The Electoral College and American Liberty

It’s that time again when all eyes are drawn to the spectacle that is the American presidential campaign. We watch as Romney and Ryan bus from one end of Ohio to the other and observe Obama seeming to run the Administration from Air Force I on the way to fundraisers in California or small town rallies in Iowa and Colorado. As we watch the quadrennial drama unfold, the inevitable question arises: Is this any way to run an election?

There are many problems inherent in the way America elects its chief executives. Many of us have our pet ideas of ways we think it could be changed for the better, but no reform pops up with more regularity than the abolition of the Electoral College.  Before the heat of summer begins to slide away, the Op Eds and blogs appear and polls are reported showing a majority of the American people seeming to back the system’s demise.

Hundreds of proposed constitutional amendments which would have abolished or fundamentally altered the workings of the system have failed in Congress over the last century. Now the opponents have crafted a way around the constitutional impediments to reform and are as close to altering our electoral system as they have been since the 1970s.

The National Popular Vote (NPV) movement is the brainchild of former consulting professor at Stanford University John R. Koza.  Before he began dabbling in electoral reform, Koza was best known for having co-invented the rub-off instant lottery system used in many states.  The National Popular Vote initiative would do an end run around the formal amendment process of the Constitution in order to change the very foundations of the electoral system.  To be more precise, the NPV movement asks states to pledge their Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote, regardless of how their own citizens vote.  Once enough state legislatures sign on to represent 270 electoral votes, the president-elect would be the candidate who won a simple national majority. Our system would become a national plebiscite and our politics would be radically transformed.  And it would all happen without a serious national debate.

The NPV backers claim the support of more than 2100 state legislators and the initiative has passed in nine states worth 132 Electoral College votes, putting them nearly half way to the goal of radically transforming our politics.  And it is all happening with little debate at the state level and without any serious national dialogue.

And yet, despite more than 200 years of fairly sustained opposition, including this new NPV plan, the Electoral College endures. Why? My contention is that the Electoral College still survives, and should continue to do so because it works in producing decent presidents according to the rule of law while also supporting important claims of liberty.  And, there is no other plan that is not so fundamentally flawed as to render its consequences unacceptable.

 

How the Electoral College Serves Liberty

 

There are many reasons why the Electoral College has been successful in producing relatively good presidents within a fairly balanced and stable political system.  I have written elsewhere in more depth about how the system serves federalism, the rule of law, and has saved us from long national nightmares of recounts and ballot challenges.  Just imagine, for example, what the days after the 2000 election would have been like without the Electoral College centralizing the fight into one state (Florida).  If Al Gore and George W. Bush were separated again by only a few hundred thousand votes and the winner of the presidency would be the one who got just one more vote than the other, we would have been conducting recounts and hearing legal challenges in every precinct in every county in every state of the nation. If lawyers could disqualify a few voters here and poll workers could “find” just a ballot box or two there, an election could be overturned.

Today, however, I want to focus on another aspect of the Electoral College and how it serves liberty interests in America.  To wit, I want to explore how the Electoral College serves to balance the extremes in our politics, produces relative stability in our system, and protects the liberty of minority interests that otherwise would be crushed under the weight of “king numbers.”

First we must concede what few opponents of our current system will: every system of election has its inherent biases.  The Electoral College is no different on this score. Because the Electoral College math is only partly based on population and partly based on the federalism principle of each state being treated as an equal entity, it gives a slight bonus to small states.  This is one of the major points of anxiety for those who oppose the current system.  Despite the cries of its opponents, however, this is no different than the foundational basis of the U.S. Senate where citizens from smaller states have proportionally more representation than those from larger states.

Unlike the mantra from its opponents, our system of government is not premised upon enshrining political equality to the exclusion of all other concerns. And yet, within each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia our presidential elections are fair, free, democratic and each voter is counted equally with all others.  Just like with every other election in the American political system, the winner of the popular vote in a state wins and the loser loses.

The best way to illustrate how the Electoral College serves liberty is to consider the biases that are inherent in the alternative to the current system.  Most opponents want to replace our system with a single national plebiscite.  Whoever gets one more vote than the other candidate(s) wins the presidency.  Its simple, clear, and easily understood.  But it would transform the American political system in ways few have seriously considered.

Before getting to the core of my argument, it will help to consider what the abolition of the Electoral College would mean for the two-party system.  Political observers from the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan to Michael Barone, longtime editor of The Almanack of American Politics, have observed that it is the Electoral College with its “winner-take-all” rules in all but two states that has sustained the American two-party system.  Without it, our general election candidates would likely proliferate as the disincentive against candidates that couldn’t win full states is lifted.

Though there are good arguments for the need for a third party, a splintered system would allow a president to win with fewer and fewer votes.  Keep in mind that Bill Clinton won in 1992 with 57 percent of the voters pulling levers for another candidate in that year’s three-way race.  Would we find it acceptable if a president won just 35 percent in a four way race? How uncivil would our politics become when candidates could win the presidency by appealing only to the one third of voters who agree with them the most?  What policies would our candidates propose if they did not have to appeal to swing voters or members of the other party?

