Be careful when you go shopping at your local supermarkets in the next few weeks. Some of the crop of new autumn apples will be rotten. You will immediately know the rotten fruit, because it will be presented to you at the store entrance, disguised as a petition for you to sign. The person will tell you about all of your friends and neighbors who have eaten the fruit and signed the petition. The person will also tell you that you will be endorsing a bold, simple plan that returns democracy to presidential elections. How can one resist the fruit of democratic reform?
When you bite into the fruit, though, you will be surprised to find the worm of partisan politics staring up at you. The worm may resemble Karl Rove, but the face actually belongs to Thomas Hiltachk, a very partisan Republican. And the message about “electoral reform” is simply not true. Mr. Hiltachk and his cohorts at “Electoral Reform California” have concocted a plan that would keep Democrats out of the White House by revising the “winner take all” methodology of electing California’s presidential electors. Electors would be chosen based on the popular vote for president in each individual congressional district. In essence, the logic and practice of the Electoral College would be applied to California: But instead of a voter electing a statewide slate of electors, a voter would be electing a district elector.
The arguments about “electoral reform,” “democracy,” and “restoring California’s clout” in presidential elections are either untrue or disingenuous. The motive for this “reform” is nothing more than a cynical ploy to steal 20 or 25 electors from the winner of the popular statewide vote. The Republican backers of this initiative assume that, in 2008, the winning presidential candidate in California will be a Democrat. Depriving the winning candidate of anywhere from one-third to one-half of the state’s electors creates a de facto second state of California.
What is rotten about this plan is the notion that it promotes “reform.” The backers of the plan rightly perceive the flaws in our electoral college. But their solution is to take us even further away from the only true reform worth discussing, determining our president by popular vote. Indeed, there would no longer be “red states” or “blue states” in a nation where every vote has equal weight.
This initiative, though, does serve one very important purpose: It magnifies the discontent people feel for the way we choose our national leadership. Even “strict constructionist” Republican partisans see the need, if not the opportunity, to make some changes. We believe that it is time for a constitutional amendment to review and revise our election system. Every aspect of choosing a president should be on the table for discussion: voter eligibility, voter sign-up, standardizing ballots and voting machines, and the electoral college. Everything can be improved so fairness is unquestioned and enfranchisement is not complicated.
America’s 18th century way of choosing presidents is as tasty as the rotten fruit of California initiative for electoral reform. It’s time to sow the sweet fruit of real electoral reform.