Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Journal Record: Experts downplay movement to abolish Electoral College system

Pryor: Votes must be counted properly and legally

Oklahoma political experts aren’t quite ready to join a small but growing movement to scuttle the Electoral College. Maryland’s governor recently signed a law that would give that state’s electoral voters to the winner of the national popular vote for president, regardless of which candidate drew the majority of Maryland votes.

The new law is contingent upon enough other states passing such a law to total 270 electoral votes, the minimum needed for election.

Hawaii has passed a similar law, which is awaiting the governor’s signature. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar California law last year.

The number of a state’s electoral votes is determined by the size of its congressional delegation. Oklahoma has seven votes, the number of its U.S. representatives combined with its two U.S. senators.

Discussion of abolishing the Electoral College surfaces every now and then, but the debate has intensified since 2000, when Al Gore received more popular votes than George Bush, but the electoral vote went to Bush.

Lisa Pryor, chairwoman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party, said the Electoral College can cut both ways.

Pryor pointed out that in 2004, a switch of about 60,000 votes in Ohio would have given U.S. Sen. John Kerry the electoral vote. Bush out-drew Kerry in the popular vote by more than 3 million.

“It’s not an issue that is pre-eminent on the minds of voters or on the minds of candidates at this time,” she said.

Pryor said her main concern regarding electoral reform is seeing that votes are accounted for properly, legally and in a timely manner.

“Then we need to probably take a look at the Electoral College,” she said. “But until we can count every vote properly, accurately, without any appearance of fraud, we need to take care of that first.”

Pryor said she is not hearing from colleagues in other states about any big movement to follow Maryland and Hawaii or do away with the Electoral College.

Pryor said it’s a point of pride for her to be able to describe Oklahoma’s statewide electronic election system, with its backup paper trail, to her counterparts in other states. In some states, voting systems vary from one county to another.

“They are astonished that we have such an advanced and progressive, secure voting system,” she said.

If other states adopted such a system, she said, the problems in Florida in 2000 would not have happened.

Oklahoma State University political science professor Bob Darcy isn’t as fond of Oklahoma’s election system as Pryor, but likes what the Electoral College brings to how the U.S. elects a president.

“In terms of fairness and simplicity, the popular winner is the obvious choice,” Darcy said. “In terms of what side I come down on, I would keep the same system.”

Darcy said election by popular vote is fraught with its own problems.

As an example, he said the Florida conflict involved thousands of votes in that state.

If in 2000 the country elected its leader by popular vote, he said, the same issue could have been raised nationwide, magnifying the problem as both parties looked for votes to tip the scales in favor of their candidate.

“It would be a scramble to find those votes,” Darcy said.

There is some talk about a national uniform voting system, he said, but that is years away if at all feasible.

“What the Electoral College does is confine the problem to a particular state or group of states,” he said.

Darcy said any discussion of booting the Electoral College makes more sense if it is couched in terms of the “one person, one vote” issue.

The way the U.S. elects its president, and its U.S. senators, does not comply with that principle, he said.

Darcy said a voter in tiny Rhode Island has more say in the presidential election than a vote in California, because the electoral votes assigned due to each state’s senators are not based upon population.

Darcy said it may be time to discuss a change in how electoral votes are calculated. He has been working on some mathematical calculations regarding how that should be changed.

Regarding Oklahoma’s election system, Darcy sees a major bone of contention in its allowance for straight-party voting.

As an example, he referred to a 2000 ballot that invited voters to vote straight-party Democrat for a congressional office, when no Democrat was running for that seat.

“The voter is invited by the ballot to throw away their vote,” he said. “I think that’s a scandal.”

Oklahoma Republican Party Chairman Gary Jones said that doing away with the Electoral College would blunt the influence of smaller states in the presidential-election process.

“The states that have the absolute largest number of people, those are the ones that are going to benefit,” he said.

Jones said the existing system takes into account the rights of smaller states, as does the fact that each state has two U.S. senators, regardless of its population.

“There was some definite wisdom there when they put that together,” he said.

Jones said that provides a sort of “weighted factor” for each state.

“I would think long and hard before I would support something like that,” he said of doing away with the Electoral College. “It’s a combination of populist plus states’ rights, which is the way that our legislative branch is set up, with the house and senate.”

Jones has his own set of recommendations for improving Oklahoma’s election process, including strengthening identification and residence requirements for voters.

“If you did that, it would be a lot easier to police those records and make sure they’re accurate,” he said.

As someone who has lost two state auditor elections by the margin of straight-party voting, Jones said his first tendency is to say it probably should be eliminated.

“I think that we’re probably at a point in time that we ought to look at possibly eliminating that,” he said.

Story by Marie Price

No comments: