote.

Changing to a popular vote for president would cure the problems of state corruption and the influence of money in politics.  It is the scenario that will give the people the most choices.  But the Republicans have the advantage in money, state legislatures, and governorships, which is why those states will continue to support the Electoral College.  Democrats, however, might support a change to a popular vote.  It would be a constitutional amendment that would be helpful, rather than harmful.  Only doing so will save us from the corruption of money in our national elections.

Sharp attorneys will be able to circumvent any election reform legislation, including McCain/Feingold.  Human nature is so confined by resistance to progressive changes that the country has encumbered itself with an archaic process, one that may have been prudent in the 18th century, but is now causing great damage to our representative democracy.  Unfortunately, the simple answer to election reform is rejected because of a belief, similar to belief in scripture, that the Constitution is a sacred document.  It is not and was never meant to be.

The founding fathers thought property owners should run the country and make all the important decisions.  They did not trust what at that time was an uneducated population to make decisions about the country, especially decisions that might threaten the property ownership of the founders.  As a result, we were stuck with the Electoral College.  Now we have an educated population, and an unintended consequence of the electoral process is the corruption of our only national election.  Most people do not feel that the political parties represent them, and in presidential elections we are faced with the lesser of two evils as our only choice.  A constitutional amendment to rectify this situation is worth considering.  It would serve the best interests of the people.

Smaller states will object, no doubt, since the Electoral College gives them an advantage over large states.  The makeup of the College, in case you do not remember it from your tenth grade civics class, is one member per congressional district in a state, plus one member for each of the state’s senators.  That arrangement gives states with smaller populations an advantage over states with larger populations.  A state that has only one congressional district can send three representatives to the Electoral College.

The problem could also be solved if state legislatures changed the a proportional allocation of electors, based on the popular vote, rather than winner take all, which now prevails in all but two states.  Proportional allocation of electors would have a similar impact to electing the president by popular vote, and there would be no need for a battle to amend the Constitution.  And smaller states would still have their extra representation.

Why is it that only half of registered voters choose to vote, and only 25% of the adult population?  The few Americans who do vote represent mostly the educated and elite.  They tend to chastise nonvoters, failing to see that not voting is a choice.  To nonvoters, elections are a game only for elites.  Besides, what incentive does a Democrat in Texas have to vote for president, knowing that all the state’s electoral votes will go to the Republican candidate?  Similarly, a Republican in New York has little incentive to vote.  The winner take all makeup of the Electoral College causes people not to vote in states that clearly are going to be won by a candidate of one party.

One of Noam Chomsky’s great observations is that the rich and powerful convince us to fight the wrong battles.  The propaganda model that was so eloquently analyzed in The Manufacture of Consent causes most caring people to fight the wrong battles and promotes powerlessness, sometimes described as "excess powerlessness."  It even causes good people like Ralph Nader to fight his battles in the wrong briar patch.

Unless we can get each state to give proportional representation for the Electoral College, the only solution to real election reform is a constitutional amendment.  It is a project that should transcend any political point of view.

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Sheldon Drobny is co-founder of Air America Radio, providing talk radio for the majority of Americans.

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