Pennsylvania is in a dead heat. The Commonwealth Foundation/Lincoln Institute Voters poll conducted last week throughout the state showed that likely voters are evenly split at 42% for Bush and Gore. The arithmetic boils down to committed party regulars and that means with a little good weather in some key areas of the state the election will be decided by pollsters two worst enemies: the don’t knows and the don’t cares. These two groups turn out in big numbers every four years laboring under the mythology that whoever is president of the United States will actually make a difference in their lives.
For us pollsters this leaves too much statistical room for mischief. Historically one is reminded of candidate John Kennedy, referring to his father’s immense wealth in October 1960: “Dad told me not to buy one more vote than I had to.” Three weeks later in the wee hours of election night when Chicago’s legendary ward boss Mayor Richard Daley delivered Illinois and the presidency to Kennedy by just over 8,000 votes pundits wondered if Kennedy was really joking. This week all over the nation creative rank and file party members are at the local cemetery filing absentee ballots. With the presidential race this close any solid predictions have all the validity of a glance into a crystal ball.
And that’s where it gets tricky this year in the most important election: the race to control the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Someday, just to renew my cynical streak, the Lincoln Institute is going to conduct a state wide poll asking people just one question: “who is your state representative?” My guess is that “don’t know” will come in first, “don’t care” will run a close second and if we did it this week Rick Santorum or Ron Klink would probably come in a close third. That’s makes it tough luck that in this first election of our enlightened new millennium the state house has taken on an importance that its members have presumed they had for the last 20 years.
Remember back in the spring when you threw away those census forms and a nosy agent of the Federal Census Bureau showed up at your house asking how many bathrooms you have? Did you check off the little blocks about how many people lived in your house that could speak English? Well next year when those census numbers are released a highly political process called re-districting begins. The boundaries of congressional districts all over the nation will be redrawn. With Pennsylvania’s population losses and national migration patterns the state is likely lose two seats in Congress. That will be four less hands in Washington to dip into the Federal pork barrel to bring home the green bacon. It’s not in me to defend the system that barring a national calamity will make the election of either Bush or Gore largely irrelevant. The 2000 presidential election is not about how much money Washington takes in and neither of these candidates is pledged to changing that. On the national scale this year’s election is about how Washington rakes in money and politically re-distributes it. If there is a glimmer of hope for changing the way Washington works it must come from the Congress. If there is any chance of congressional reform it’s only prayer for success is in re-districting. That process starts in state houses all over the nation and Pennsylvania’s shifting demographics make the state critical to the national results.
With 5 resignations tainted by scandals the Pennsylvania house is deadlocked at 100 Republicans and 100 Democrats. Under Pennsylvania’s constitution all of the legislation that is the stuff of our daily lives must be approved in the House of Representatives. Trend the polls any way you want and on Wednesday November 8th one of the parties will have a razor thin majority in the Pennsylvania House. In the new year in addition to re-districting the House will have to deal with property taxes for schools, the rising costs of the state’s prescription drug plan for the elderly, estate taxes and new environmental regulations that will affect water quality and farm preservation. If you don’t bother to vote the hopelessly uninformed will dictate the outcome by blindly pulling levers at the bottom of the ballot. Leaving Pennsylvania on the wrong end of an entirely politically biased process with that we’ll have to live with for the next decade until after the next census is tallied.
A month ago in Belgrade, Yugoslavia 500,000 people took to the streets to demand the righteous outcome of an election that was too close to call. They were exercising the privilege that too many of their fellow citizens died trying to achieve. On November 7th if you are too busy, the polls are too crowded or the weather is too bad and you don’t want to bother to vote remember that “don’t know” and “don’t care” surely will.