Thoughts on the 2000 Election

Coby Lubliner


Full Disclosure: I voted for Nader, but only as a self-indulgent gesture (to whom? I’m not sure), and only because I live in California. I never bought the media’s fatuous line about the tightening race here, and Gore’s 54-41 victory over Bush bore me out. I never wanted W. to be President, and if I lived in a state where the race was reasonably close, I certainly would have voted for Gore, for all the usual reasons, such as the courts (not just the Supreme), the courts and the courts.

But during the post-election hullabaloo I got to thinking about other issues important to me, such as the Middle East (FD #2: I am a Jew). I find it faintly amusing that first Arafat and then Barak made a point of coming to Washington for further talks with Clinton after the elections, supposedly because by this time they would know who the next President would be. So much for strategic planning.

Anyway, during this period of uncertainty (which may over by the time you read this) I’ve been getting the creeping notion that George W. Bush might be the better U.S. President for any resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Not that I would expect Dubya personally to play any significant role. For all I know, to him the Middle East is a college football conference, just below the Big East. (Or maybe not.) But I believe that there are two essential flaws in the peace process as presided over by Bill Clinton. One is that he is Bill Clinton. And the other is that he is a Democrat. Gore’s election would remedy one of these flaws; Bush’s would take care of both.

Clinton’s role in the process has been like that of the relationship gurus of the 60s, to whom squabbling couples flocked in order to heal their troubled marriages. Amid the loving vibes and group hugs inspired by the guru, conjugal affection would be rekindled, only to relapse into fighting back at home.

Even without Clinton’s personal charisma, the figure of the President of the United States is too powerful to be that of an effective mediator. Jimmy Carter was an exception; an unusually good listener and a skilled practitioner of self-effacement, he had (and still has) the knack for making each side feel that it’s point of view is understood. And it may be this un-presidential trait that cost him reelection against an exuberant, self-confident Reagan. Clinton, as we know, is not self-effacing.

With Bush as president, the peace effort would be delegated to some member of the Republican foreign-policy establishment, which, while closely allied to the multinational corporate world (though perhaps, quoth the Naderite , only slightly more so than the Democratic one, with the Republicans concentrated more in industry, the Democrats in finance), is quite competent. While James Baker has been conspicuous in his attack-dog, win-at-all-cost, corporate-lawyer role in the post-election wrangling, it is not generally known that for several years has been patiently, painstakingly mediating the conflict over the Western Sahara between the independence-minded Polisario Front and the Kingdom of Morocco. Nor is Baker alone.

Moreover, a Bush – that is, a Republican – administration would have another advantage over Gore: it would not be burdened with the pro-Israel bias of the Democratic Party due (at least in part) to its heavy Jewish influence (see FD #2). It would not have to reject out of hand the Palestinian demand for a United Nations force on the ground, just because – as Clinton has been saying – it would be unacceptable to Israel. A Republican administration might even have the muscle to put some pressure on Israel to give up the settlements, especially the ones deep in Palestinian territory that were built, as the Israeli writer David Grossman has written, with the deliberate intent of thwarting a viable, cohesive Palestinian state. (Give them up, that is, unless the settlers are willing to live under Palestinian rule, parallel to their Arab counterparts in Israel.)

I’m not saying that the highly effective Israel lobby would altogether lose its clout in a Bush administration, only that such an administration would have more freedom of action in imposing some tough choices on Israel. And so the prospect of George W. Bush as president doesn’t seem, for the moment, as dismaying as it did before I started thinking about these matters.


There is another anti-Bush argument, frequently voiced since December 7, that I have trouble buying: that a Bush presidency, even if electorally clean, would somehow lack legitimacy because Gore won the popular vote. This is a little bit like saying that if a game of American football ends 9-7, with the winning team scoring three field goals to the loser’s touchdown plus extra point, then the victory is flawed because the other team would have won 6-3 under Rugby League rules. The electoral system is the one we have, and of the people who vote, most of them vote with that in mind. Of the fifty states and the District of Columbia, thirty-two, with a total electoral vote of 334 out of 538, registered a spread of nine or more percentage points between first and second place. (Of these, twenty, with 163 electors, went to Bush, and twelve, with 171, to Gore.) Surely the overwhelming lead of one or the other candidate in these states was known to their voters before the election, in spite of some pre-electoral spin; and surely this knowledge had an effect on turnout. The notion that “every vote counts” was valid, as regards the presidential race, at most in the remaining nineteen states, and these were, by and large, the ones that were designated as “battleground states” right from the outset of the campaign.

