One person, our vote

Senator Dianne Feinstein came up with a last-minute gift she couldn’t resist bestowing on her constituents a few days before Christmas. She introduced legislation to abolish the Electoral College in favor of a one-person, one-vote system—that’s where a popular vote of American citizens determines who will be president and vice president.

Thank you, senator! As Californians, we are awfully tired of a system where a vote from a person from Iowa or North Dakota has more impact than our own. (It’s news to nobody that our state was basically irrelevant in the recent election, where the Electoral College system had President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry spending their energy and focus on voters elsewhere.)

“The Electoral College is an anachronism,” said Feinstein in making her announcement. That’s an understatement. The current system actually bypasses most voters in the country—especially those who live in urban America—and basically serves to grant uber power to people who live in what we now refer to as “swing states.” In the most recent election, people from Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania basically had the power to elect the president. That’s hardly democracy and not at all what the founding fathers had in mind.

Enter Feinstein, who has said she’ll make it a personal priority to press for hearings in the Judiciary Committee on which she sits. From there, she plans to get the Electoral College debate raging on the Senate floor before a full vote. (Last month, Representative Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, introduced a similar proposal in the House of Representatives, which she intends to reintroduce as well.)

Those who oppose Feinstein’s plan say the Electoral College was intended by the founders to support the rights of the small states. But the Senate already does that. As things stand now, decisions that should be made on behalf of the entire country often get made simply to appeal to voters in key electoral states. Also on the list of strange truths about electoral votes: (1) A candidate can lose in 39 states and still win the presidency; (2) a candidate can lose the popular vote by more than 10 million votes but still win the presidency; and (3) a candidate can win 20 million votes in the general election but not win a single electoral vote, as happened to Ross Perot in 1992.

Regardless, this proposal still faces an uphill battle. It takes a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress followed by ratification by 38 states for a constitutional amendment to become law. In fact, the Constitution has been amended only 27 times in the country’s history. (Twenty-five years ago, the Senate voted 51-48 to abolish the Electoral College. That’s a majority, but it’s short of the two-thirds requirement.)

Democrats and Congress need to pay far more attention to fair-election issues, such as setting federal standards for electronic voting machines, including transparency and accountability. But abolishment of the Electoral College is another election-reform cause worthy of support. It should not matter if a vote is cast in Ohio, North Dakota, Maine or California. Feinstein is correct: Every vote should count.