February 28, 2006

National Popular Vote, an idea who's time has come?

A coalition of organizations and former politicians are mounting a serious effort to enact a national popular vote, and they are focusing exclusively on Illinois as an obvious place to start their efforts.

Their advisory committee includes a bipartisan group of former politicians including former independent presidential candidate and former Republican congressman John Anderson of Illinois, former senator Birch Bayh (D-Indiana), former congressman John Buchanan (R-Alabama), fomer congresman Tom Campbell (R-California), former senator Dave Durenberger (R-Minnisota), and fomer senator and astronaut, Jake Garn (R-Utah).

Their website provides an FAQ and a wealth of information about this exciting proposal to shed the antiquated and largely useless electoral college system and instead elect our presidents by popular vote.

In addition, they've written a very interesting book, "Every Vote Equal: A State-based Plan for Electing the President by Popular Vote" which you can read on-line or download for free.

A national popular vote is an intriguing idea and there are interesting arguments both pro and con. One argument against it is that it would cause candidates to focus exclusively on the large population states and ignore the smaller or primarily rural states. However, the electoral system now skews the system even worse by forcing candidates to utterly ignore states which aren't swing states or in contention.

This is one of the reasons they're focusing the effort to implement this system on Illinois first.

As the issue is described on their site:
"Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote"

Under the current system of allocating electoral votes in presidential elections (used by 48 states and the District of Columbia), all of a state’s electoral votes are awarded to the candidate receiving the most popular votes within each state. But this system was not established by the Constitution, the Founding Fathers, or federal law. Instead, the allocation of electoral votes is exclusively a matter of state law. In fact, Maine and Nebraska currently award some of their electoral votes by congressional district as an example of this flexibility.

The current system forces presidential candidates to focus their campaigns on a handful of closely divided “battleground” states, thereby making the voters in two-thirds of the states irrelevant. The presidentially non-competitive states include six of the nation’s 10 largest states (California, Texas, New York, Illinois, New Jersey, and North Carolina), 12 of the 13 least populous states, and most of the medium-sized states.

Voter turnout is adversely affected in presidentially non-competitive states because voters realize that their votes do not matter. The number of non-competitive states has been increasing in recent decades.

Because the statewide winner-take-all system divides the national pool of 122,000,000 popular votes into 51 smaller pools, it regularly manufactures artificial crises even when the nationwide popular vote is not particularly close. In the past 60 years, there have been six presidential elections in which a shift of a relatively small number of votes in one or two states would have elected a presidential candidate who did not receive the most popular votes nationwide.

Nationwide popular election of the President is the only approach that makes all states competitive in presidential elections and that makes every vote count equally.

For over 50 years, the public has supported nationwide popular election of the President by majorities of 70% or greater.

A federal constitutional amendment (requiring two-thirds of Congress and 38 states) is not required to change the state laws that currently specify use of the winner-take-all rule. Nationwide popular election of the President can be implemented if the states join together to pass identical state laws awarding all of their electoral votes to the presidential candidate receiving the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The proposed state legislation would only come into effect only when it has been enacted, in identical form, by enough states to elect a President—that is, by states possessing a majority (270) of the 538 electoral votes.

The U.S. Constitution establishes a legal vehicle for the proposed coordinated state action, namely the "interstate compact." Examples of existing interstate compacts include the Colorado River Compact (which divides water among seven western states) and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (a two-state compact). Interstate compacts are enacted by states in the same way they enact ordinary legislation. It is settled constitutional law an interstate compact is legally enforceable contractual obligation among the states belonging to the compact and all of their officials.
As Sen. Bayh states,
"The President and Vice President should be chosen by the same method every other elective office in this country is filled—by citizen voters of the United States in a system which counts each vote equally. ...I unequivocally support this new strategy to provide for the direct election of the President and Vice President.

This new approach is consistent with the Constitution...It’s refreshing to know states have the ability under the Constitution to step up and create the sensible solution Americans have long been supporting."
Check out their site and find out more about this exciting proposal and then give us your opinion.


At 2/28/2006 10:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Think of Florida in 2000. Remember the recounts and the court cases.

Now think of a similarly close result nationwide. Imagine the recounts and court cases from coast to coast.

No one thought a presidential election as close as Florida 2000 would ever happen. It did. So don't blow off the idea of a razor thin margin nationally.

At 2/28/2006 10:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Popular vote is a bad idea. Our current system protects the rights of small states. Popular vote would lead to campaigning in large states only. We would lose an important function oof checks and balances.

At 2/28/2006 10:52 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Anon 10:14

It's not clear what you're saying, but I'll assume you're arguing that if the country went to a popular vote that it would end up being razor thin and locked up in court cases more often?

If so, then I disagree and suggest that it is far, far, far less likely to happen than with the system we have now.

In my estimation, the current electoral college system is far more likely to result in elections being contested as it focuses on state totals, which are by definition narrower and deals with smaller numbers of votes, witness Florida 2000.

There's a much higher probability that state votes being within a razor thin margin than a nationwide popular vote.

As the situation stands, the states have various provisions for contesting close results. If a popular vote were enacted, this would likely not change, so the chances of a state's votes being contested would not change.

But while the current system makes it fairly likely that a candidate's election may hang by one or two electoral votes, and make contested elections more likely, the chances of a natioal popular vote being within, say, 100,000 votes is truly miniscule.

