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Citizens for True Democracy’s David Enrich on the Electoral College system
(CNN) – The results of the United States presidential election remained in dispute December 5, four weeks after Election Day. Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote with a 337,576 lead over Republican George W. Bush. However, members of the Electoral College elect presidents. The candidate who succeeds in winning Florida’s contested election will win the state’s 25 electoral votes and the presidency.
David Enrich is the founder and director of Citizens for True Democracy, which seeks to replace the Electoral College system with direct voting. Enrich has served as an expert on voter participation and electoral reform on national radio programs. He is a 21-year-old government major at Claremont-McKenna College.
CNN Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, David Enrich, and welcome.
David Enrich: It's great to be here. I look forward to sharing our views about what Citizens for True Democracy is trying to accomplish.
CNN Moderator: Please tell us about Citizens for True Democracy and what you are encouraging the American public to do to influence the election?
David Enrich: Well, Citizens for True Democracy is a grassroots organization in Southern California. We're developing into a national network of political activists that are dedicated to electoral reform. One of our main goals since our founding in 1998 has been to replace the Electoral College with direct elections.
To that end, in this election we are trying to convince Republican electors that they should vote with America, not with their state. Since Al Gore won a plurality of the popular vote, we think that the electors should put patriotism above partisanship and cast their votes for Al Gore.
CNN Moderator: What are your thoughts on the Electoral College?
David Enrich: We think the Electoral College is unfair and anti-democratic for many reasons. In this election, the winner of the popular vote is actually going to lose the election. It encourages the campaigns to focus on 10 or 15 tossup states to the absolute exclusion of the other 35 or 40 states that are not considered to be winning states.
Question from Jan: Isn't it true that in most states, the electors cannot vote out of line with that state's popular vote?
David Enrich: The laws vary from state to state. I'm not sure of the exact number but my understanding is that about one-half of the states have laws requiring their electors to vote for their party's official candidate.
However, the Electoral College was originally designed to be a deliberative body; the electors should be more than pawns of their party. They should cast their votes based on what they think is best for the country.
It is also important to note that no state has ever enforced one of its laws against faithless electors. If they were to enforce such a law, it would probably be struck down as unconstitutional.
Question from Sickofit: Mr. Enrich, do you ever think smaller states will ratify an amendment to the Constitution that weakens their representation?
David Enrich: I don't think that direct election would weaken small states' representation. In the 2000 election, a grand total of only five small states received any attention whatsoever from each major party's campaign. The vast majority of small states were utterly ignored by both campaigns because they were not considered to be tossup states.
Citizens for True Democracy has also been developing a fairly broad coalition of activists that are Republicans, Democrats and Independents. Almost as many of them come from small, rural states as those that come from larger, more densely populated states.
A constitutional amendment is always an uphill battle. But we are optimistic that the 2000 election is raising public awareness sufficiently to serve as impetus for this constitutional amendment.
Question from Mevman: How many faithless electors have there been in history?
David Enrich: I believe there have been nine faithless electors in history. We have kind of a summary of them, as well as other Electoral College peculiarities, on our Web site, which is www.truedemocracy.org.
CNN Moderator: What has the public response been to your efforts?
David Enrich: Public response has ranged from very enthusiastic to very angry and very threatening. People's reactions have not seemed to vary based on partisan beliefs. There have been an equal number of Republican and Democrat and Independent supporters.
Question from Tennoheika: Could faithless electors determine this election?
David Enrich: It's unlikely that any individual elector will decide to switch his or her vote but Bush's lead in the electoral vote, assuming he wins Florida, is only 271-267. That means that if two or more of his electors abandon him, then the election either goes to the House of Representatives or Gore is the outright winner.
Two of 271 electors is less than one percent of the total electoral base so, from that perspective, it is quite possible that faithless electors could affect the outcome.
Question from Mar: If we did not have the Electoral College, can you imagine what this election would be like?
David Enrich: Well, the campaigns certainly would have used different strategies than they did in this election. They would have focused on more than 10 or 15 states. The result of that would have been much higher voter turnout. I think it could have tipped the balance towards Bush since voter turnout in rural and Midwest areas is often lower than in big cities. Also, rural and western areas, in particular, were ignored by both campaigns.
The only thing that's certain, though, is that the campaigns would have had to take drastically different approaches and there's no way to predict which candidate would have won.
CNN Moderator: What has been the response from the electors you have contacted?
David Enrich: Some of them have been more receptive than others. We have not heard from any elector who has said that he or she will switch his vote. But we have heard from media reports that some of the electors are receiving hundreds of thousands of e-mails. So we know people are taking advantage of the lists on our Web site and are getting in touch with electors.
Some of the electors have actually contacted us and given us more detailed information, like e-mail addresses and phone numbers that we didn't have. So, we know that a lot of these electors are definitely willing to field public phone calls and e-mails, which we think is the right thing for them to do. They are public officials and part of a deliberative body.
Question from Bushed: Please, I'd like to know how and when electors are chosen?
David Enrich: That varies from state to state. Most states have their political parties designate a slate of electors sometime during the summer.
Question from Maggiejo: Would an elector have to announce that he was going to become faithless before the day they all vote?
David Enrich: No. They have to vote and it's not a secret ballot, but they don't need to announce anything prior to casting the ballot.
Question from Whirler: How can faithless electors remain credible after changing their vote?
David Enrich: I think that if someone decides to cast aside his partisanship and vote for the best interest of the country -- to vote for the candidate that receives the most votes rather than focusing only on partisan, short-term objectives -- that's better for his credibility. I think it would be an act of courage and patriotism to prevent a candidate from losing the election by winning the popular vote.
CNN Moderator: Would you be running the same campaign if the situation was reversed and the candidates were in opposite positions from what they are now?
David Enrich: We would. In fact, we were preparing to do just that.
Recall that prior to the election, the buzz was that Bush would win the popular vote and Gore would win the electoral vote. We had compiled a list of Gore electors and their contact information. We were preparing to ask Gore's electors to vote for Bush. Of course, the situation came out the opposite way, so our strategy has remained the same but our targets are reversed.
I should also note that I am not a Democrat. I'm a registered Independent. I did not vote for Al Gore; I did not particularly like him. I don't particularly want to see him as the next president, except for the fact that he won the popular vote in this country. I think that the person receiving the most votes should be president.
Question from Tennoheika: How can I join your effort?
David Enrich: You can sign up for our newsletter by going to www.truedemocracy.org. If you're interested in taking an active role in your state or community, you should fill out our contact form, which is also available on our Web site. Indicate your interest and get involved.
We're trying to develop a national network of activists so that if a constitutional amendment makes it out of Congress, we can be prepared to wage a campaign on a state-by-state basis. An amendment requires 38 states for ratification. We're trying to develop grassroots organizations in every state prior to a constitutional amendment being passed out of Congress.
CNN Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts to share with us?
David Enrich: I think it's important to look at our effort to get rid of the Electoral College as something that is not confined exclusively to this election. This is something we've worked on for more than two years and something we plan to work on until a constitutional amendment replacing the Electoral College with direct elections is ratified in at least 38 states.
If you're interested in learning more about getting rid of the Electoral College, I encourage you to visit our Web site at www.truedemocracy.org.
CNN Moderator: Thank you for joining us today.
David Enrich: It was a pleasure talking with you.
David Enrich joined the chat room via telephone from California. CNN provided a typist. The above is an edited transcript of the chat, which took place on Tuesday, December 5, 2000.
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