Our June 14 Special Report, "Does Your Vote Matter?" provoked an outpouring of mail, pro and con, as well as many suggestions for improving the election system.
APATHY VS. INFORMATION
Congratulations to BusinessWeek for not only bringing these multiple issues to the public but also offering very realistic solutions. The irony seems to be that the very success of this country has led the majority to become indifferent to the election process as we engage only those day-to-day problems we feel we can influence.
Moreover, it may be that the average American cares significantly more than the government and the mainstream media presuppose, as the issues of primaries and gerrymandering are rarely spoken about. It's not that we are apathetic; it's simply that we are uninformed. If other media can follow BusinessWeek's leadership, I am confident that the American people will rise to the challenge of this nonpartisan issue that is crucial to the survival of the American democracy we think we have.
Manhattan Beach, Calif.
Having moved to Rhode Island, I know firsthand that Presidential candidates will never campaign in this state. It is easily won by the Democrats, so my vote one way or the other will not matter.
I have voted for each party in the past, and I feel more apathetic this year than in any other. Yet I am more passionate about my choice this year than in any past election. Why doesn't Congress spend some quality time fixing this process rather than engaging in partisanship that solves nothing?
GERRYMANDERING HAS TO GO
Finally someone is talking about the theft of democracy represented by the extreme gerrymandering of U.S. House of Representatives districts. Thirty-five competitive seats out of 435 is a crime against democracy. Soviet elections were more competitive than this.
New Haven, Conn.
The only hope is that the U.S. Supreme Court will recognize that the prime purpose of the census every 10 years is to reapportion the states and that any reapportionment beyond the first one is unconstitutional. Furthermore, the court may find that gerrymandering as displayed in the map of Atlanta is against public policy, blatantly illegal, and requires that districts meet some mathematical criteria of compactness.
YES, YOUR VOTE MATTERS
"Does your vote matter?" rests on a faulty premise. You argue that because most voters reside in "red" or "blue" states -- states that we already know will vote Republican or Democratic in this year's Presidential race -- they are effectively disenfranchised. How so? On Election Day, most Texans will vote for President Bush, while most New Yorkers will vote for Senator Kerry. How the votes from such "already decided" states will count less than those from swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, or Florida simply escapes me. Not long ago, the South was solidly Democratic and California was reliably Republican -- the opposite of what we see today. As the world changes, voters' allegiances will shift once more.
You complain because Bush and Kerry spend so much time currying favor with swing voters in swing states. In fact, Bush and Kerry are each trying to do two things: 1) keep their base of supporters energized enough to cast their votes; and 2) persuade undecided voters to come their way. That's no different from what William McKinley did in 1896, Harry Truman did in 1948, or Ronald Reagan did in 1980. Nor is it any reason for an "already decided" Bush or Kerry voter anywhere in America to feel disenfranchised in the least.
Lawrence J. Haas
Editor's note: The writer was communications director for Vice-President Al Gore in 1998 and communications director at the White House Office of Management and Budget from 1994 to 1997.
You should be ashamed of this contribution to national cynicism. Your article encourages voters from 33 states to avoid the polls because their state is already decided. But is it not the individual votes from these voters that decide these states? It is the voters themselves who make New York a "blue" state and Texas a "red" one. Telling these voters that their vote is immaterial is irresponsible.
Joseph A. Mies
Your reporting emphasizes repeatedly red for Republican and blue for Democrat, yet in "How democracy in decline looks" proceeds to color the "particularly egregious" Democratic district in Atlanta in RED.
Richard H. Kapp
The present system does not make one "voiceless" any more than your direct-voting remedy would. I am a Californian who will vote for Bush, though Bush will never win here. Yet I am not voiceless. I'm on the losing side of a fair election in which my vote was counted. Warts and all, it's more or less the same system we've had since the 1820s, and it works. Don't like it? Amend the Constitution. Can't muster the power to pass an amendment? That's democracy. Hamilton and the Federalists were wise, and I'm certain they would be proud of what we have today.
HOW TO FIX A SKEWED SYSTEM
Winner-take-all laws grossly skew the outcome of the Electoral College. Maine and Nebraska do it differently. The electors in those states are chosen the same way as senators and members of Congress -- only two at-large (which go to the statewide winner) and the rest by congressional district. If Florida had had this method in 2000 instead of all of its electors being at-large, Bush would have won only 14 of Florida's 25 electors, including the disputed district. Since he needed 24 to win, there would have been no fuss over hanging chads, butterfly ballots, or any other such ephemera. Gore would have won the election.
Thomas J. Cassidy
WHO IS THE `TRULY BEST CANDIDATE'?
I do not know how many times I have voted "against" a candidate as opposed to "for" a candidate. What is required is a completely different method of voting -- ranking all of the candidates instead of voting for an individual. The candidate with the highest cumulative ranking wins. It is mathematically proven that this method will produce a consensus of who is actually the best candidate for the job.
This method would make me feel that my vote mattered, and I could vote for the truly best candidates instead of picking the lesser of two evils.
