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Dumping the Electoral College Because of Bush Will Hurt Blacks and Latinos

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The clamor by Hillary Rodham Clinton, Jesse Jackson and others, mostly Democrats, to dump the Electoral College is disingenuous at best and dangerous at worst. In 1992 Rodham Clinton and Jackson did not shout that the Electoral College is unfair and thwarted the popular will by permitting the candidate who wins a minority of the popular vote to occupy the White House. That year, Rodham Clinton's husband, Bill, won the presidency with a minority of the vote. In the same election, one out of five voters backed Reform Party presidential candidate Ross Perot. Yet he did not get a single electoral vote. Rodham Clinton and Jackson did not call that unfair. They inflame black and Latino voters by pounding on the point that the Electoral College gives too much power to mostly white, conservative farmers, ranchers, and live stock herders in sparsely populated states and too little power to those in racially diverse, densely populated states. But scrapping the Electoral College because Rodham Clinton and Jackson are piqued over a potential Bush presidency will 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 much disputed 1960 election. And Bush racked up a 30 to 19 margin over him in the 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 the electoral column.

Since electoral votes are ladled out to the states according to Census numbers, a presidential candidate need win only eleven of the most populous states to bag the presidency. This guarantees that black and Latino voters are major players in national politics. Clinton is a good example of this. In 1992 he relentlessly wooed black and Latino voters in California and it paid off. He won the state's 54 electoral votes. This is one fifth of the total needed to win the White House. During his re-election campaign in 1996, he visited California thirty times and met 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, understood that it's political suicide for a presidential candidate 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 to tout Gore and Bush. 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 in Detroit and Los Angeles 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.

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 magnitude of black and Latino votes in the must-win electoral states even blurred the political lines between Republicans and Democrats 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 peddled his opposition to affirmative action, and support of school vouchers, talked about boosting education and health care spending, promoting immigration reform, making racially-diverse appointments. On the campaign trail he kept black Republicans Colin Powell, J.C. Watts and Condeleeza Rice virtually locked at his hip. In 2004 the states will be reapportioned on 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 for their major support, 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 their votes will translate out 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. email:
ehutchinson@natalliance.org website: www.natalliance.org

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