Subcommittee Hearing on "Proposals for Electoral College Reform: H.J. Res. 28 and H.J.
September 4, 1997
2237 Rayburn House Office Building
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: Thank you for this opportunity to testify on the various proposals which would abolish the electoral college and replace it with a direct popular election of the President and Vice President of the United States.
Mr. Chairman, the right to vote is a fundamental principle in a free and democratic society such as ours. The right to vote in an unimpaired fashion is a bedrock of our political system. Our representative form of government guarantees this basic principle, regardless of race, sex, economic status or place of residence. Our founding fathers crafted the principle of "one man, one vote" into our constitutional framework.
I agree with some of my colleagues who call for the elimination of the current electoral college system, a system which has outlived its usefulness. When this system was established, it was designed to formalize the election of the President and Vice President. Today most Americans are ignorant about who their electors are and what functions are performed by the electoral college. Electors are not bound by law to vote the way the majority of their State voters cast their votes. Some scholars of democracy allege that the current electoral college system is flawed because it violates the principle of alone man, one vote" and therefore it should be abolished.
The proposals pending before the U.S. Congress call for a constitutional amendment to abolish the electoral college and to provide for the direct election of the President and Vice President. If we take seriously our task to draft a constitutional amendment to change this system and if we believe in the basic principle of equal protection of all of our citizens, then we must craft an amendment which would include the uniform treatment of all U.S. citizens.
The anomaly of denying U.S. citizens from the territories, such as Guam, the right to vote for President and Vice President of the United States is unfair and senseless. Our Chief Executive makes decisions which directly affect our lives just as much as it affects the lives of our fellow citizens who reside in one of the 50 States or the District of Columbia. As a member of Congress, I cannot vote for the President; however, my son who lives in Washington, D.C. is empowered with this franchise. My daughter who resides in Guam is denied this basic franchise. All of our lives are directly affected by Presidential decisions. I doubt our founding fathers envisioned such discrimination in the way we measure our citizenship.
Some individuals may argue that including a presidential vote for U.S. citizens in the territories will alter the nature of our federal structure; that the relationship between the states and the central government would somehow be altered. This is clearly not the case. Voting for the President was extended to the District of Columbia with no appreciable change in the federal system and with no change in the status of the District of Columbia.
With the extension of the franchise to the District, U.S. citizenship was perfected, was enhanced and was respected. This is what is at stake. The President of the United States is President over all the 50 states, the District and the territories. The President is our chief executive as much as he or she is yours. This is different than any other federal office. U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives are Constitutional officers which represent particular jurisdictions. Territories are not included. In order for the territories to have full participation in Congress, the Constitution must be amended. Such a change (which may be desirable) would change the federal system and should be debated when such a proposal is advanced.
Some would also raise the issue of taxation. This nation was founded on the revolutionary slogan of "no taxation without representation" not the reverse. If we extend to the citizens of the territories full participation in the federal system and democratic processes (to include voting in the passage of laws which control their lives), then alternate taxation arrangements would clearly not be in order. However, we are not discussing full participation in making laws. We are discussing the process of electing the Chief Executive of the land.
This Chief Executive is also the Commander in Chief. When young men and women join the nation's armed forces and fight and die, no one asks them for their 1040 or their home of record. They are treated the same as everyone else. And we all know that the record of our fellow citizens from the territories in this nation's wars has been exemplary. The citizens from the territories perform their duties when called upon. The citizens from the territories contribute to the growth of our nation. They deserve to participate in the selection of the Chief Executive for all Americans.
Therefore, the real issue before us is not simply to eliminate an outdated system and replace it with another unfair system. The real challenge is to find a more equitable system which will make U.S. citizenship the benchmark for extending the franchise to all of our citizens. It appears to me that diluting the weight of U.S. citizenship because of place of residence violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution just as much as discrimination based on race, national origin, sex, age, or economic status. To the extent that the people of Guam and the other territories are denied the right to vote, it minimizes our citizenship and it minimizes our access to our President.
In considering the various proposals to amend the way we vote for President and Vice President, I urge my colleagues to extend the franchise to all of the citizens who reside in U.S. territories. I see no compelling reason to continue denying us this basic democratic principle. It is the right thing to do, it is the just thing to do. I am willing to work with the committee to accomplish this objective.
I applaud your efforts to reform the Presidential election system. However, I cannot support any initiatives which continue to disenfranchise U.S. citizens residing in any jurisdiction under the American flag. Abolishing the electoral college is only a partial reform. The full participation of all U.S. citizens will be the real reform, the real test of our basic democratic principles embodied in our constitution.
Thank you for allowing me to share my views with the committee.