Summer Election Reform Adds Up To This: Get Out The Votes!

From the Courage Campaign
This summer, the only thing hotter than the weather seems to be election reform. Last week, Secretary of State Debra Bowen made significant strides in securing California’s elections from faulty touch-screen voting machines by kicking the machines out of California. Then, perhaps concerned that old GOP stalwart Diebold isn’t helping to count votes anymore, California Republicans have floated another election reform idea: to end the winner-take-all system for distributing California’s 55 Electoral College Votes. Ostensibly, the GOP wants to make the Electoral College more representative. In reality, the Republicans are trying to steal the 2008 Presidential Election. The way to stop them, as always, is to get out the vote.

Here’s how the GOP’s election reform scheme would work. “Californians for Equal Representation” (an obvious GOP front group) submitted a plan that would would award only 2 Electoral Votes to the winner of the statewide popular vote. The remaining 53 votes would go to the winner of each of California’s 53 Congressional districts. In other words, gerrymandered Congressional districts (which were designed to protect incumbents) would almost certainly give the GOP Presidential Nominee at least 20 Electoral College votes from California, even if a wide majority of Californians vote for the Democratic Nominee. (In 2004, for example, under the GOP system George W. Bush would have received 22 Electoral Votes from California — enough to win the election even had he lost his razor-thin victory in the contested Ohio election.) The Republican proposal has gotten a lot of attention, and deservedly so. Dividing up California’s block of Electoral College Votes would obviously send shockwaves through the 2008 and even 2012 Presidential campaigns, if the GOP somehow gets this proposal to pass. The good news is that electoral reform of this nature isn’t easy — the GOP will have to pay “volunteers” to collect enough petition signatures to put the plan on the June 2008 ballot, and then they’ll somehow have to convince a majority of the voters to support the complex changes to a simple system.
In any event, with this latest scheme, the Republicans are banking on what they cherish the most about American electoral politics: most Americans don’t vote. Every time the Republicans have been successful at gaming the system to win elections, the biggest part of the GOP’s dirty tricks have been suppressing voter turnout. Florida in 2000: the Republicans engaged in widespread vote caging, they sent misleading “reminders” with the wrong date for Election Day to Democratic households, and they of course did everything they could to intimidate African-American voters throughout the campaign, including on Election Day. Ohio in 2004: Ken Blackwell, the Republican Ohio Secretary of State, did everything in his power to minimize the number of new voter registrations, and then the GOP pulled out its usual bag of vote-suppression techniques to keep turnout as low as possible.
So, while activism over how we “Count the Votes!” is important, if we want to stop the GOP from stealing elections, the best thing to do is to “Get Out The Votes!”
If the GOP’s hair-brained plan to split up California’s Electoral Votes ends up on the June 2008 ballot, it will be on the most boring ballot of the three elections that we’ll have in California (February, June, and November). The GOP knows this, and they’re counting on it to help pass this unpopular and complex plan. Progressive activists will have to work three times as hard to get votes out to make sure this plan doesn’t come to pass.
And in November, no matter how the Electoral Votes are decided, we won’t win California without getting out the vote. How we “Count the Votes!” doesn’t matter if there are no votes to count.