February 2, 2001 (Ira Pilgrim)

Elections, USA

We have just seen the spectacle of a president who was elected by less than 50% of those who voted. If his opponent had won, it would also have been without having a majority of the votes. For a nation that considers itself a democracy, that is unconscionable.

There is only one way to describe the last election: FUBAR. This is an acronym for F _ _ _ ed Up Beyond All Recognition.

At the time of the first US census in 1790, the total population of the United States of America was 3,929 which is less than the population of Laytonville, CA. I doubt that they counted Indians, women or slaves, but even if they did, it would still be a very small number of people, At the 1990 census, the US population was 248,765,170. The votes in the days after the government was formed were easily counted by hand in an evening. Now it takes a week to count the ballots that the machines couldn't or didn't count in just one Florida county. Furthermore, the ballots that are used are ridiculous. They were created for the convenience of the machines, not the voters. I don't think that I have to explain that statement to anyone who has ever voted. They were, it seems, invented by Rube Goldberg. For those of you who don't know who Rube Goldberg was I should explain that he would feature his wacky inventions in the Sunday comics. A sample of one could be an alarm clock that operated as follows: At sunrise, a rooster crows. This wakes up a hungry cat that goes to its food dish and trips a wire that releases a weight that tips a board that pours cold water on the sleeping man etc.

Many people see the problem as being the voting machines. While voting machines are a problem, they are not the central problem. The central problem is that elections have become ridiculously complicated. In California, it is enough to frustrate a genius. A friend who lives in Florida tells me that in Florida it's worse. The important federal elections are very simple: the president, two senators and one congressman. It would be a great improvement if the federal elections were separated from the state elections. I think that elections could be left to the states with the exception of the president and vice president and perhaps the senators and congressmen. There should be a separate ballot for those offices alone and it should be idiot proof. No initiatives, no local officials, just the president, senators and congressmen. In case no candidate gets a majority, there should be a run off election between the two top candidates. With just 3 or 4 offices, that would be easy to accomplish.

While it seems simple enough to do, it isn't. It would take a constitutional amendment to accomplish that simple change and a constitutional amendment is as complicated a procedure as exists in our government. It was deliberately made difficult to prevent wide swings in government, but a constitution created for an eighteenth century nation is hardly suited to one in the twenty first century. Our constitution was made by men, not, as some believe, by God.

The electoral college was founded on the principle that the common people didn't have either the smarts or information to vote intelligently. They may have been right. However, the same principal also applies to the electors, whomever they are. The electoral college hasn't functioned as it was meant to function for a long time. It's time to get rid of it.

Politicians like to parrot that we are the cradle of liberty and that our constitution has been the model for a number of democratic constitutions. That is true, but when they copied parts of our constitution, they leave out the electoral college because it really has no place in a democracy. Of course, we aren't a democracy and never have been. The US is a republic, where the people elect representatives who make the laws. That is what congress is for. The electoral college does absolutely nothing. It is the ultimate boondoggle.

The British system, where the party with the most members in the House of Commons appoints its leader as prime minister, works well in England. However, the American public often prefers to have a congress of one major party and a president of the other. If it is the will of the people, so be it.

Fortunately, the founding fathers provided the amendment process for eventualities that could not be foreseen at that time. With this fiasco of an election in everyone's recent memory, now is the time for a constitutional amendment that provides for the direct election of the president and a run-off election when neither candidate has 50% of the votes. In the last election neither Bush or Gore got 50% of the vote.

If changes are not made in the next 4 years, I can envision a time when there might be a large number of minor parties, each with a large number of dedicated supporters, and when a president could be elected with as little as 30% of the vote. It was just such a situation that brought the Nazi party into power in Germany with 37% of the popular vote.

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