Cleveland Plain Dealer
Voters are electing to
By Tom Brazaitis
October 6, 2002
Non-news flash: Another record-low turn out is expected for the
Nov. 5 election despite the fact that control of the Senate and the
House of Representatives are at stake. The Washington-based
Committee for the Study of the American Electorate says that the
turnout in this year's primaries nationwide amounted to 17 percent
of those old enough to vote, barely an improvement on the record-low
16.8 percent registered in 1998.
"It is obvious that nothing has
fundamentally changed in the pattern of very low voter participation
in American political life," said Curtis Gans, an expert on voting
patterns. "The events of Sept. 11, 2001, or the rekindling of those
sentiments in 2002 may have helped boost patriotic fervor, but that
did not carry over into political participation."
If you're curious
why more and more Americans are voting less and less, pick up a copy
of the book "Fixing Elections" by Steven Hill. It is an eye-opener
for anyone who still believes in such myths as "one person, one
vote" and "majority rules."
"Voter turnout in the world's lone
remaining superpower has lurched to 138th in the world - sandwiched
between Botswana and Chad," Hill says.
measures like the Voting Rights Act, campaign finance reform, term
limits, easier registration, mail-in ballots and flexible polling
hours, turnout over the last 40 years has declined steadily.
Hill, co-founder of the Center for Voting and Democracy
(www.fairvote.org) lays most of the blame on a fundamental flaw:
America's winner-take-all voting system. As Hill superbly
demonstrates, winner-take-all is 18th-century voting technology for
the 21st century.
Take the 2000 presidential election. Al Gore got
500,000 more votes than George W. Bush in the voting nationwide, but
lost the election. He lost in the Electoral College, a
In Florida, the two were virtually tied
in the balloting, give or take a hanging chad, yet Bush got all of
the state's electoral votes. If electoral votes had been doled out
state by state in proportion to each candidate's votes, Gore would
have been elected.
Neither candidate got a majority of votes in the
nation as a whole or in Florida and many other states, including
Ohio. What if there had been an "instant runoff" ballot in every
state, where voters picked their first, second and third choices
among the candidates?
If no one got a majority, the candidate with
the fewest votes, say Pat Buchanan or Ralph Nader, would have been
eliminated and his second-choice votes distributed among the
remaining candidates. This process would continue until one
candidate got a majority.
Such a system would allow citizens to
vote their hopes instead of their fears. A voter could cast a ballot
for a Nader, a Buchanan or a Ross Perot, comfortable in the
knowledge that if his candidate did not win, his vote would not have
been wasted because of the second-choice feature.
(In case you're
thinking that I still can't get over the fact that the election was
stolen from Gore, let me remind you that the current system also
works to the detriment of Republicans whose vote totals are
diminished by third-party candidates.)
In congressional and state
legislative elections, the winners are picked not by the voters but
by the politicians themselves by the way they shape the districts
every 10 years following the census. Districts are designed so that
most, if not all, guarantee the election and re-election of one
That is why, out of 435 House seats up for grabs
this year, only about 40 can be said to be truly competitive, where
there is some doubt about which party will prevail. Incumbents (or
the incumbent party in districts where there is no actual
office-holder) will win 98 percent or more of the seats, as usual.
Hill's proposed remedy is multicandidate districts. In a
four-candidate district, for instance, it would take only 25 percent
of the total vote to win a seat. That would open the door to
third-party and minority candidates.
At the very least, Hill says,
redistricting ought to be taken out of the hands of the politicians
who benefit from the process and turned over to an independent
commission following strict guidelines that include keeping counties
whole within the congressional districts.
As citizens become aware
of the flaws in the voting system that have made "orphaned voters"
out of millions of Americans, they might show their displeasure by
boycotting the ballot box. But then, they're already doing that.
Brazaitis is a senior editor
in The Plain Dealer's Washington