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Detroit Free Press

A to-do list for the day after Nov. 2

October 20, 2004

The biggest threat to the democratic process in America isn't Osama bin Laden. It's the ever-growing number of Americans who are convinced they no longer have a voice in that democratic process. Unlike bin Laden's influence, this perception of disenfranchisement is likely to be exacerbated by the results of the Nov. 2 election, no matter which candidate prevails.

In the best-case scenario, roughly half the electorate will be disappointed by the results of the presidential balloting.

In the worst-case scenario, the electoral and popular votes will diverge again, condemning the victor to preside over an electorate that manifestly preferred his opponent.

This is bad news for Republicans, Democrats, independents and anyone else with a stake in the long-term health of our democratic republic.

So on Nov. 3, we should join together to demand three changes in the way our presidents are elected.

Making every vote count

First, Congress and the states should reform the Electoral College. At a minimum, each state should be required to cast its electoral votes in a manner proportional to its citizens' popular vote.

The winner-take-all scheme currently practiced by Michigan and 47 other states guarantees that the presidential candidate who tallies the most Michigan votes on Nov. 2 will reap all 17 of our state's electoral votes, even if his margin of victory is minuscule.

But nothing in the U.S. Constitution mandates this allocation formula. Maine and Nebraska already cast their electoral votes proportionally, and Colorado voters will decide Nov. 2 whether their state should follow suit.

The practical usefulness of the proportional allocation scheme was powerfully demonstrated in the 2000 presidential election. But the fundamental issue here is fairness to voters in states dominated by one party. Millions of New York Republicans and millions of Texas Democrats should not have to relocate to swing states like Michigan or Pennsylvania in order to cast meaningful presidential ballots.

The end of the spoiler

Second, states should move to institute instant runoff balloting, in which voters rank the candidates in order of preference and votes cast for an also-ran candidate (such as Ralph Nader) are automatically redistributed between the top two finishers.

Instant runoff balloting would guarantee that the victor in any election represents the preference of a majority of voters, even if no candidate wins more than half of the first-place votes. It would also eliminate spoiler candidates, discourage negative campaigning and reward those who seek common ground with their opponents.

The logistical and technological obstacles to universal instant runoff balloting are formidable. But as in the search for ways to harness the promise of stem cell research, the proper question for policymakers is not whether to take on those obstacles, but how to overcome them.

Finally, Congress and the states should eliminate the constitutional provision that bars immigrants from serving as president of the United States.

The anachronistic requirement that only "a natural-born citizen" may be elected to the White House dishonors 12.5 million naturalized Americans, most of whom know more about our democratic institutions than the average "natural-born" high school senior.

Anyone who can't name at least five such immigrant Americans who are better qualified for the presidency than either of the major party candidates just hasn't been paying attention.


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