If Empty Acreage Could Vote — Wait, it Can!

“Down the line” is a phrase I’ve never really understood except in context. Which line and where’s down? It’s a homely phrase that seems to have meat everything from “someday” to “the straight and narrow” to a row of posts with wire stretched between them. It also seems to me “that which you can expect in given circumstances.”

That would be a letter to the editor I read yesterday in the local paper and which I’ve just dug out of the recycling so I can refer to it in this post.

The news in my town’s paper references a spike in COVID-19 cases, a local graduate who’s been promoted to lieutenant colonel and a full page ad for the entire Republican panoply of candidates straight down the ballot. There is an unusual number of letters to the editor (usually there are none). One of the letters asks people to vote “No” on a proposition to abolish the electoral college.

The arguments are the usual ones, that the Electoral College makes elections more equal so that people in populated states don’t get the final say in running the country. To me, that’s illogical if theis is a nation “for the people and by the people” rather than a nation “by the land for the land.”

As I read it I thought, “Why should empty space get a vote?” The writer ends his brief diatribe with “And this, children, is WHY you have an electoral college. It’s a safety net so every vote counts.” THAT patronizing coda set my teeth on edge. As for the safety net that “every vote counts”?

Except the votes of all those people in the recently designated “blue” states.

I thought about that all evening. How does anyone know where his or her kids are going to end up living their lives? How does anyone know what kind of social services those kids will need down the line? Doesn’t it seem obvious to people that laws that improve schools in New Jersey might improve schools in the back of beyond or health care? Isn’t it obvious that a person in LA is a person just like the people out here in the so-called “fly over zones”? And, then there’s that oft’ harked upon Pledge of Allegiance that says stuff other than “under God,” stuff like “One nation, indivisible” implying that we are all in this together and need to look out for each other?

Never mind the monetary reality that taxes paid by people in the “blue” states’ support less populated states throughout the nation. That’s an aspect of “democracy” that I was surprised to learn back in 2010 when I was bowed down under California’s back-breaking taxes. At that point my research showed me that for every $1 in federal taxes paid by the average Californian, only ten cents remained in the state. The rest went to places like, well, Kentucky.

If the so-called “red states” want their voice to matter MORE they could maybe try communicating rather than what we have now, this tragic “us vs. them” noise, even in the House and Senate. That is the point of representatives, to present the case for, the reality of, the needs of the people in their states. But even at the state level that doesn’t happen in a state like mine with a megalopolitan area and vast emptiness AND an economy that relies on tourism there’s no easy answer. The inability or unwillingness of people to communicate to each other makes it all the more difficult to work out real problems like, well, here the big problem is water. The San Luis Valley has it; Denver wants it.

All this is the result of coming from a native Coloradan with deep roots in Montana who lived for 30 years in a very populated state. I’ve looked at this from both sides now…

So…rather than writing a response to that letter to the editor, I’ve written this blog post. 🙂 Thanks for listening.


27 thoughts on “If Empty Acreage Could Vote — Wait, it Can!

  1. I feel like you should have ended this with “I’m Martha Kennedy and I approve this message.” I love reading letters to the editor. And then the backlash that happens when someone else writes that ‘obviously’ the original writer had no clue what they were saying. Rarely does the other writer respond, but it makes for interesting reading.

    • I agree. We’re not a democracy; we’re a republic that is allegedly elected through a democratic process, but it isn’t because of the electoral college. It’s manipulative as it could be.

  2. This was the dilemma the founding fathers faced to unite a bunch of idiosyncratic diverse little mini-nations into the U.S. As liberal as I am, I get the supposed need for the Electoral College, and actually fear what would happen if the tyrannical majority of the urban population ruled absolutely. There is really no good model for democracy in such a diverse place, elsewhere religious or ethnic minorities control everything. Even in Canada and Mexico, urbanites discriminate against and exploit the small little hinterland pockets of non-mainstream citizens.

    • I don’t have the answer either, but automatically assuming that the needs of people in urban areas are different from those in the rural areas doesn’t serve, either. BUT not long ago I read an article by a woman in Denver who said, “What’s so important about farming?” and if she’d been in the same room with me, it wouldn’t have been pretty. 🙂

  3. I would be so happy to have your hair! My once thick raven-black curly hair has turned so white and brittle and thin, but I keep it long anyway, it’s kinda my defining image.

  4. Excellent Martha. Most of the discussions I have read are inane at best. … usually finished as you said. My question always is “What is the purpose of government? ” which often gets mired in the silly slogans about republican form of government vs. a democracy. A distinction without a difference.

    • People seem to be (strangely) more comfortable speaking about absolute abstractions than concrete, practical problems with which government exists to contend, like, “Do you need health care? Is your kid a junkie? Do you need help with that? What? You have a masters degree, a job and a car and no home? Oh, you’re scared of renewable energy because you fear you will lose your job — here’s a training program for you, free of charge, and when you’re done, you’ll be the god of solar power. Oh, schools in your district are crappy and underfunded?” Stuff like that.

  5. I also read the Letters to the Editor. Fascinating reading, but often frustrating. I think many people don’t want to think about “down the line…” and other people’s needs. It’s the here and now and the “me” that seems to dominate the discussion.

  6. Not a matter of “making votes count.” There was a great fear in the early times that large states would simply steam roller smaller states with different interests. Heavily populated states like New York and Virginia would dictate to Rhode Island and Vermont. The states with less population balked at this and refused to join unless they had an enhanced ability to for a coalition. Because of this, both houses of the federal legislature are tilted towards smaller states, as is the electoral college and the amendment ratification process.

    Our founders did not believe in “pure” democracy and feared the tyranny of the majority. States considered themselves to be sovereign entities in a federation and not administrative subdivisions. The system they developed was a good one for three big states and ten much smaller ones.

    As for a north-south divide, the large number of small population states in New England tilted political power to the north. Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island all benefited.

    With 50 states it might not be as good a system. There is a proposition afoot for states to set laws that automatically cast their electoral voted for whoever wins the popular vote. As soon as states holding a majority of electoral college votes pass it, that will be the end of the electoral college as a meaningful entity. Small states will still keep their disproportionate representation in the federal government except for electing the president. That may be the proposition you are voting on.

    National Popular Vote Compact

    We will never get 2/3 of both houses of Congress and 3/4 of the states to agree to a constitutional amendment, so an end run is necessary.

    • Fred, I know all this. Sometimes a vote is simply a way of saying, “I think this is a good idea” or “I object to the status quo.” Who knows what the future will hold? Some votes are simply information.

  7. I have no idea how the US can operate with a voting system to me that is crazy. I am sure I’ll have to re-read to try and make sense but it will not do me any good. Someone who can “win” a majority vote but something called an Electoral Council? says no you didn’t we want this person to represent the people who didn’t vote for them.
    You have befuddled my brain this morning but I enjoyed reading your contribution as always Martha. Thanks for joining in 🙂

  8. I agree the Electoral College has out lived its usefulness. Time for some real change! I want a government that addresses the issues instead of chanting “Keep America Great”

  9. I’ve always been entertained by those rural types who complain about city/urbanites and the “welfare” they get and depend upon, all the while refusing to acknowledge the “welfare” subsidies they accept to keep their farms profitable. It’s one and the same.

    Either we’re one country, looking out for each other, or we’re not. Lately it seems we’re not.

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