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It’s time to set uniform standards for voting in the US

If You Ask Me

Consider this. Forty-three states offer in-person voting before Election Day; the others don’t. Twenty states allow voting on Saturdays, five on Sundays. Five states permit every voter to mail in their ballots between 10 and 18 days before the election. Twenty states allow mailed votes to be counted when they’re received but in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and some others, the mail-ins can’t be opened until Election Day. And then there was the pandemic.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, the United States is the only democratic country that tolerates different voting styles in each province or region or whatever passes for states. Canada has a nonpartisan election commission that sets voting rules for the entire nation; other nations have similar arrangements.  

True, the emergency voting disruptions caused by the pandemic made a chaotic system worse this time. Still, we should find a way to let the states run their own contests however they want, but have one set of rules for all the voters in the 50 states to follow in electing a president.  

And while we’re at it, we should take a hard look at some of the quaint practices devised by the Founding Fathers at a time when voting was meant to be restricted to white men smart and rich enough to be able to vote responsibly, at least in the eyes of similarly smart, rich, white men.

I’m talking mostly about the Electoral College, which made some sense when the Constitution was adopted in 1789 but became obsolete with the introduction of the first political parties at the turn of the 19th century.  The Founders concluded that uninformed voters living in remote locations across the vast land would be better served if they elected solid citizens in their states to vote in their place. Or, as the sainted Roger Sherman of Connecticut told the Constitutional Convention, “I stand opposed to the election by the people. The people want for information and are constantly liable to be misled.” 

The 12th Amendment, passed in 1804, could have allowed the direct election of a Federalist or Democratic-Republican Party president, but it retained electoral votes to appease the powerful southern states. The South was outnumbered by northern voters and complained about not being able to count their slaves, whom, after all, they had to clothe and feed. So a deal was struck to count each slave as three-fifths of a (non-voting) person.

This made Virginia the big winner with 12 of the 91 electoral votes allocated to the then-existing states and it was no coincidence that four of the first five presidents were Virginians.

Only five men have become president without winning the popular vote, but two of them, George W. Bush and Donald Trump, were elected in the past 20 years and Trump came uncomfortably close to doing it again this month.

It’s argued that the Electoral College protects those living in poorly populated states but they are adequately protected and advantaged by having as many senators as the vastly larger states. Then, there’s the allegedly unquestioned wisdom of the all-wise Founders, the same founders who thought the people weren’t smart enough and slaves could be counted as three-fifths of a person.

The Electoral College can be abolished by a constitutional amendment but getting two-thirds of each House to vote for anything is not terribly likely.

But there is one practical alternative, known as the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, an agreement among states — 16, so far — to allocate their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote.  Connecticut’s already on board along with the medium-sized states of Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington, the small states of Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Vermont and the large states of California, Illinois and New York.

They represent 196 of the 270 electoral votes needed to elect a president, so change may be in the offing. It would be about time, bringing the nation a major step closer to the democratic-republican ideal of one person, one vote.

It was about time a while back when a noted politician told his countrymen, “We must eliminate those defects in the Electoral College system which make possible the frustration of the people’s will in the election of their President and Vice President.”  The year was 1826 and the writer was a former president named Jefferson.

 

Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at rahles1@outlook.com.

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