Californians are Voting by the Millions Does Anyone Care?

Richard Rubin
Attorney Richard Rubin has taught at the University of San Francisco, Berkeley and Golden Gate University, is a regular columnist for the Marin Independent Journal and was Chair of the California Commonwealth Club Board of Governors, 2017-2019.

It’s Election Day—or should we call it Election Month? And it might be longer still before we know the final outcome. 

Voter turnouts are already breaking all records nation-wide guaranteeing that by day’s end we may not know who will be the next President of the United States.

We have already doubled the numbers from 2016 setting records never seen in our history. 

Not surprisingly California is once again very engaged though a bystander while attention is riveted on a handful of states that could turn from red to blue in the furious last-minute chase to capture the obligatory 270 electoral votes needed to win. 

In a state that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both handily carried, the Biden team banked our giant mother lode of 55 electoral votes a long time ago. 

California is closing in on 40 million residents. Texas is a distant second at 30 million and sports 38 prized Electoral College votes.  Florida joins New York each with 28 electoral votes tying for third. 

If Florida, which barely gave Trump the nod in 2016 and is once more pivotal, were to change color it could be over early. If Texas were to shift its long GOP allegiance it would signal a Democratic tsunami. 

In this game-playing a peaceful resolution to a bitter contest is as meaningful to  Californians as to any other voters. In terms of the political map we continue to occupy a back seat. 

The biggest story here aside from who gets to claim the Oval Office is how the largest and most populous state in the nation will once again fail to carry the weight it deserves. 

This can be largely attributed to a properly debunked and obsolete Electoral College which gives California less clout than Wyoming—the least populous state. 

How can this be? It’s simple. Just do the math. 

The Electoral College apportions the number of Representatives in each state’s delegation by population. The Senate accords each state, regardless of size, two Senators. Their total number comprises the College. 

Putting it a little differently, Joe California shares his voting power with 25.1 million eligible voters as of July 2020. 

Sally Wyoming shares hers with 235,000 eligible voters. 

Both Joe and Sally have diluted voting power but Joe’s is disproportionately more diluted. 

When we were an infant nation the founders shrewdly devised a system designed to give all states large and small an equal voice in one of the legislative bodies.  They could not be expected to foresee all the ramifications. 

It worked well enough for many decades before rural and urban communities, agrarian and industrial regions evolved in distinctly different ways creating huge schisms. 

The upshot is an increasingly dysfunctional electoral system which deprives millions of Californians and voters in other large states fair and equal representation. 

One quick fix suggested by a few knowledgeable analysts would be to increase the number of House members in the largest delegations to more accurately represent their populations. 

California would certainly be a leading beneficiary though smaller states would be howling instantly. 

Fifteen states including ours in 2011 have adopted direct popular vote where the candidate receiving the most votes nation-wide is elected president. That’s well short of the two-thirds required. 

Given the unlikelihood that the Electoral College will be reformed anytime soon let alone scrapped, presidents who lose the popular vote overwhelmingly as Trump did previously could be inclined to seek other means of declaring victory. 

If these methods go beyond all legal bounds it could ultimately precipitate a constitutional crisis for which we may not be fully prepared. 

At the very least it could put in peril the legitimacy of our elections which can become a weapon to thwart the will of the majority in the hands of an unscrupulous leader. 

Well before the coronavirus destroyed our health and equanimity scrambling all predictions about the final outcome of this ugly chapter in our periodically fraught history we could begin to foresee the stakes. 

For the first time we have an impeached president running for reelection amidst polls that we have learned are not infallible. 

We also have an incumbent who must defend a record which even the most charitable observer will find seriously wanting. 

Californians whether Republicans, Democrats, Independents and those of every persuasion are faced with one of the bigger decisions of our lifetimes. It is important we get it right not just for ourselves, but for future generations. 

I have said repeatedly in these columns that a robust two-party system is essential to our effective functioning and ongoing stability. That has not changed.

Whomever emerges as the victor, the restoration of some semblance of normalcy is on the line today. The future health, safety and security of the Republic depends upon it.

 

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