Whether the electoral college – as we know it and love it or hate it – is a good thing is another matter. A good deal of criticism of the institution, some strident and some thoughtful, has been heard since the election, from inside and outside the country. There has also been criticism of our system – if it can be called that – of voting and counting votes, with a focus on Florida. Both criticisms can be justified, but they are not necessarily related. Had there been a clear electoral winner without Florida (for example, had Gore won Tennessee or Missouri), the mixup over butterfly ballots, pregnant chads and the like would have been irrelevant, just as it would have if election by popular vote had been the rule, since a few hundred votes here and there would not significantly dent a 200,000-vote margin.

A fair amount of sneering at the U.S.’s expense has come from European media. How can a country that proclaims itself the world’s preeminent democracy and technological superpower have such an antiquated method of choosing its leader? Why is there no uniform, centralized, technically sophisticated, easy-to-read ballot? It is curious that these reproaches often come from analysts who themselves have been fighting, in the name of the “principle of subsidiarity,” against the centralist, “Jacobin” habits of the European states, which have been creeping into the running of the European Union. Journalists and intellectuals who in general speak out in favor of diversity and multiculturalism are suddenly shocked by the effects of diversity – in this case the diversity of state election laws and the autonomy of counties in designing ballots – in action. Not to mention that impasses of this nature are far from impossible under different political systems; one can easily envision a closely divided Parliament where the outcome depends on one constituency, whose result in turn hinges on a few votes cast in, say, Featherington-upon-Quilley. The current government in Spain enjoys a comfortable, absolute majority in both houses of the Spanish Parliament, but the ruling party won a rather narrow plurality in the popular vote in 1999. Not to mention the cohabitation practiced in France, or Italy’s coalition follies.


All this being said, there is no reason why the American system could not be improved. I will skip ballot technology and focus on the electoral college. There are two principal factor that make it seem undemocratic: the disproportionate weight of the smaller states, and the winner-take-all principle.

Of these, only the first is in the Constitution. As to the distribution of electoral votes, our founding document says only that “[e]ach State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors...” In other words, the state legislatures are free to adopt any method of choosing electors, and two states – Maine and Nebraska – have systems that are different from the norm, though without much practical difference (both states have this year given their full votes to one or the other candidate).

What if a concerted nationwide drive were mounted to get all the state legislatures to change the system, within their respective states, to one of proportional representation? If such a drive were successful, then, first of all, the likelihood of a discrepancy between the electoral and the popular votes, while not eliminated, would be reduced. Secondly, every vote would indeed count, and every state would become, to some extent, a battleground state. Even in such Republican fortresses as Alaska, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming, where the Bush vote outnumbered Gore’s by well over two-to-one, the latter would still have eked out one electoral vote in each.

I did, in fact, analyze the results of 2000 to see what the electoral college would have been under proportional representation. To this end I used the simplest method, that of the largest remainder. That is, the total number of valid votes cast is divided by the number of electoral votes, and any candidate having a whole-number multiple of this quotient gets the corresponding number of electors, with the remaining one(s) going to the candidate(s) with the largest remainder(s). There are other methods of computation, but, as mathematicians have shown, none is intrinsically fairer than any other.

The state-by-state results of my calculations are shown in the appended table. The overall result, based on state totals as of mid-November, is: Bush, 263; Gore, 263; Nader,12. With one exception, these results are impervious to small changes in the vote totals in the most closely contested states: Oregon goes 3-3-1, Wisconsin 5-5-1, Florida 12-12-1. The exception is New Mexico, where Nader’s total is less than the remainder of either of the major candidates, and so the Land of Enchantment goes 3-2 to whoever is the winner, by however small a margin.

What is the meaning of this outcome? First of all, it is a purely theoretical one – as I said before, under a system different from the present one, the vote totals would probably be substantially different. But let’s use the present results as a basis of speculation, the way the spectra of past earthquakes are used in the engineering of structures designed to resist future earthquakes.

