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Election almost done, headaches continue

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It's almost over. Or is it?

The dynamic of this election has once again raised the prospect that one candidate could lose the popular vote but win the White House on the basis of the vote in the Electoral College, whose members aren't scheduled to meet until Dec. 17 after settling what is described in the Federal Register as "any controversies over the appointment of their electors." Ugh.

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It's a scenario that creates more political tension, bitterness and division, much as it did in 2000 when George W. Bush was declared the winner by the Supreme Court after a prolonged recount in Florida that gave him the majority of electoral votes even though Al Gore won the popular vote nationally by a whisker.

A repetition of this frustrating outcome would satisfy virtually no one, including supporters of the declared winner. It raises troubling questions about legitimacy that undermine the authority of the chief executive. The other candidate's backers, meanwhile, will claim they were robbed.

The next occupant of the Oval Office will need all the powers at the command of the presidency to persuade Congress to make the sort of compromises necessary to reach sensible and lasting agreements on the related problems of the budget, the national debt and entitlements. Even with the president's powers intact, getting any deal will be tough. Otherwise, expect more gridlock.

Time for a change? You bet. The outdated Electoral College is ill-suited to modern-day politics. The founding fathers wanted to ensure that smaller states would have a voice, but the contrary result today is that most states are ignored for swing states.

This time around, as in 2000, swing state voters -- a phrase that would have baffled the founders -- will once again decide the election. Florida, Ohio and Colorado and a handful of other states loom large in this scenario, while voters in other states (New York, Texas, California) are deemed afterthoughts in the presidential sweepstakes. Candidates rarely make campaign visits.

Here in our own swing state, we've had more than enough attention, thank you very much. Less attention -- fewer negative ads on TV and fewer dinner-hour phone calls -- would be welcome relief. We love visits by the candidates and their spouses. We hate the traffic snarls they create.

While we're at it, there are other aspects of our voting process that desperately need to be changed.

-- Voter purges late in the election year. It's tough to avoid the conclusion that the purge carried out in Florida targeted minority voters and other communities that favour Democrats. It was ill-crafted and designed to restrict voting rights, rather than guarantee them. This is contrary to the best American traditions.

-- Fewer early voting days. Was it just a coincidence the early-voting schedule pushed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott eliminated the last Sunday before the election, a day traditionally used by black churches to get their congregations to vote? You'd have to believe in the tooth fairy to buy that.

-- Long, perplexing ballots. This year's ballot goes on and on, with 11 constitutional amendments written about as clearly as those manuals that "explain" how to assemble a complicated children's toy with 23 moving parts. Let's not do this again.

Voting is a right, as well as a duty. Too many Americans take it for granted. Do your part and vote, and let's hope that next time around those who make the laws make voting easier instead of tougher.

-- McClatchy Tribune Information Services

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 6, 2012 A10

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