The people have spoken, but is anybody listening?
That can be an open question right after an election, when there’s a lot of talk about mandates and sweeping agendas … but during which the realities of politics can be just as vexatious as they are at any other time.
Sometimes, voters send a clear message when they cast their ballots. Other times, it’s more mess than message.
This year, Donald Trump won the presidency even though he received more than 2 million fewer votes than his opponent, Hillary Clinton. If anything, that’s an anti-mandate. The voters spoke — they preferred Clinton by a narrow margin. But that message will fall on the deaf ears of 538 “electors” we’ve never heard of — but whom we nonetheless elected (we were really voting for them, not Trump or Clinton) to submit the only ballots that count for president.
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The Electoral College is an antiquated mechanism that’s more likely to distort the message sent by the electorate than it is to reflect it. In some cases, it can amplify a narrow victory to make it look like a mandate. In others, it can muzzle the collective voice of the people by declaring the loser to be the winner, “1984” style.
All this is built into the Constitution, even though the Equal Protection Clause in the same Constitution affirms the principle of one person, one vote — a principle the college effectively undercuts: A California resident’s vote, for instance, counts roughly 46 percent as much as a vote cast in Montana.
I realize we have a representative republic, not a direct democracy. But how is a government “representative” when its representatives ignore the voice of the people?
This doesn’t just happen on a national level, it happens locally, as well. And not just during an election, but afterward.
In the Cambria Community Healthcare District election, Barbara Bronson Gray and Shirley Bianchi won a combined 71 percent of the vote. However, when district trustees met a week after the election, they went ahead and chose the board’s officers without bothering to wait for Bianchi to be seated. Then they bypassed Bronson Gray — who has four years of experience on the board — for board secretary in favor of Jerry Wood, who was appointed to his seat less than two months earlier.
Board members are supposed to rotate through the various offices, to give each one a chance to serve in leadership. Such a system isn’t perfect, of course, because the rotation can be disrupted if someone resigns from the board or loses an election. Still, such changes fail to account for the fact that, in the six most recent years, Bob Putney and Kristi Jenkins have each served as either president or vice president four times.
Since joining the board in 2012, meanwhile, Bronson Gray has served as vice president just once and never as president. She received more votes than any other candidate in the November election, yet was bypassed for a leadership role on the board. Bianchi, who received the second-most votes, won’t be a board officer, either, this year.
The voice of the people? Hmmmm.
This brings us to the Cambria Community Services District, which also declined to follow its own rotation policy in choosing its officers for the current year. Instead of elevating Amanda Rice to a position of leadership on the board, directors chose to keep the same two officers — President Gail Robinette and Vice President Mike Thompson — in those roles again for a second straight year.
This happened despite the fact that Rice had received the largest number of votes in the 2012 general election.
Well, guess what? It happened again: Rice once again received more votes than anybody else this November. Meanwhile, the presidency of the board will have to change, because Robinette lost her bid for re-election. Will the board listen to the will of the people and appoint Rice to a leadership position this time around? Or will the voice of the people once again fall on deaf ears?
Stay tuned. The answer to that question should be every bit as interesting as the debate about the Electoral College.