On its face, the result would mean that the election would go to the House of Representatives, with Bush the certain winner. But, in a system in which “third-party” candidates are potential recipients of electoral votes, the electors might regain some of the discretion that the framers of the Constitution had intended for them to have. It is perfectly possible that the state Green Party organizations would operate on the lesser-evil principle and instruct their electors – ahead of time, of course, so that voters would know – to vote for Gore. There might be some quid pro quo involved; there’s nothing wrong with that – it happened here (in the House, not in the electoral college) in 1824, and it happens all the time in parliamentary coalition forming. In this last situation, junior partners in a coalition may withdraw from it, or threaten to do so, leading to the notorious instability of European and Israeli governments. This would not happen in the electoral college, which ceases to exist once a president is chosen.

The possibility of voting for a minor candidate while knowing that the vote, if necessary, would go to the less evil of the major ones, is reminiscent of the endorsement of major candidates by minor parties. When I lived in New York, I knew people who voted for Democratic candidates, but insisted on doing so on the Liberal Party ticket. It made them feel more virtuous, or something, like my self-righteous vote for Nader. Thus there could be a considerable increase in votes cast for minor candidates whose parties have promised to endorse a major one in the crunch, since such votes would not be felt as wasted.

Is the prospect of such a change realistic? Would the legislatures be willing to make the change? In California, for one, this seems unlikely, since the predominantly Democratic legislature would presumably be loath to allow the state to produce Republican electoral votes. On the other hand, the people of California, and of many other states, have legislative power through the initiative process – something that the founding fathers evidently did not envisage – and it could conceivably be argued that what the U.S. Constitution means by “Legislature” is, in this case at least, whatever body has legislative power, not just the formally constituted representative body.

In any case, the change I am envisioning, whatever its merits, is in the American grain. It is clearly a compromise between the present system and direct election, and does not require a constitutional amendment. And we are a nation that likes compromise, and dislikes amending the Constitution.

November 16, 2000

© 2000 by Jacob Lubliner


2000 Presidential Election – hypothetical distribution of electoral votes (EV) by proportional representation

Bush Gore Nader
State EV Pct. EV Pct. EV Pct. EV
Alabama 9 56 5 42 4 1 0
Alaska 3 59 2 28 1 10 0
Arizona 8 50 4 45 4 3 0
Arkansas 6 51 3 46 3 1 0
California 54 41 23 54 29 4 2
Colorado 8 51 4 42 4 5 0
Connecticut 8 39 3 55 5 4 0
Delaware 3 42 1 55 2 3 0
District of Columbia 3 9 0 85 3 5 0
Florida 25 49 12 49 12 2 1
Georgia 13 55 7 43 6 0 0
Hawaii 4 37 2 56 2 6 0
Idaho 4 68 3 28 1 1 0
Illinois 22 43 9 54 12 2 1
Indiana 12 57 7 41 5

not on ballot

Iowa 7 48 3 49 4 2 0
Kansas 6 58 4 37 2 3 0
Kentucky 8 56 5 41 3 1 0
Louisiana 9 53 5 41 4 1 0
Maine 4 44 2 49 2 6 0
Maryland 10 40 4 57 6 3 0
Massachusetts 12 33 4 60 7 6 1
Michigan 18 46 8 51 9 2 1
Minnesota 10 46 5 48 5 5 0
Mississippi 7 58 4 40 3 1 0
Missouri ` 11 50 6 47 5 2 0
Montana 3 58 2 33 1 6 0
Nebraska 5 63 3 33 2 6 0
Nevada 4 50 2 46 2 2 0
New Hampshire 4 48 2 47 2 4 0
New Jersey 15 40 6 56 8 3 1
New Mexico 5 48 2 48 3 4 0
New York 33 35 12 60 20 4 1
North Carolina 14 56 8 43 6

not on ballot

North Dakota 3 61 2 33 1 3 0
Ohio 21 50 10 46 10 3 1
Oklahoma 8 60 5 38 3

not on ballot

Oregon 7 47 3 47 3 5 1
Pennsylvania 23 46 11 51 12 2 0
Rhode Island 4 32 1 61 3 6 0
South Carolina 8 57 5 41 3 1 0
South Dakota 3 60 2 38 1

not on ballot

Tennessee 11 51 6 47 5 1 0
Texas 32 59 19 38 12 2 1
Utah 5 67 4 26 1 5 0
Vermont 3 41 1 51 2 7 0
Virginia 13 52 7 45 6 2 0
Washington 11 45 5 50 6 4 0
West Virginia 5 52 3 46 2 2 0
Wisconsin 11 48 5 48 5 4 1
Wyoming 3 69 2 28 1

not on ballot

Total 538 48 263 48 263 3 12

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