New Albany, Ohio
GIVE THIRD PARTIES A CHANCE
Thanks very much for your critically timed review of the flaws in the American electoral system. Your list of remedies lacked an important element, however: encouraging the development of third parties, and providing opportunities for their meaningful participation in the electoral process. Reforms such as instant runoff voting and proportional representation, which make the playing field more accessible to parties besides the Democrats and Republicans, would go a long way toward ameliorating the excesses that the present duopoly perpetuates. The Center for Voting & Democracy (www.fairvote.org) is just one resource for more information on these reforms.
W. S. Mendler, Chair
Wayne County Green Party Committee
TRY TERM LIMITS FOR CONGRESS
The office of president as well as the offices of governor in most states are limited to two terms. Why not limit senators to two six-year terms and members of Congress to three two-year terms? Just think: no more Robert Byrds, Jesse Helmses, Strom Thurmonds -- or John Kerrys, for that matter. No more career politicians. Six to 12 years and you go home.
MEXICO AND CANADA WEIGH IN
The U.S. is the only major democracy that requires its citizens to register to vote. In Britain, Canada, and even Mexico, it is the government's responsibility. These countries have independent electoral commissions, financed by the government, that have the responsibility to register all citizens and ensure that all citizens vote under the same rules.
Elections Canada has a sophisticated software database that automatically reregisters all citizens who move from one electoral jurisdiction to another by obtaining driver's-license changes from all provinces on a monthly basis. Elections Canada was hired to assist Mexico's IFE (Instituto Federal Electoral) to create a national electoral database to begin the process of registering all of its citizens for federal elections.
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
As an interested spectator, I believe that one important item is being overlooked as a factor in the declining number of voters who are casting ballots: The election process is so long -- almost a full year -- that voters lose interest. If the time frame were reduced to a more reasonable 60 to 90 days, considerable campaign cost savings would ensue, candidates would be more likely to focus on the election issues, and, perhaps just as important, incumbent officeholders could spend more time being productive in their elected positions.
KUDOS FOR THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE
The electoral college works. Ronald Reagan won 49 states and a landslide. Clinton won in 1992, yet he got fewer votes than Michael Dukakis. So how did he win? Simple: the Electoral College. Since Clinton failed to get 50% of the vote, doesn't that make him a minority President? Do we need a runoff between first and second?
Since only half of eligible voters voted in 1992, doesn't that mean that only about 20% of eligible voters voted for the winner? So how could Clinton be a legitimate leader? Again, the Electoral College saved the day. A system without it could lead to division and multiple parties -- and imagine the fractious problem of coalition governments.
Three of the four times the winning President got fewer popular votes occurred during the 64-year period from 1824 to 1888. Since 1888 -- a span of 112 years -- there has been only one such event (in 2000), while Democrats have elected 13 presidents and Republicans 15.
That's a pretty good balance. Conclusion: The Electoral College worked better in the 20th century than it did in the 19th. And it is working better as time goes by.
James M. Caldwell
THE PROBLEM WITH POWER STATES
Re "Democracy in America: The election system is broken" (Editorials, June 14): Your proposal to abolish the Electoral College is absurd -- the Founding Fathers got this one right.
Yes, Al Gore won the popular vote (50,999,897 to 50,456,002), but look closer than that. He won one state -- California -- by a count of 5,861,203 to 4,567,429, or 1.3 million votes. Throw in New York, which he won by 4,107,697 to 2,403,374, or 1.7 million votes, and he has a lead of 3 million votes before we even get to other states. If you look even closer, you find that the majority of the difference in those states (California and New York) boiled down to two cities, New York City and Los Angeles.
There is no way I want the values of two major cities to dictate national policy to the rest of the nation. If the Presidency were based solely on the popular vote, smaller states would have no reason to vote in Presidential elections. They would not be represented.
Darel J. Coterel
This country is a republic. It is a federation of sovereign states. Despite what you may or may not have been taught by your professors in college, it is not a democracy. It was designed so that each state would have at least some say in electing a President. That is what a republic is.
"Unfiltered democracy" is most certainly mob rule, whether you like it or not. This is why this country wasn't designed to be an unfiltered democracy.
If the popular vote of the "mob" elected the President, New York and California would always elect a President for the whole country. This is precisely what this country wasn't intended to be.
Re "The liberal media: It's no myth" (Economic Viewpoint, June 14): Robert J. Barro claims that the liberal media is no myth because "the Groseclose-Milyo study shows the media are skewed substantially to the left of the typical member of Congress."
Yet the cover story of the same issue, "Does your vote matter?" reports that one cannot assume that citizens share the opinions of their representatives because our electoral system is broken and corrupt. Barro would serve a maturing democracy better by assessing the quality of American journalism -- independence, courage, depth, diversity.
The "right"/"left" bias debate is not particularly useful, and in this instance, the justifying research is fundamentally flawed.
I read professor Barro's piece looking for hard evidence of the liberal bias he sees. All was going well until the last paragraph, when he revealed that neither The Wall Street Journal nor talk radio were included. I never expected this respected professor of economics to deal from a stacked deck.
The conservative voice is easily accessed in the media these days. Anti-liberal is very much in vogue. Come down to the heartland, read, and listen.