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Can't we just act like a democracy?

By GILBERT SHASHA

Publication: The Day

Published November 17. 2012 4:00AM

The election of 2012 may finally have convinced us that it is time for American to become a democracy. Being a republic has been a historical anachronism that we can no longer indulge to the same extent that we have in the past.

Our political system was born in a time of intense commitment to the integrity and independence of the individual states. Today the result is that a majority of U.S. senators can be chosen by a mere 16 percent of the population of the country.

Especially under the current mindset of that body and the excessive use of the filibuster, the overwhelming majority of the people of our country can be held captive by a handful of citizens. Our commitment to the founders of the Constitution probably will not allow us to change the composition of this major institution, the United States Senate.

But there is not comparable commitment to the foolishness of the Electoral College. Clearly nobody would today agree to have our president chosen by a group of wise men selected by our state legislators.

That was, of course, the plan of the founders incorporated into the Constitution. Instead of that, we have kept part of the plan and have adopted the policy of having the president chosen by allowing the people to vote and having straw-man electors cast ballots.

The result of this unwritten and unadopted amendment to the Constitution has been to distort our election process and empower a minority to select our president.

For example, Wyoming has only one-sixth the population of Iowa but half as many electoral votes. Idaho has three times as many people as Wyoming, but only one-third more votes.

Once upon a time the individual states had much more importance in the mind of our citizens than they do today.

Much as I love my home, Connecticut is less important to me than my country. Many of us have lived in more than one state and do not consider relocation to another state a particularly big deal. Maybe Texans or some other state-focused citizens would disagree, but by and large I suspect we are much prouder and more comfortable being identified as Americans, rather than Floridians, for example.

But my primary objection to continuing the fantasy of the Electoral College is not this distortion in the value of the votes.

We just had an election that was decided by a campaign waged in eight states. The pool of courted voters was so small that at times it seemed like we were all spectators while Ohioans chose our President for us.

Thank you, Ohio, but how much better it would be if we all had a voice in the election. We all have suffered from this process.

In the first place, the "undecided states" are not necessarily a mirror of our people. Do Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Nevada really represent who Americans are?

I respect and admire the voters in those states as much as anyone, but I think we are more racially and ethnically diverse and economically distinct as a nation. We would all benefit from having the candidates cater to us to the same degree. Our concerns may well be different and more moderate.

If the President were chosen instead by the popular vote, the election process would be forced into a truly nation campaign. The top of the ticket would be required to go into states where congressional candidates might also benefit from their presence.

The abandonment of entire and significant minorities like Democrats in Texas or Republicans in New York would no longer be possible. There are many more votes available in states with larger populations. Promising to support the expansion of coal or corn would no longer determine who our president becomes.

I think one factor in the polarization of our people has been this abandoning of whole parts of the country by political campaigns. If we chose our president by the popular vote, it would require candidates to pay attention to California, New York and Texas.

I am sure there are Democrats in Texas and Georgia who feel isolated from a national community of like-minded citizens.

It would do Americans in the South good to see that Obama does not have horns and is not an alien presence in our midst. It might even do us good to remember that there is a distinguished history of public service performed by moderate Republicans in New England.

Perhaps it would be welcomed news in Washington State to know that tea party radio is not the best representative of the party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt.

It is not acceptable to be the only democracy in the world that allows a minority to choose our leader. It is time we abandoned the silliness of the Electoral College.

Gilbert Shasha lives in New London.

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