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January 31, 2013

Making Your Votes Count

Patricia A. Kelly

Do you think your vote counts? Well, it doesn’t, certainly not in the presidential election, and far less that you might wish in more local elections. The weight of your personal vote is decided by partisan politicians, both Republican and Democrat. Worse yet, most people are completely unaware of this.


Every 10 years, at the time of the national census, political districts in all states are altered to reflect changes in population. The leading party, led by the governor, gets to change district boundaries, or gerrymander. By reading the population shift information their way, they get to create boundaries that give their candidates a better chance to win, both congressional representative seats – including the Senate – and General Assembly seats.


This happens in all states, not just Maryland. Sometimes Republicans get to do it, sometimes Democrats. It just depends on how many of each reside in the state.


Here in Maryland the new district boundaries were so bizarre they left people in one part of the state to be represented by people who had no understanding of, or connection with, them.


The creation of these extremely bizarre, partisan-driven boundaries inspired a petition to allow the people of Maryland to vote on them. Not only did Gov. Martin O’Malley and his party get to decide the boundaries, he got to decide the final wording of the ballot question, so it appeared that all he was doing was following the Constitution. The wording won the day, and our weird district boundaries will stand for the next 10 years.


Now Montgomery County will decide who represents Western Maryland. Not a good thing, no matter how well intentioned Congressman John Delaney might be. He will have a very difficult time effectively representing such a disparate constituency.


The solution to this would be to have census-driven boundary changes decided by an objective panel, removing the politics and politicians from the decision.


As for the general presidential election, in many states all of the electoral votes go for the candidate who won the majority of the state, no matter if that means 99 percent or 51 percent. Under this system the rest of the votes don‘t count in the general election. States which follow this method are called “all or nothing states.”


According to the January 24 Huffington Post, the Commonwealth of Virginia, a Red State led by a Republican governor, is considering allocating electoral votes by congressional district, so both parties would be represented in the electoral college. If voting had been done this way in the last election, Mitt Romney would have won, by an estimated 11 votes, in spite of losing the popular vote.


That’s because – in Red States – it happens that most congressional districts go Red. It wouldn’t help Blue States so much because there are enough Red districts in the less populated areas of Blue states to actually worsen the outcome for Democrats.


Each state also has two extra electoral votes. Some are actually allowing the majority popular vote to decide those. Imagine allowing the people’s vote to determine who represents them in the Electoral College. What a novel concept!


In the George Bush vs. Al Gore 2000 presidential race, Democrat Gore won the popular vote by a tiny margin and Republican Bush won the Electoral College vote by a tiny and contested margin. In the Obama/Romney race, President Obama did win, but by a close popular vote, and very large Electoral College margin. Some have called it a huge victory. It would have been seen as the close race it was if politicians, both Republican and Democrat, had not both gerrymandered districts and decided how Electoral College votes were counted.


We are the people hiring these connivers, and we are absolutely at their mercy. The twisting and manipulating are so entrenched and so complicated that it’s very hard for the average person, the vast majority of the country, to know what’s going on.


We, who manage to vote for television stars, should be able to vote for the president we pay to run our country, and to have that vote count.


I, for one, am sick of being manipulated by my government. I give them money, and votes, and they decide what to do with them, and in such convoluted ways that it‘s hard to even know what they did.


We praise democracy and continuously try to export it, even to countries that don’t have running water. The truth is that we don’t have it here, either.


We won’t have true democracy in the United States of America until our votes count.


Let’s let our American Idol-voting prowess count for something. Contact all of your representatives and demand objective redistricting, and a fair and non-partisan solution to the makeup of the Electoral College.


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