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Regard for principles a mark of civilisation

Richard Nixon

With lots of talk about the role of the electoral college in the United States and delegates in Bermuda versus direct elections, it may be useful to understand their origins.

In 1796 during its beginnings, the US had a practical problem on how to choose a president in a nation consisting of 13 states nervous about losing their own sovereignty, spread over thousands of miles with very little cross-communication.

It was generally appreciated that persons would vote for the candidate they knew and, in such cases, the most populated states would always win the presidency.

The framers decided on appointing a group of highly respected and educated persons within each state to act as electors. These electors were expected to know what the lay or average person would not and be able to select a president on merit from across the nation. Their process is similar to how the Pope is selected by cardinals, also the case with a few Islamic groups and other religious groups as well. The premise is that the masses would not know enough to make a reasoned decision.

None of those original conditions exists at present, except in state sovereignty to some degree. The larger issue, which is at the ethical core of the US Constitution, is the item of equality. One vote of equal value cannot be maintained under a system of special electors. Whether we call them an electoral college or delegates, the premise is the same: essentially based on the innate fear of mob ignorance.

Education is meant to be the great equaliser, and the more educated the public become, the more of an insult to their intelligence indirect elections become.

Bermuda evolved from a system that fundamentally rejected majority rule and gave instead primacy and ultimate power to the Parliament.

The Progressive Labour Party, which supposedly came off the back of a progressive movement, followed the same premise by adopting the indirect delegates selection process for leaders. It would have been the thought that a progressive political group would instead want to champion the principle of equality of all voters. It is similarly even more revealing why the One Bermuda Alliance, as a new and supposedly contemporaneous party, never alluded to it.

Assuming we believe in principle, it would naturally occur that to attain equality would require efforts to change and to make some adjustments in practice to achieve it.

In 1979, the US under President Richard Nixon almost achieved that legislative change, but it was defeated. The US narrowly missed becoming a country with an equal vote and corrected the anomaly where someone becomes president by winning the majority of electoral votes but loses the popular vote. Hillary Clinton got two million more votes but lost the race because some states have more voting power than others.

Not that we in Bermuda have ever had this debate, but when will we have the discussion of political equality? When will we be forthright enough to discuss in earnest voter rights and the issue of “one person vote, one vote of equal value”? If we don’t, it will be because we have no regard for principles.

It is a dark world when power and the methods of attaining it become more valuable then principles. Adherence to principles is one of the chief markers of civilisation.