South Florida Sun Sentinel, Feb. 4, 2019.
When it seemed Mitt Romney might win the popular vote in 2012 but lose the Electoral College, Donald Trump called the system “a disaster for a democracy.”
He was right about that. The election four years later confirmed it.
He is the fifth president to have won only on account of an archaic mechanism designed by elites who didn’t believe the American people were sufficiently intelligent to choose their chief executive.
George Washington was scarcely back at Mount Vernon before the electors became mere functionaries for a mechanism stacked against the popular vote. It was designed in part to protect slavery.
Public confidence, the lifeblood of a democracy, is drained whenever a loser snatches victory from the person who earned it.
The Colorado Senate recently took a big step toward bringing presidential selection out of the 18th century into the 21st. It voted to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, binding Colorado’s electors to vote for the candidate who wins the most votes nationwide. If the House approves, as it has before, Colorado would join 11 other pledged states and the District of Columbia, putting the Compact only 89 electoral votes shy of 270, the magic number to put it into effect.
Legislatures have the power to do this. It’s the practical alternative to eliminating the Electoral College by constitutional amendment, an uphill climb requiring a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress and ratification by 38 states. The smallest states, which have excess weight in the Electoral College, would block it. The Compact, on the other hand, needs no approval from Congress and the participation of only a few more states.
Florida should be one of them. Our 29 electors would give the vitally important reform a significant boost. But the only proposal before the Legislature, SB 552 by Sen. Kevin J. Rader, D-Boca Raton, goes in the wrong direction. It would award one elector to the winner in each congressional district with two electors going to the statewide popular vote winner.
Maine and Nebraska do this now. If every state did, Barack Obama would have lost the presidency to Mitt Romney in 2012 despite a 5 million vote lead nationwide.
In 2008, Republicans considered trying to impose districting on deep-blue California through its easily manipulated initiative system. That would have made it difficult for any Democrat to win the presidency in the foreseeable future.
Voting by districts has an inherent Republican bias, owing to the fact that Democrats tend to concentrate in urban areas, while Republican voters are distributed more evenly throughout the country. That’s without gerrymandering in the mix. Moving to choose electors by district would encourage even more of it. Presidential races would be predetermined like most seats in the House of Representatives. Last year’s blue wave was an exception.
It may be a challenge to persuade Republican politicians to endorse reform. They have won every electoral dysfunction since the birth of their party. But that isn’t guaranteed. A shift of just 60,000 votes in Ohio would have elected John Kerry in 2004 despite President George W. Bush having more votes nationwide.
It isn’t difficult to imagine a future election, if not next year, in which a moderate Republican almost wins California and New York and has a popular majority but loses the electoral vote.
What’s wrong with the present system goes deeper than party. That’s true also of voting by districts, which is not a fair or reliable substitute for the national popular vote.
Another major liability is that the present system treats most voters — those living everywhere but in 10 or so “battleground” states — as unworthy of attention. There is no incentive for a Republican to troll for votes in California or New York, or for a Democrat to appeal to Texas. In 2016, thirty-eight states saw practically no campaign activity. It took place almost entirely in the 12 “battleground” states. Fewer voters went to the polls where their votes were taken for granted.
Voting by districts would do little to change that because so few of them are competitive. The Interstate Compact, on the other hand, is designed to compel candidates to appeal for votes everywhere. It puts the whole nation into play.
The Dallas Morning News. Feb. 5, 2019.
Life-and-death situations, such as an active shooter, should take priority for police over a stolen leaf blower from your garage. But when you feel you’ve been violated, even if it is a purloined leaf blower, then you want to see a police officer sooner rather than later.
This is where Dallas is coming up short, or in the eyes of the public, late. Dallas police last year responded to the most serious incidents in an average of 8.35 minutes, a slight statistical improvement from 8.47 minutes in 2017. However, response times for all other incidents worsened, according to the cops’ own stats. For the lowest priority calls, for example, a Dallas crime victim last year waited an average of 98.63 minutes, more than 15 minutes longer than in 2017.
Residents of this city need to have confidence that police take all calls seriously, and how quickly an officer arrives shapes that confidence. The highest priority calls, for the worst crimes, accounted for only about 5 percent of all calls during the past five years. Most people calling the cops waited and waited and waited.
Hopefully, the police department has gotten the message. Late last year, Police Chief U. Renee Hall assigned majors to work communications during peak hours, empowered dispatchers to assign officers to calls instead of leaving that decision to patrol officers and asked officers to explain their status if they weren’t back in rotation after 30- to 40 minutes on a call. Statistically, those changes cut response times for high priority calls to 7.79 minutes and lowest priority calls to 72.9 minutes.
One month isn’t a trend, and the improvement may not even be sustainable. Dallas continues to struggle to hire and retain officers and is on pace to lose more officers than it can hire.
A larger and more efficient force would improve response times. So would the better use of technology, such as an online reporting system to allow residents to report low priority crimes that the department hopes to roll out soon.
The department must continue its recruiting efforts to ensure enough badges are on the streets to keep us safe. A cultural change is in order, too. Every call is a chance to instill confidence in our community. Every call is important. As long as residents perceive that police officers are taking too long to respond, the trust that police officers need with the community will take hits and feed frustration and fear.