Friday, November 4, 2016

Vote — Because We Don’t Need Another Civics Lesson

The political process is inspiring to some and mind-numbing or unexciting to others. Whether or not one is a flag-waving, flag-pin wearing patriot, a cynical fence sitter or simply uninterested, remember that voting is an opportunity not available to many citizens in other countries.
By the time Americans finish high school, most should understand that voting is a privilege for which millions have fought and died. That lesson, though, is hardly taken seriously as evident by the fact that only about half of registered voters commonly go to the polls for presidential elections.
There are always voting options. Choices may not always be the cream of the crop, but, if you prefer one candidate or a single issue, that opinion is conveyed with your ballot. Some voters also assert their right not to vote, no doubt due to apathy or a notion that their vote isn’t relevant in the grand scheme of things.
Sixteen years ago, when the counting and the arguments were over, Democratic candidate Al Gore amassed the majority of the popular vote by a razor-thin margin, but lost, in one of the closest presidential elections in the nation’s history, which led to a dilemma not seen since 1888. After a compulsory delay and a contentious 5-4 decision, Republican George W. Bush became the first Supreme Court-decided president in American history. There had been questionable presidential elections before, but the results, even when close, were never challenged to the degree they were in 2000.
That shouldn’t happen again. But it could.
When the Founding Fathers drew up the Constitution, they surely had worthier intentions in mind than sidestepping the popular vote. It puts a damper on the premise of democracy.
That exceptional outcome may have validated excuses for apathetic non-voters. Nevertheless, if just one tenth of one percent of those who stayed away had voted in 2000, the results probably would have been different.
On the other hand, the number of eligible voters expected to vote on November 8th is roughly 55 percent, compared to nearly 60 percent eight years ago and almost 58 percent in 2012. While those numbers are slightly higher than previous elections, it is still disappointing that more than a third of registered voters do not to participate.
On a positive note, with only a few days to go before Election Day 2016, it’s been reported that a record 30 million early ballots have been cast nationwide.
However, it doesn’t solve the dilemma of the archaic Electoral College, which bestows the ultimate decision in presidential elections, and, once and for all, should be abolished. That, however, requires a constitutional amendment, which is a cumbersome process.
Chosen by political parties and voters, the Electoral College comprises 538 electors, who officially elect the president and vice president several weeks after the popular vote is tallied. It was the outcome of a compromise when some framers were concerned that the populous North would outnumber the sparsely populated South. It is, nonetheless, incompatible for modern politics. (The presidency, by the way, is the only elective office not determined solely by the popular vote.) Every state gets one electoral vote for each senator and representative. (New York and Florida have 29 each, while California and Texas have 55 and 38, respectively.) Most states use a formula where one candidate may win by a single vote, but gets all the state’s electoral votes.
The presidential election process needs to be restructured to create an uncomplicated one-person, one vote, winner-take-all direct election. Whoever amasses the most popular votes is the winner. Period. No electors. No Supreme Court. No nonsense.
Foremost, the integrity of the process must include safeguards against voter fraud, uncorroborated charges of rigging and guaranteed beyond reproach. Obviously, in a close race, the loser may challenge the results, leading to painstaking procedures to settle disputes. (The integrity of next week’s election has been under suspicion for weeks. According to some media reports, Republicans and Democrats have hired attorneys and poll watchers in battleground states where discrepancies might occur.)
This year, 32 states have some form of voter ID laws. In addition to stricter ID regulations, more than a dozen that passed laws restricting voting rights, including cutting back voting hours and making it more difficult to register. When the Supreme Court struck down key parts of the Voting Rights Act three years ago, it made it easier for states to set up voting barriers. Next Tuesday, seven states will require voters to show photo identification in order to cast their ballots. In 2012, only four states required it.
Practical changes should be established to guarantee that the voices of all Americans have the opportunity to be heard. Moving Election Day to the weekend — on both Saturday and Sunday to avoid conflicts with religious observations — might make it less complicated for those with weekday excuses.
Years before the chaotic 2000 fallout, one constitutional law expert said the Electoral College was “a train wreck waiting to happen.” We lived through that wreck and endured a three-week delay before an outcome was known. We stand on the brink of another accident waiting to happen.
After lots of grumbling, nothing’s changed and the possibility of another blemished — albeit not rigged — election still exists. To avoid potential voter erosion, restore confidence and remind registered voters that every vote is critical, it should be determined whether the Electoral College still makes sense.
Those troubled by the accuracy of the vote or troubled by the nastiest campaign in memory, coupled with an erosion of trust in our political system, should put those concerns aside since campaigns are hardly ever civil, but elections should be.
Voting is a civic duty. Every eligible person who participates is exercising their Constitutional right. At one time, not all American citizens could vote. African-Americans couldn’t vote. Women couldn’t vote. Non-property owners couldn’t vote.
Even with a few pockets where voter suppression may crop up, current laws are designed to give every qualified citizen the right to vote.
Thomas Jefferson said it best, “An elective government is the best permanent corrective of the errors or abuses of those entrusted with power.”
Until our rights are threatened or curtailed, Americans tend to take our freedoms for granted. Every four years we have an opportunity to exercise a valued right that more than half the world has never known. That right should not be squandered.
Heck, even if casting that ballot on Election Day doesn’t make you feel a little patriotic, this year, it may relieve some of the pent up anxiety triggered by the contenders.