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
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
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
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.