By State Senator Roy Dyson (D-29th)
Recently, I wrote of the world financial meltdown, the rising unemployment and severe recession with which we will have to cope for many months. At the time, I stressed the importance of voting on November 4 in the election of our lifetime. There should be no need to reemphasize the importance of making our voices heard in this election.
By now, those of you who are registered to vote have received your sample ballot. I have been asked many questions about the ballot and about the process of the presidential election. Specifically, I have been asked questions about the part played by the electoral college in the in the presidential election process.
The location of your polling places is printed on the front of your sample ballot. Polls are open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. You will be able to cast your vote for President and Vice-President, as well as your Congressional representative. You will be asked to vote yes or no for continuance in office of judges on the Court of Appeals, and the Court of Special Appeals At Large. Also on the ballot, are the candidates for the Board of Education At Large and the Board of Education members from each District. Election of school board members is non-partisan.
There are two very important referendum questions on the ballot for your "yes" or "no" vote.
Question 1 authorizes early voting and absentee ballots by demand in Maryland. Thirty-five states already have early voting, and a significant number of citizens have already cast their ballots. The Constitutional Amendment authorizes the enactment of legislation to allow qualified voters to vote early on no more than 10 other days during the two weeks before an election and to vote at polling places in or outside the voters' election districts. The Constitutional Amendment also authorizes the enactment of legislation to allow any qualified voter who chooses to do so to vote by absentee ballot. Currently, the Constitution allows voters to vote by absentee ballot if they will be absent at the time of the election or otherwise, unable to vote personally.
Question 2 is the slots amendment. It "authorizes the State to issue up to five video lottery licenses for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education of children in public schools, prekindergarten through grade 12, public school construction and improvements and construction of capital projects at community colleges and higher education institutions." The amendment allows the authorization of no more than 15,000 video lottery terminals in the State. No more than one license can be issued for each location in Anne Arundel, Cecil, Worcester and Allegany Counties and Baltimore City. Any other forms or expansion of commercial gaming in Maryland must be approved by a voter referendum.
THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE
Of all the questions asked, I probably get the most about the Electoral College. What is it? Why do we have it? Why can't we replace it with a national popular vote?
Under the more than 200 years old U. S. political system, the Electoral College actually decides the presidential election. Technically, American voters do not directly elect their president. The Electoral College was established by the founding fathers as a compromise between election of the president by Congress and election by popular vote. Actually, U. S. Presidential elections are an amalgamation of 51 separate and simultaneous elections (50 states and the District of Columbia).
The prize is the electoral votes, which are obtained through the popular vote in each state. The winner of a state's popular vote gets its electoral votes. And the winner of 270 electoral votes wins the election. In 1824, 1876, 1888 and 2000, the presidential candidate who won the popular vote did not win the election.
The Electoral College consists of 538 popularly elected representatives who formally select the President and Vice President of the United States. The electoral vote each state has is determined by its number of members in Congress. For example, Maryland has two U. S. Senators and eight representatives in the House of Representatives. Thus, Maryland has ten electoral votes. California, the most populous state has 55 electoral votes.
The Electoral College representatives meet in their state capitals in mid-December to cast their votes, based on which candidate won their state's electoral votes. A tie in electoral votes sends the choice to the House of Representatives.
Critics of the Electoral College claim it is inherently undemocratic and gives certain swing states disproportionate clout in selecting the President. In this election, we see both candidates giving tremendous emphasis to and spending significant resources to Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Colorado and Missouri, important swing states. Those who support the Electoral College declare it is an important and distinguishing feature of the federal system and protects the rights of smaller states.
Numerous constitutional amendments have been introduced in Congress to replace the Electoral College with a direct popular vote. No proposal has ever passed both Houses. A state by state effort has been launched to get replacement of the Electoral College on nationwide referendum. Only Maryland and four other states have approved the measure.