The other night, we were channel-surfing and hit upon the Miss America pageant. The contestants were being asked questions, and the one on the screen was "What year did women get the vote in the United States?" The answer, according to the pageant judges, was 1920, when the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified.
The correct answer is a little
more complicated. Women began voting in Wyoming Territory in 1869,
and began voting in presidential elections after Wyoming became a
state in 1890. Women from the Mountain West were voting for
president long before the "official date" of 1920. In Colorado,
Utah and Idaho, women first voted in the 1896 presidential
election. Indeed, by 1920 Montana had already elected a woman,
Jeannette Rankin, to the U.S. Congress.
have to watch the Miss America pageant to see how we get ignored
here. Just watch the short promos for what’s coming later.
The announcement will say something like "11:00 Eastern, 10:00
Central." Once in a while there will be an "8:00 Pacific." But
never a "9:00 Mountain." As far as the national media are
concerned, our time zone doesn’t exist.
zone is the network equivalent of flyover territory. But in a
presidential election year, we might also ask a related question:
Is the Mountain Time Zone also a political nonentity? Do the
presidential campaigns need to pay attention to us?
There’s no simple answer to that question. Thanks to the
arithmetic of the Electoral College, we have more clout than our
population warrants. The extreme example of this imbalance comes
from comparing Wyoming, with about 500,000 residents in the 2000
census, to California, with 34 million.
55 electoral votes — one for each of its 53 U.S.
representatives, and two for its two senators. Wyoming has only one
representative, and thus three electoral votes. Do the math, and
each Wyoming electoral vote stands for about 170,000 people, while
each California electoral vote stands for 618,000 people.
In other words, a Wyoming voter has nearly four times as much
influence on the presidential election as a California voter. This
extends, though not to such an extreme, throughout the Mountain
Time Zone. Nationally, the average electoral vote stands for
526,000 people, but here, only 437,000. So, if the typical Mountain
Time voter has 20 percent more clout than the typical American
voter, why aren’t presidential candidates competing to
accommodate us — perhaps by promising an end to "fee demo" on
public land, catching up on deferred maintenance at our national
parks, increasing funds to counties to make up for the property
taxes that they cannot collect from public lands?
starters, that Electoral College arithmetic favors states with
small populations, but even so, we’re still lightweights. The
Mountain Time Zone has only 37 of the 535 electoral votes —
less than 7 percent. California, as mentioned, has 55; Texas,
alone, has 34, and New York has 31. This means that a candidate can
get just about as many votes from carrying one big state —
and carrying that single state would not require the travel time
and multiplicity of media markets that campaigning across seven
So we don’t offer much "bang for
the buck." Candidates need to spend their resources where
they’ll make a difference. You won’t see the Bush
campaign spending much in Texas this year, even though it’s a
big state with many electoral votes. Bush could carry Texas even if
he announced plans to raze the Alamo because it was a threat to
homeland security. So John Kerry isn’t going to spend a lot
of time there. The reverse holds for Democratic strongholds like
New York and California.
States need to be competitive to
get attention. New Mexico is the only Rocky Mountain state that a
Democrat carried last time around, and then by only 366 votes.
Pollsters say Arizona and Colorado might be competitive this year
— and so both Bush and Kerry are frequent visitors. But you
won’t see much sign of either elsewhere in the Red Zone West,
because the Republicans are so dominant. In 2000, Bush got 60
percent of the Montana vote, 68 percent in Utah, and 71 percent in
Idaho and Wyoming. Noncompetitive states, especially ones with few
electoral votes, aren’t worth the trouble for either
That may explain America’s
current political geography. The Republican Party may have been
founded by New Englanders and Midwesterners, but it is today a
Southern party, stretching from Texas east to Virginia and Florida.
The Democratic Party is a coastal party, especially if
you count the Great Lakes as a coast. Neither party needs to have
too much to do with our Mountain Time Zone, except to take it for
granted, or else write it off entirely. And in neither case are
they going to pay much attention to those of us on the ground in
flyover country; their real constituencies are elsewhere, just like
the network audiences.