Archive for Sunday, November 19, 2000

Election system needs an upgrade

November 19, 2000


One of my friends asked me whether I'd have a column about the election. I hadn't planned on one. I come to the newspaper on Monday morning to put my Sunday column on the computer, so I'm always behind the superstars like George Will and David Broder and that crew. (No pretensions at being in the class of those heavyweights. I'm better on old movies, old songs, things that happened in 1937.)

Maybe the whole dreadful thing ended a couple of days ago. Maybe George W. Bush has announced his cabinet, people who were in Daddy's cabinet or were Daddy's cronies. Maybe Al Gore has been able to do something similar. Right now I'm ready for cop shows, lawyer shows and hoping this political chaos is over.

I almost hope that whoever will be in the White House has both the popular and electoral vote.

Will's profound opinions notwithstanding, I'd argue (along with a majority of Americans polled) that we should get rid of the Electoral College so that in 2004 it will be but a memory. It made sense to those 18th century aristocrats who came up with the idea, but it sure doesn't make sense today.

I've also been wondering why a nation with its incredible technological capacities can't come up with a better system of counting votes (and casting them). Those mail ballots really seem stupid. Look at how long it took enlightened Oregon to have its totals computed. And if we continue to have ballots from overseas we should be assured that the votes are back home by Election Day and not merely postmarked that day.

About the Electoral College, I heard a fellow say that he was going to vote for Ralph Nader because in Kansas it doesn't matter how he votes. I've had that feeling since I first voted here, in 1952, finding that my vote had no meaning in the Electoral College in such a one-party state. If presidential elections were decided by popular vote, the way most elections are decided, my vote would have as much meaning as a vote in New York or Ohio.

The morning after the elections I was in a waiting room at my garage, listening to four authorities kick around the mess we were in, and I realized that in all likelihood I was the only Democrat in the room. Their comments would bear out my belief. One of them loudly announced that Hillary will dump Bill the day after inauguration. My, some Republicans do hate Hillary. And Bill. A week ago I listened to Clinton's address at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and wished he could have been the 2000 Democratic candidate.

Many of us should have expected that we'd have bad feelings the day after the election. Back in my Republican days, mainly before I first voted, I'd feel as low as my dad or my Republican newspaper bosses felt as FDR won four straight times. After my conversion it was better in 1948. The 1950s were bad again, Eisenhower twice (but how good an Eisenhower would look compared with a candidate who didn't know Social Security was a federal program. Papa George gave us Dan Quayle in 1988 and his son in 2000.)

The 1960s, up to '68, were better. Nixon, president? Nixon? I liked Gerald Ford but voted for Jimmy Carter. Then the awful 12 years of Reagan and Bush senior.

Well, back to 2000. That was a terrible week. Can't we do away with exit polls? I'd tell an exit pollster that it was none of his business, but why have exit polls in Kansas? Maybe we also should do away with Wolf Blitzer, Sam Donaldson, Cokie Roberts, and the rest of that bunch.

Remember life before television campaigns and television advertising? I'm sure you realize that in olden times few people ever saw or heard the candidates. William McKinley sat on his front porch waiting for people to come kiss his ring. Stephen A. Douglas was told that it was unseemly to campaign.

We're over-exposed. We see these people constantly, maybe for two years or more. We know too much about them, and they try to tell us what the polls have told them. Lincoln and Douglas had debates. Al Gore and Ross Perot had a debate; at least they sat there and talked to each other, and shouted some. (Bad form, bad body language, fellows.)

Get rid of the commercials. Require the networks to provide free time. Limit the campaign to two or three months. Bring an end to the big money contributions. Wipe out that anachronistic Electoral College. It was a terrible campaign. May there never be another one like it.

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