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Jewish World Review August 4, 2000 / 3 Menachem-Av, 5760

Ben Wattenberg

Ben Wattenberg
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Consumer Reports

Predictions -- and BANG! -- I AM NOT filing from Philadelphia, site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Republican Party Convention of 2000, in rank order of importance.

I am sitting at home, watching a variety of cable channels and Web sites competing for my eyeballs. Such solitude leads me to offer predictions, most short term.

I predict that George Bush and Richard Cheney will be the GOP nominees.

I predict that Al Gore will be the nominee of the Democratic Party and will choose a liberal as his vice presidential running mate, or someone whom Republicans will describe as a liberal, harking back to some votes or comments made over the course of a long career.

I predict the contest will be described as a race between a conservative ticket and a liberal ticket, which is accurate. Self-described conservatives out-number liberals in America, by a proportion of about three to two. Mostly, that is why I believe Bush will win by about 8 points, the margin by which his father won in 1988.

Because of the size of Bush's margin, I shakily predict that the Republicans will keep control of both houses of Congress. Ralph Nader is running well in the national polls, at about 8 percent. He takes votes from Gore at the top of the ballot, but he will bring new voters into the process who will disproportionately vote Democratic at the congressional level.

I predict that turnout will be about 50 percent, more or less what it has been over recent decades, notwithstanding the hubbub about the "vanishing voter."

And I predict that one of these years the ticking time bomb in our Constitution is going to go BANG!

Wisely, our system makes a nation from a group of federated states. But nothing's perfect. In the national electoral arena, federalism translates into a system whereby presidents are selected under a "winner take all" system within the states.

That's terrific for those states that are "in play," meaning they are normally sufficiently close in outcome to "swing" one way or the other. Pennsylvania is in play. Whichever candidate wins Pennsylvania, even by one single vote, gets 100 percent of Pennsylvania's 23 votes in the electoral college, where presidents are officially chosen, and 270 votes are required for victory. Good for Pennsylvania, and other swing states like Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Missouri. Even small groups of voters in swing states get much attention paid to their views, which is fine. Moreover, it fits with the states' role as "laboratories of democracy."

But the system produces at least two problems. A candidate can get the requisite number of electoral votes without winning the most popular votes. It happened in 1888, but that was long before the 24-7 television news cycle and Internet communication. Today, if a candidate got the most votes and lost the election, there would be holy hell to pay.

And what about the voters from states not in play, the "safe states?" Aren't they, in effect, disenfranchised? Indiana and Idaho are going to vote Republican. Maryland and Massachusetts are going to vote Democratic. Why bother voting? Why should candidates pay attention to the voters there? If by some chance there is a national landslide, and those states go against their historical grain, it still wouldn't matter. In a landslide, such votes wouldn't be "needed" to win. In sad point of fact, most Americans live in states that are not in play.

A somewhat similar situation exists in the presidential primary process. A winning candidate for a party's nomination normally "wraps up" his or her victory before many states have had a chance to vote. That depresses turnout in non-contested states. Then we all complain about low voter turnout.

There are some solutions available, one easy, one hard.

A Republican commission headed by former Sen. Bill Brock has proposed "The Delaware Plan," which would put the smallest states first in the primary process and the biggest states last. That guarantees that many more people would vote in primaries. The plan was to have been voted upon in Philadelphia. Alas, the Bush campaign, seeking to avoid arguments, asked its rules committee to dump the vote, and they did. The Delaware Plan is a good idea, and should be taken up by both parties, after the election.

The hard solution concerns the presidential electoral system. My plan would require a constitutional amendment. Keep the current system, but award a fixed number of electoral votes, say 100, to the candidate with the largest number of popular votes. That would keep the commendable parts of what we have but provide the potential for every citizen's vote to count.

I predict that such an amendment will not be immediately adopted.

Ben Wattenberg is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and is the moderator of PBS's "Think Tank." You may comment by clicking here.

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