A partner in an accountancy firm in New York has something in common with a rancher in Texas: a vote that no-one needs. Al Gore won New York by 25 points and George W Bush’s margin in Texas was around two to one.
The best way to get presidential candidates to take an interest in you is to retire to Florida. Since America’s president is not elected directly but by an electoral college, with nearly all the states being awarded on a winner takes all basis, votes only matter if they are in the key swing states.
But if some reformers have their way we might have seen the last election in which this is so. Accountants, and other professions, which are evenly spread across the US, would find their votes were being as heavily courted as groups concentrated in swing states.
This seems just. The accounting firms are major employers. PricewaterhouseCoopers and Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu each employ more people than Microsoft and an even larger number of accountants is employed by small firms, in independent practice or working for a single employer.
The highly unusual result of the 2000 election, with the losing candidate apparently garnering more votes nationwide, has inevitably focused more attention on the anomalies of the present electoral system and boosted the case for reform.
Democrats feel robbed of victory. So it is of little surprise that leading Democrats Gray Davis, the governor of California, and Hillary Clinton, the newly-elected senator for New York, were among the first to call for the electoral college to be abolished. It is the most controversial part of the US constitution, having survived more proposed amendments than any other.
But the college will not be abolished. If the popular vote had determined the presidency, the whole country would have descended into the chaos which the college limited to Florida. And Davis and Clinton do not only speak for the Democrats, but also for two of America’s largest states.
It takes three-quarters of the states to change the constitution, and the smaller states benefit from the college structure and so will not stand for abolition.
But other changes are possible. Nebraska and Maine split their electoral college delegations. A candidate wins one elector for each congressional district he carries, plus a bonus of two for carrying the state. If larger states were to adopt this proportionality, they would find that presidential candidates paid them a lot more attention.
The present system disenfranchises the staunch Republicans of upstate New York and the loyal Democrats of Houston and Dallas. Splitting the delegations would make every vote worth fighting for.
The increased attention to larger states would also bring a new focus to diffuse electoral interests such as the professions. There are far more accountants in the US than farmers; but farmers are a key constituency in the swing states of Iowa and Minnesota. To make this change would not require a constitutional amendment. Two states have done it already, and a ballot initiative in California is gaining signatures.
Such proposals, especially in giant California, with more than twice the number of electoral votes that Florida has, could see the accounting constituency taken seriously for the first time.
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