THE BOSTON GLOBE: Op-Ed
"Amendments aren't needed - it's up to the states"
By Pam Wilmot, January 22, 2008
THE WAY we elect the president of the United States is broken because the presidential election is decided by a handful of closely divided "battleground" states such as Ohio and Florida. Meanwhile, voters in more than two-thirds of the states, including regularly blue states such as Massachusetts and regularly red states such as Indiana, are ignored in the contests. Moreover, the Democratic presidential candidate gets credit for Republicans in blue states (and vice versa).
A bill pending before the Massachusetts House of Representatives and 47 other legislatures across the country would fix this by changing the Electoral College so that it reflects the votes of every person in all 50 states.
The plan would ensure that the candidate who wins the popular vote in all 50 states would be elected president. It would ensure that every person's vote would be equally important, and that our leaders would be accountable to the nation as a whole, not just voters in a handful of battleground states.
The consequences of this broken system are dire: voter participation rates are among the lowest in the world, partisan mischief runs rampant in battleground states, and, of course, a candidate with fewer votes can be elected president. Four times in 55 elections the candidate who placed second in the popular vote has won the contest. In five of the last 12 presidential elections, a switch of a handful of votes in one or two states would have elected the candidate who did not receive the most popular votes nationwide.
Massachusetts and other states have an opportunity to fix this by using powers that the founding fathers gave to the states. The Constitution does not specify how the states select their presidential electors.
Massachusetts, for example, has chosen presidential electors in the Legislature without any direct involvement by the people, by a combination of popular voting and legislative appointment, by congressional district, and in recent years, on a statewide winner-take-all basis. Maine and Nebraska use the district approach.
The Supreme Court has ruled that the states' power to choose the manner of selecting electors is "supreme," "plenary," and "exclusive." No federal constitutional amendment is needed because the states already have exclusive power over this matter.
The National Popular Vote bill uses the states' existing constitutional authority to choose the manner of selecting its presidential electors and the states' existing authority to enter into legally enforceable joint agreements with other states to reach the goal of electing the president using the popular vote in all 50 states.
Under National Popular Vote, the agreement would take effect only when identical enabling legislation has been enacted by states collectively possessing a majority of the electoral college - that is 270 of the 538 electoral votes, roughly equal to half of the population. These states agree to give all of their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote in all 50 states, thereby guaranteeing the popular vote winner a supermajority in the Electoral College.
The National Popular Vote compact is a constitutionally sound and practically realistic plan to enact a nationwide popular vote for the president. In the most important election in the world, every vote should count equally, regardless of whether it is cast in Florida or Massachusetts.
Pam Wilmot is executive director of Common Cause of Massachusetts.
"Open on stimulus funds"
By Deirdre Cummings, Noah Berger and Pam Wilmot, The Berkshire Eagle, Op-Ed, December 28, 2009
Ten months ago the economy was in shambles, millions were laid off from their jobs, credit dried up, gross domestic product shrank alarmingly, and talk of another Great Depression was everywhere. While many families are still hurting today, economic indicators are looking up and most economists say the worst is over. Part of the credit for this turnaround goes to the critical role that public funds have played in forestalling an economic freefall. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or "ARRA," or simply the "stimulus," put billions into the economy at its darkest hour and it has done so with unprecedented levels of transparency for how the money is being spent.
As a result, tens of thousands of jobs have been created or retained in virtually every state; billions in cuts to education, health care and other basic government services have been averted; and major new investments in infrastructure and new technologies have been made. Here in Massachusetts, just a few of the positive programs funded include scores of road and bridge projects, investments in public transportation and green technology, $220 million allocated to our state and community colleges and universities, and jobs for 258 police officers and firefighters to help protect our public safety.
Yet not surprisingly, given the unprecedented amount of resources distributed at an unheard of pace, not everything is perfect. Some contractors received stimulus contracts despite failing to disclose serious pollution and workplace safety violations and fines, as required, data entry errors have over- and sometimes underestimated jobs, government web-sites are not as user friendly as needed, and some funding decisions have been widely criticized.
But while the immediate exposure of mistakes, oversights, and controversial decisions may cause bad optics, it encourages good policy, because it creates pressure to make things right, right away. Putting millions of eyes on a huge, complex endeavor will identify problems and controversies that might otherwise just get swept under the rug. That is one of its critical functions. The lack of transparency in private sector institutions contributed to the crisis in financial markets, where problems were not recognized until it was almost too late to solve them. In contrast, the transparency provisions of ARRA are allowing all of us to see and address problems as they arise.
We need to know what is working and what isn't. We need to see mistakes to make sure that they are fixed. We need to know what we are tracking effectively and where we need better tools. Rejecting the model of secrecy, the federal recovery law treats us like what citizens are in a democracy: the people in charge.
In a recently released report the authors of this op-ed review what the state's transparency web-site does well and where it should be improved. The web-site has an enormous amount of data, including descriptions of how money is being spent, where it is being spent, jobs that are being created, projects that are available to bid on, and the details of the contracts that have been posted and/or signed to carry out work. There are also a number of flaws that we discuss, most of which relate to the difficulty of navigating the site. It is important that these flaws be addressed, and many have been. In fact, the site has improved significantly over the past month.
Together Americans have always been able to solve any problem we have faced. But we can't solve problems unless we face them. The stimulus law embodies a principal that our nation had no choice but to work together, through our government, to end the downward spiral of our economy and to create a new foundation for economic growth.
The transparency system of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act works on the principal that we can handle the truth: we can see what is wrong and make it right. We can see what is working and replicate it. It also requires active citizens, able and willing to use the information for the betterment of us all. Democracy - and transparency - is not a spectator sport.
Deirdre Cummings is legislative director of MASSPIRG; Noah Berger is executive director of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center and Pam Wilmot is executive director of Common Cause, Massachusetts.
- Jonathan Melle
- Amherst, NH, United States
- I am a citizen defending the people against corrupt Pols who only serve their Corporate Elite masters, not the people! / My 2 political enemies are Andrea F. Nuciforo, Jr., nicknamed "Luciforo" and former Berkshire County Sheriff Carmen C. Massimiano, Jr. / I have also pasted many of my political essays on "The Berkshire Blog": berkshireeagle.blogspot.com / I AM THE ANTI-FRANK GUINTA! / Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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