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Abolish The Electoral College… Forum Tackles Hispanic Political Involvement


Abolish The Electoral College

August 29, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE NEW YORK TIMES. All rights reserved.

When Republican delegates nominate their presidential candidate this week, they will be doing it in a city where residents who support George Bush have, for all practical purposes, already been disenfranchised. Barring a tsunami of a sweep, heavily Democratic New York will send its electoral votes to John Kerry and both parties have already written New York off as a surefire blue state. The Electoral College makes Republicans in New York, and Democrats in Utah, superfluous. It also makes members of the majority party in those states feel less than crucial. It's hard to tell New York City children that every vote is equally important - it's winner take all here, and whether Senator Kerry beats the president by one New York vote or one million, he will still walk away with all 31 of the state's electoral votes.

The Electoral College got a brief spate of attention in 2000, when George Bush became president even though he lost the popular vote to Al Gore by more than 500,000 votes. Many people realized then for the first time that we have a system in which the president is chosen not by the voters themselves, but by 538 electors. It's a ridiculous setup, which thwarts the will of the majority, distorts presidential campaigning and has the potential to produce a true constitutional crisis. There should be a bipartisan movement for direct election of the president.

The main problem with the Electoral College is that it builds into every election the possibility, which has been a reality three times since the Civil War, that the president will be a candidate who lost the popular vote. This shocks people in other nations who have been taught to look upon the United States as the world's oldest democracy. The Electoral College also heavily favors small states. The fact that every one gets three automatic electors - one for each senator and a House member - means states that by population might be entitled to only one or two electoral votes wind up with three, four or five.

The majority does not rule and every vote is not equal - those are reasons enough for scrapping the system. But there are other consequences as well. This election has been making clear how the Electoral College distorts presidential campaigns. A few swing states take on oversized importance, leading the candidates to focus their attention, money and promises on a small slice of the electorate. We are hearing far more this year about the issue of storing hazardous waste at Yucca Mountain, an important one for Nevada's 2.2 million residents, than about securing ports against terrorism, a vital concern for 19.2 million New Yorkers. The political concerns of Cuban-Americans, who are concentrated in the swing state of Florida, are of enormous interest to the candidates. The interests of people from Puerto Rico scarcely come up at all, since they are mainly settled in areas already conceded as Kerry territory. The emphasis on swing states removes the incentive for a large part of the population to follow the campaign, or even to vote.

Those are the problems we have already experienced. The arcane rules governing the Electoral College have the potential to create havoc if things go wrong. Electors are not required to vote for the candidates they are pledged to, and if the vote is close in the Electoral College, a losing candidate might well be able to persuade a small number of electors to switch sides. Because there are an even number of electors - one for every senator and House member of the states, and three for the District of Columbia - the Electoral College vote can end in a tie. There are several plausible situations in which a 269-269 tie could occur this year. In the case of a tie, the election goes to the House of Representatives, where each state delegation gets one vote - one for Wyoming's 500,000 residents and one for California's 35.5 million.

The Electoral College's supporters argue that it plays an important role in balancing relations among the states, and protecting the interests of small states. A few years ago, this page was moved by these concerns to support the Electoral College. But we were wrong. The small states are already significantly over represented in the Senate, which more than looks out for their interests. And there is no interest higher than making every vote count.

Forum Tackles Hispanic Political Involvement In Conn.

September 18, 2004
Copyright © 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Hispanic activists in Connecticut are looking for ways to increase political involvement as their community continues to grow.

The greatest foe to broader political participation is apathy, activists said at a forum in Hartford on Friday organized by Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz.

State Rep. Lydia Martinez, D-Bridgeport, said Hispanic residents need a reason to get to the polls.

"It's very hard to get our people out to vote," she said. "The new ones are not very much informed about our politics or the location of the schools where they need to vote. The older ones are sick and tired of the people who've made promises to them, so they think a vote won't change their life."

Bysiewicz said the Hispanic population is "under-registered and participates in lower numbers."

The community is the fastest growing ethnic group in Connecticut. About 9.4 percent of the state's 3.4 million residents are Hispanic or Latino, according to the 2000 Census. The state does not keep ethnic or racial information on registered voters.

Mari Carmen Aponte, executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration in Washington, said about 40 percent of Latinos who were registered to vote in Connecticut did so in the last election.

"We've got to move, mobilize and get our people to vote -- get our people elected," she said. "With each ballot cast, our voices become louder."

Fernando Betancourt, director of the state's Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, cited a 2002 study that found that more than 35 percent of Hispanics in Connecticut who did not vote said they were too busy. Nearly 17 percent said they did not like the candidates and more than 10 percent were out of town on Election Day.

Eight percent said they were not registered.

Language is a major barrier to voting and political power, Betancourt said.

"We're making the point that we need more information and data in the Spanish language," he said. "And if we do not have campaign finance reform, most Latino candidates would not be on equal terms to compete for elected office."

Bridgeport is one of seven cities in Connecticut under court order to provide extensive Spanish-language materials for voters.

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