Should all votes be equal?

The integrity of the voting systems in the United States and North Dakota is being questioned by three challenges that will be articulated in public debate in the weeks ahead.

Malapportioning the Legislature

Upon completion of the decennial census, the population data will be taken up by the Legislature for allocation of legislative seats.

Following the constitutional mandate of l-person, 1-vote, the Legislature itself sets the boundaries for the Senate seats, with the same districts electing two house members at large. Disregarding the obvious conflict of interest, legislators proceed to draw boundaries to first, save their own seats; second save the seats of their party friends; then save as many other party incumbents as possible, and then to loop the boundaries to beat a few Democrats.

This process is gerrymandering – drawing districts to maximize the majority party’s seats and minimize the minority’s, thereby wasting as many of the opposition’s votes as possible. At least seven North Dakota Senate districts now violate the constitutional mandate that districts be compact and contiguous.

Measure No. 3 on the November ballot would take districting away from the Legislature and give it to the Ethics Commission where gerrymandering would be throttled and the conflict of interest removed. The measure would also divide Senate districts into two single-member House districts, removing another bias in the electoral system and bringing representatives closer to the people.

Blocking Delivery of Ballots

In this election year, the national administration has openly admitted that it intends to slow down the mail delivery system so that the ballots of millions of voters will not meet the state deadlines for counting.

The whole effort has been based on the specious claim that there is widespread fraud in the election system, even though a large number of states have proved that voting by mail is honest. In the last five election cycles, North Dakota has catalogued 2,128,582 ballots without a single case of voter fraud.

Fraud hunters would find fraud in the 1880s when poverty raged in the land and votes were cheap. However, in our present prosperity, no one is going to gamble a prison sentence for a $50 sale of a vote? The price tag would be enormous and the media would have to be in on the game. Impossible!

Repealing the Electoral College

Back in the days when only the propertied folks were eligible to vote and before the creation of political parties, the Founding Fathers thought that civic-minded delegations would meet in state capitols to choose the best in the land to serve as president and vice president.

Each state was assigned as many electors as it had senators and representatives. (North Dakota has two senators and one representative so we get three electoral votes.) In the Electoral College, votes are not equal.

Since that day, the American political culture changed to provide greater equality, granting the right to vote to minorities and requiring all governments to elect governing boards on the basis of 1-person, 1-vote.

When segregationist George Wallace swept up 46 electoral votes by winning in five states, all of the politicians thought the Electoral College had to be changed so that a renegade couldn’t win enough votes to bargain with the two major parties. The fear subsided and nothing was done.

Now that the 1-person, 1-vote has been used for over 50 years, citizens are getting more comfortable with the concept. Common Cause, a Washington advocacy organization, is now pushing other states to join the compact to give their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote.

The fairness of the electoral system will be high on the national civic agenda for several decades down the road.

Lloyd Omdahl is a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota and former political science professor at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks.


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