The deadlock and subsequent subversion of the election by the intervention of the Surpreme Court on Bush's behalf was a dark blot on the court and on our history to be sure.

But I'd point out that if we'd had a popular vote in that election, none of the nonsense and corruption would have been able to have happened at all!

Gore would have won by around a half million votes, period, end of story. There would have been no controversy at all. Zip, zero, nada.

The current system is far more likely to result in deadlock and contested results than a popular vote.

At 2/28/2006 10:58 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

And Anon 10:15

Under the current syetem, the votes of nearly half of the citizens in 6 out of the 10 largest states and 12 of the 13 least populous states are worthless.

There's no reason for them to even vote, as these states reliably go either Republican or Democrat, and thus ALL of the state's electoral votes go to someone they don't prefer!

What about their rights? The rights of far, far, far more people than the few small states the system currently gives a disporportional advantage to?

And the bottom line? Even if candidates didn't campaign in smaller states, so what? At least in those states, and every state, the votes of ALL of the citizens would be assured of being counted towards the candidate of their choice.

At 2/28/2006 3:46 PM, Blogger QuadCityImages said...

As an Iowa resident, I must selfishly say I support the electoral college. We wouldn't get both candidates here on the same day if we didn't have it. Of course, there's a good argument for whether or not a small midwestern state should have both candidates here...

Besides, what would Tim Russert get to draw on his dry-erase board if it was a straight popular vote? Electoral votes make it so much more interesting.

At 2/28/2006 5:29 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

QCI... haha! So thoughtful of you to look out for Timmy's welfare.

And I expected that those from the states who now benefit from the electoral process would be opposed, and who can blame you? It truly is almost a bizarre political wonderland come primary season.

It's to the point where residents of tiny towns in New Hampshire or Iowa almost find the appearance of presidential candidates to be a nusiance. You can't swing a dead cat without hitting one.

And there's something kind of right feeling about all these multi-millionaire, high-toned candidates being forced to slog through cornfields and talking in people's living rooms out in some rural area.

It really is a great demonstration of democracy at it's best.

But.... when you realize what an abberation it is, what an almost unreal situation, a popular vote plan may have more appeal.

I'd like to think that Iowans, who have a justified reputation for being well educated and active participants in selecting their leaders, would find the prospect of having the votes of everyone given the same weight to be a sufficiently great expansion of democracy that they'd consider giving up the remarkable situation they now enjoy.

At 3/01/2006 6:22 AM, Blogger QuadCityImages said...

We didn't do so hot last time...

At 3/01/2006 9:12 AM, Blogger tiz said...

As an Iowan, I do not enjoy it. The only good thing about 2004 was Bush winning Iowa didn't decide the election, thus sparing my state from being the butt of jokes for the next four years. I also think it takes away from the statewide and congressional races in both swing and non-swing situations. In non-swing states you have low turnout as we've said here. In swing states like Iowa you have the state and local branches of the party cosuming their resources in the presidential race. I'd be curious (but far too lazy to get the data myself) to see the retention rate of incumbents in state races during presidential cycle vs. off-cycle years.

I'm all for doing away with the electoral college. I have friends on the other side of the river who make a point of throwing away their vote because they already know which way their state is going. Things like votepair even encourage it. I'm not saying that it's a bad thing - if I wasn't pragmatic I would probably be Green myself, so I think votepair is a neat idea. But I think if people actually thought their vote counted you would have less of that and, as we've already pointed out, increased turnout.

It is interesting Birch Bayh is in this group though - one of the selling points for his son's nomination is that he will make his home state of Indiana blue.

At 3/01/2006 9:19 AM, Blogger highxlr8r said...

Eliminating the electoral college would not by itself disturb the status of Iowa and NewHampshire in the primary process. Those states may be hurt in the general election, but as long as the political parties choose to run their primaries the same way, Iowa and NH will still see their states overrun with candidates running for president.

I had always been supportive of eiminating the elctoral college, but I always considered it a non-starter because a constitutional amendment would never get through 3/4 of the states. With this plan, however, I see how the process can be effectively changed in a practical way. I am on board.

At 3/01/2006 9:25 AM, Blogger highxlr8r said...

The downside of course is that a state such as Illinois in 2004 would have gone overwhelmingly for Kerry, but would have had to grin and bear it and send 21 electors to go vote for George W. Bush.

That is a tough thing policitally for states to submit to.

At 3/01/2006 10:15 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

QCI 6:22..

Yeah, I chalk that up to Rove doing a better job of deceiving farmers and rural voters. And wasn't Bush promising at the time a huge farm subsidy bill?

I seem to recall conservatives whining their heads off (do they ever do anything else?) about an enormously bloated and expensive farm bill, so I'm thinking Bush actually delivered on this.

Also, Grassley has turned into an absolute administration zombie, being handed a plum committee assignment dealing with social security and left to defend the indefensible administration policy in that area. He's truly been sucked into the radical wing of the party, as I can't think of a single time he wasn't willing to go out and shill for anything the administration has proposed, no matter how idiotic.

At 3/01/2006 10:19 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Tiz, wise observations as usual.

And High 9:19.... You're absolutely right, and thanks for bringing up that important distinction.

This national popular vote measure wouldn't affect the primary process as such. These would still be governed by the rules and timing set by the respective parties.

It's easy to lose sight of this.


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