December 8, 2000


Commentary

Dumping Electoral College Will Hurt Blacks and Latinos Most

By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
PACIFIC NEWS SERVICE

The call to dump the Electoral College, coming from Hillary Rodham Clinton, Jesse Jackson and others, mostly Democrats, is disingenuous at best and dangerous at worst.

Eight years ago, in 1992 neither Rodham Clinton nor Jackson shouted that the Electoral College is unfair and thwarted the popular will when it allowed a president with only a plurarity, not the majority, of the popular vote to occupy the White House.

That year, Bill Clinton won the presidency without an absolute majority of the votes cast. In that election, one of five voters backed Reform Party candidate Ross Perot. Yet he did not get a single electoral vote.

Rodham, Clinton and Jackson did not call that unfair. They try to rouse black and Latino voters by pounding on the point that the Electoral College gives too much power to mostly white, conservative farmers, ranchers, and livestock herders in sparsely populated states and too little power to those in racially diverse, densely populated states.

But scrapping the Electoral College would badly hurt blacks and Latinos.

Gore's edge over Bush in the popular vote was only marginally greater than Kennedy's over Nixon in the still disputed 1960 election. And Bush racked up a 30 to 19 margin over him in a number of states won.

Still, the massive support Gore got from blacks and Latinos in California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia enabled him, without — at least for the moment — Florida, to top Bush in total number of votes cast.

Since electoral votes are ladled out to the states according to Census numbers, in theory a candidate need win only the eleven most populous states to bag the presidency. This guarantees black and Latino voters a major role.

Clinton provides good example. In 1992 he relentlessly wooed black and Latino voters in California and it paid off. He won the state's 54 electoral votes — a fifth of the total needed to win the White House. Again, during his 1996 re-election campaign, he visited California 30 times, meeting frequently with black and Latino political leaders and groups. They again played the crucial role in delivering California to Clinton.

Gore and Bush, like Clinton, understand it's political suicide not to actively court black and Latino voters in the major electoral states. This election Republicans and Democrats pumped millions of dollars into ads in black and Latino newspapers and radio stations. The Republican National Convention presented their version of a diversity showcase in Pennsylvania in a naked attempt to convince blacks and Latinos that the Republicans champion inclusion.

During the campaign Bush spent much of his time in California and Michigan visiting black schools and churches and mugging for photo-ops with Latino and black community leaders. In the Deep South states, long thought safe for the Republicans, Bush had to wage a furious campaign to beat back the effort posed by the legions of black Democratic voters and officeholders to pry loose one or two of these states from him for the Democrats.

For his part, Gore exhorted Latino and black ministers, athletes, entertainers, and politicians to prime his campaign in the key electoral states. He prevented a total Bush western blitz with his apparent razor-thin win in New Mexico by courting the state's growing numbers of Latino voters.

The importance of black and Latino votes in the must-win electoral states even blurred the lines between the parties on some social issues.

Gore pledged to end racial profiling, preserve affirmative action, boost health care for the uninsured, increase HIV/AIDS funding, back massive aid to failing inner-city public schools, and make racially-diverse appointments.

Bush soft-pedaled his opposition to affirmative action, and support of school vouchers, talked about boosting education and health care spending, promoting immigration reform, and making racially-diverse appointments.

On the campaign trail he kept black Republicans Colin Powell, J.C. Watts and Condoleeza Rice virtually welded to his hip.

In 2004 the states will be reapportioned on the basis of 2000 Census population estimates.

California, New York, and Florida, with large and growing black and Latino populations, and the handful of other states that the Democrats bank on, will figure even bigger in their campaign plans. In the Deep South states that Bush won the number of black and Latino voters will also continue to rise.

And those votes will translate into more electoral votes. Democrats and Republicans will be forced to aggressively court, woo, and stroke black and Latino voters, and publicly support policy initiatives that benefit their communities. Thank the electoral college for that.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the President of the National Alliance for Positive Action (http://www.natalliance.org). His e-mail address is ehutchi344@aol.com.

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