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latimes.com: Is this any way to pick a president?

latimes.com (Los Angeles Times) -- More people in Massachusetts voted for Ralph Nader for president than people in Rhode Island voted for George W. Bush.

More people in California voted for Ralph Nader for president than people in Nevada voted for George W. Bush.

More people in Texas voted for Ralph Nader for president than people in Alaska voted for George W. Bush.

Ours is an odd and paradoxical nation, where 50 states of varying size get proportional numbers of electoral votes, yet get two U.S. senators each.

We are a nation that gives the District of Columbia the same number of electoral votes as seven of our 50 states--Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming--but no Senate seats of its own.

We adhere strictly to the tenets of a Constitution, yet from state to state make up the rules as we go along. (For example, no state taxes in one, or no capital punishment in another.)

We are one nation, divisible 50 (or 51) ways.

And we have one leader, even if the winner of the national election receives 337,576 fewer votes than the loser.

Nothing short of sedition was left for Al Gore if he wished to continue a fight for his right to run this country, once nine individuals in the District of Columbia told 6 million voters in Florida which of their votes should count.

Gore, therefore, accepted defeat, in spite of having a third of a million more Americans vote for him than for the candidate who won.

"I've seen America in this campaign, and I like what I see," Gore maintained. "It's worth fighting for."

Adversaries didn't see it that way, even on days when the margin of difference in a 6-million-plus Florida total was said to be within 200. They derided as "a sore loser" a man who waited only to make sure that he lost.

If their indignation was righteous, perhaps it did have some right to be. After all, no court-ordered recount on Gov. Bush's behalf was ever deemed necessary in New Mexico, where he was defeated by a mere 486 votes, or in Iowa (4,130), or in Wisconsin (5,698), or in Oregon (6,595).

Those four states together had 30 electoral votes, or more than enough for Bush to have won the presidency without Florida's help.

We will thankfully never know how mind-boggling this election could have been had Bush's advisors demanded a magnifying-glass examination of ballot chads in all 50 (or 51) states, not just in one.

Second-guessing is pointless anyway. Can you imagine how many times over the past five weeks Gore must have regretted not spending an extra hour or two in, say, the Dakotas, where the three electoral votes of either of those neglected states could have given him the 270 he needed to win? Or how a single dog-sled mush under the midnight sun of Alaska might have gained Gore three votes there and the White House?

Bush took 30 of our 50 states. How should we assess this? As a man who conquered Siberia but not Moscow? Or as the people's choice of three-fifths of a republic, in a land that does not distinguish a Californian's vote in Congress from that of an Alaskan? "The president of the United States is the president of every single American," Bush reminded us.

But all Americans are not equal.

If they were, Al Gore would be president- elect. One vote per person is a notion we sell, but the majority doesn't win. Your statehood means more than your nationality. If you are a Floridian, your vote goes only toward Florida's total, not toward your country's. In a popular vote, every American's vote counts, but in an electoral vote, your vote can be voided. It goes to nobody.

To propose that we superannuate our voting system is a futile gesture, because it smacks of sour grapes. It hasn't a chance unless winners and losers alike today agree that there's got to be a better way.

Congress won't scrap the electoral college. Nobody will find the nerve. It's too hallowed a tradition, even if things did work differently in John Quincy Adams' day.

After the debacle of 2000, however, almost anybody would have to admit that we can't turn 25 electoral votes over to a state where ballots end up uncounted and gathering dust in boxes. Florida is too big a state to be this backward.

George W. Bush has promised, "Whether you voted for me or not, I will do my best to serve your interests."

He can begin by making sure that no American is ever again elected president in the preposterous way he was.


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Friday, December 15, 2000

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