One Citizen, One Vote

There’s something really interesting happening in California politics but it’s the kind of "inside baseball" issue that most people will not show much interest in this early. There is a move afoot to redefine how the state’s electoral college votes are distributed in national elections.

Rather than giving all of California’s 55 electoral votes to the presidential candidate that wins the popular vote statewide, the measure would award a single electoral vote to the presidential winner in each of the state’s 53 congressional districts and two to the statewide victor.

This is not insignificant because California’s 55 votes are the single biggest prize in the presidential election but in recent years the dominance of Democrats in the San Francisco area and the greater Los Angeles area has meant that few candidates actually campaign in California anymore.

The demographic trend of the last decade is also a significant consideration here becasue California is far removed from being a Democrat state. Population growth in the Central Valley has resulted in significant swings to red in the Golden State as voters in these communities tend to run conservative. Indeed, of CA’s 53 districts, 22 voted Republican in the last national election.

There’s nothing partisan about the initiative, said Kevin Eckery, a spokesman for Citizens for Equal Representation, a group run out of Hiltachk’s law office.

"The issue isn’t Democratic or Republican, the issue is whether this initiative better reflects how people vote," he said. "Votes belong to the voters, not to the parties."

Eckery and other supporters of the initiative say the state’s method of assigning electoral votes in effect disenfranchised the 45 percent of California voters who didn’t back Kerry in 2004.

Like all things in politics this is a "on one hand and on the other" issue that requires careful deliberation before uncorking. I am undecided on this issue for a couple of reasons, first and foremost being that the electoral college was originally conceived to minimize vote distortion in national elections decided by popular vote. A move to backdoor a popular vote methodology undermines the purpose of the electoral college, in my opinion.

The reason why this is important is that the United States is a federal republic where states large and small have equal influence over national issues. If elections are to be decided by a popular vote we will see a dramatic shift in how campaigns are run and how issues are prioritized. With half of the U.S. population living in a handful of large states it is predictable that low population inland states would get little candidate attention and that’s a disservice to all voters. One could also argue that there is a tyranny of the minority currently because small states wield disproporitionate influence (witness farm subsidies as exhibit A).

But on the other hand I see Hiltachk’s point that almost half of California’s voters were disenfranchised in the 2004 election and distributing electoral votes proportionally does seem more fair to me as a voter. As a voter I would like nothing more than to see California become more active for candidates actually campaigning for votes.

As it currently stands, candidates from both parties fly into LA or the Bay Area to raise money and then leave because Democrats take it for granted that the state will swing to them and Republicans consider time spent in the midwest and southeast to be more productive for them. I fail to see how making California more competitive would be a bad thing for the voters and residents of the state.

Most shocking to me is the hypocrisy of DNC Chairman Dean who criticizes this initiative as a GOP effort to steal the upcoming election. Is this not the same party that declared the 2000 election stolen because President Bush lost the popular vote while winning the Presidency? Dean can’t have it both ways according to whichever wind is in his sail, but having politicians opposing positions at the same time on any given issue is hardly a new thing in Washington. 

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