Every Rhode Island vote should count

By Mike Stenhouse – as appeared in Providence Journal June 28th, 2013

‘Every vote should count.”

That was the mantra that echoed through the chambers of the Rhode Island General Assembly this month as our legislators debated, then passed, the National Popular Vote bill, which would change the way states elect the president of the United States.

The legislators were referring to votes by citizens in national elections. What about votes by legislators on local bills? Shouldn’t every legislator be held accountable for each vote they take? Shouldn’t those votes count too?

Would you be surprised to know that, in passing the NPV bill, our General Assembly just voted to diminish our voice in national elections, as Rhode Islanders, by over 50 percent?

And why should we be surprised? After all, over the past few years, even with the Ocean State floundering near last place in an alarmingly high number of categories, our elected officials continue to pursue policies that further diminish our state’s competitiveness, that encroach more severely upon our individual freedoms, that reduce our opportunities for increased prosperity, and now that would take away over half of what voice we have when it comes to electing our president.

Under the current Electoral College system, thanks to the wisdom of the Founding Fathers to protect small states like ours, Rhode Island enjoys a greater proportion of electors than our population level would otherwise dictate. However, under the NPV compact, Rhode Island’s popular vote impact would be lessened to be directly proportional to its national share of the population.

Here’s the math: The Ocean State’s population of 1 million represents just 0.316 percent of the nation’s 316 million people. Our state’s electoral weight of 4 electors represents 0.743 percent of the 538 national electors.

So, our General Assembly just voted to reduce our state’s collective clout from one-in-134 to one-in-316 — a loss of over 57 percent of our voice!

This same sort of illogic is how our state government has continually voted to keep Rhode Islanders from realizing their fullest potential. Recently, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity released snapshots of our General Assembly Freedom Index that scores both bills and legislator votes in terms of how they preserve or infringe upon our freedoms, which we believe have a direct effect on our chances of achieving prosperity.

To date, we are tracking 551 bills in the 2013 session. Over two-thirds of those bills we marked as “red,” in that they diminish our liberties; with a total negative score of minus 285. Clearly, the wrong direction.

As for individual legislators, not a single state representative or senator scored in the “green,” or with an overall positive score, on our Legislator Scorecard as of the posting of the snapshot.

Think about that. Not one elected official so far in 2013 has an overall voting record that works to your advantage. Your legislature as a whole has put forth a collection of 551 bills that will further diminish your chance to succeed — death by 551 cuts, if you will.

And now, to top it all off, they have just voted to diminish our state’s political standing when it comes to electing the leader of our nation.

Indeed, it appears that the more government tries to do, the more it harms our freedom and prosperity, as well as our ability to determine our own futures and to pursue our own paths to happiness — whether we are individuals, businesses, municipalities or, now, as a state. Once upon a time we called this tyranny. What do we call it today?

When will we learn that as citizens it is our civic responsibility to ensure that every legislator’s vote counts, too, and hold them accountable for their actions?

Mike Stenhouse is a lifelong Rhode Island resident and chief executive officer of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, a non-partisan public policy think-tank.

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