One Person, One Vote ? Not!

Contentious elections may be with us for another generation

By Patrisia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez
Published on LatinoLA: October 26, 2004

One Person, One Vote ? Not!

If the 2004 presidential election winds up being a referendum on President Bush's tenure in office, he may wind up on the unemployment line, possibly without health insurance. He's also fortunate that it's not a referendum by citizens of the world's leading democracies, as he would be equally thumped.

That explains why the president and his supporters have invested several hundred million dollars in campaign spending, not to tout the president's virtually indefensible record, but to ensure that the electorate perceives the election as a contest between Bush and the vacillating liberal Sen. John Kerry. If that's the way the votes are cast, this election may be even closer than 2000.

Truth is, contentious elections may be with us for another generation, primarily because of the nation's political demographics, our outmoded electoral system, and because we're undeniably in the midst of a nonviolent civil war.

One might argue that we've been in this war since the 1960s, but the current electoral logjam is the result of the Electoral College continuing to select the president. In theory, this scheme still works fine, but we've already lived through the chaos of one disputed election to know that it's unlikely that the populace will continue to accept presidents who are chosen not by the majority, but by either politicized courts or other antiquated methods.

If Kerry were to assume the presidency in this manner, it might eventually be accepted as fair play. But it's highly unlikely that a second disputed Bush presidency would be accepted quietly. (Can you say ungovernability?)

As it is, the 2000 election was even closer than we've been led to believe; the campaigns could have challenged the results of several other states, including New Mexico and Wisconsin, resulting in worse chaos. In a similarly heated and close election -- such as this one -- we could see numerous and possibly endless challenges that would result in the election once again being decided by means other than the popular vote.

In 2000, to avoid a constitutional crisis, Al Gore decided not to challenge the election any further, and generally, his supporters grudgingly followed his lead. However, nothing was resolved. In 2004, undecided voters from some 10 swing states (some have narrowed it to three) will decide who the next president will be, essentially disenfranchising the rest of the nation and mocking the notion of one person, one vote. What the tight race also possibly portends are county-by-county challenges in those 10 states.

Compounding this is that the current president has barely acknowledged the 2000 electoral fiasco, governing from day one as though he had been given a mandate from corporate America. Worse, he began to govern the country post-9/11 as though the Constitution and international treaties no longer mattered, and then unilaterally led us into a disastrous war on the flimsiest of excuses. And he undeniably continues to campaign as a merchant of fear.

Yet the problem isn't limited to a potential second disputed Bush presidency. It's that these electoral dilemmas may be with us until the nation's demographics change.

A second disputed election would create the impetus for abolishing the Electoral College. Yet with Republicans in control of Congress and the country narrowly divided, that's not likely to happen anytime soon -- unless the populace were to refuse to accept the president.

When Sen. Gore opted not to challenge what some regarded as a Bush family-engineered electoral coup, many believe he did so to avert a political civil war. Yet not much thought has been given as to what would have happened if he had failed to concede. In a sense, he may have simply delayed a crisis. However, such a crisis this time around would not necessarily be triggered by Sen. Kerry not being willing to concede a similarly disputed election, but by a populace unwilling to again accept such an election -- one already fraught with purported irregularities and multiple Republican schemes to suppress the vote.

The truth is, if 2000 repeats itself, in the interest of fairness, the president should seriously consider ceding the election (turning the other cheek) to his challenger. The alternative is dragging the country through a constitutional crisis. As it is, such a tenure would be marked by lack of credibility on the world stage, and by possible ungovernability and martial law at home.

Of course, it may not even be a close election at all.

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