Where it is true that the current system offers a very slight electoral bonus to the citizens of states with smaller populations, the alternative system would drown those same citizens and their interests under an avalanche of votes and money from our major urban areas.  If all a candidate had to do was win one more vote than his opponent, what candidate would ever again visit the Iowa Fair? Who would talk to the coal miners of West Virginia? Who would seek out the rural farmers of Colorado or the small town restaurant owners in Las Cruces, New Mexico?

If all a candidate had to do was win one more vote than her opponent, candidates could not afford to travel to rural areas and listen to rural concerns.  All voters being considered equal, there are just too few votes in small town North Carolina to justify the time and policy considerations.  A much more efficient use of resources would be to target major urban centers where huge campaign cash could be raised from the elite just blocks away from massive rallies at the convention center which is just a few more blocks away from the television and radio stations that command the airwaves across the nation.  A week on the road to a dozen small towns couldn’t match the punch of a single evening in New York City.

Would such a change matter? With the centralization of American government in the administrative state under the modern American presidency, our chief executives are effectively making law, limiting the power of the representatives in Congress to make the rules we live by. If presidents lose the incentive to listen to small town voices and rural voters, who will protect their liberty interests during the rule-making process of the modern state?

A simple glance at the county-by-county electoral map from the last few presidential elections tells the tale of cultural, political, and economic divisions in the country.  Most telling is the map from 2000 that shows how Al Gore was able to win the national popular vote by racking up large majorities in urban areas and border and coastal counties while he could fly from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles without flying over a county he won through the heartland.  Rural interests are fundamentally different than those of the major cities and without the Electoral College, America between LA and  New York would become mere “flyover country” in our politics as it often seems to be treated by our Hollywood and media personalities.

The abolition of the Electoral College would result in a severe tilting of the American political system to the left. Being able to win the presidency simply by focusing on maximizing turnout in major population centers, the Democratic party would have every incentive to create its platform, craft its message, and adapt its policies to appeal to maximizing base voter turnout in cities. In such a system, what would be the future of the welfare state? How would tax rates, energy policy, and the activities of ATF change? Imagine the presidency of a community organizer from Chicago in an electoral system where he didn’t have to visit or care about the views of voters in Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico, the panhandle of Florida, or Washington County, Pennsylvania.

Without the need for candidates to listen to rural voters, appalachian coal miners, small town ministers, cattle farmers, Pennsylvania hunters, or New Mexican restauranteurs, who will represent their liberty interests in the administrative state? Knowing the cultural and political divisions within the country, what candidate would risk associating herself with country people and small-town concerns if doing such might turn off blocks of voters in the urban core?

The Electoral College serves the American Constitutional system by balancing the political incentives of the class  of politicos seeking the presidency and the priorities of the ever more centralized administrative state.  Candidates today visit large cities and small towns.  They know they need to appeal both to urban voters in swing states and rural voters in the battlegrounds.  This system creates a relatively level playing field where various political, cultural, and economic interests in the nation can compete and where different liberty interests can find a level of respect and representation among the parties and candidates and then within the administrations of the winners.

Our electoral system is not perfect but there is no more perfect method that has been put forward and the system has served America for more than two centuries.  It’s opponents have a simple vision with simple slogans, but liberty, as our founders understood, is not served well by simplicity.  Before its too late, we should think long and hard about the political, policy, economic, and social consequences of abolishing the Electoral College. The liberty of millions of Americans may well be held in the balance.

Gary L. Gregg II holds the Mitch McConnell Chair in Leadership at the University of Louisville and is author or editor of numerous books including Vital Remnants: America’s Founding and the Western Tradition.

About the Author

Comments

  1. Jardinero1 says

    Your arguments, while persuasive, overlook one fact, that “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.” You state that that this is occurring without national debate, but no national debate is required for the appointment of electors. Still, this is being debated, at the state level, in the legislatures and the assemblies, where the Constitution says it should be decided.

    The upside to a change in the election process being cobbled together by states, comprising a mere 270 electoral votes, is that it can be just as readily be un-cobbled if one or more of those states comprising the 270 then decide to opt out.

    • Gary Gregg says

      Thanks for the good comments JardineroI. You are right on the constitutionality of the states doing the NPV plan. My problem is that it is being done without a real debate. Even though it was submitted in the Kentucky legislature, I have never spoken to a single group where anyone in the room had heard of it. Its just not being seriously debated and discussed and so all sides are not heard. It has passed in deep blue states only so far. And, you are right that they can be “undone” later. But, better to stop bad things from happening than to fix them after they do. Thanks for the comments.

      • oldgulph says

        Most Americans don’t care whether their presidential candidate wins or loses in their state. . . they care whether he/she wins the White House. Voters want to know, that even if they were on the losing side, their vote actually was directly and equally counted and mattered to their candidate. Most Americans think it’s wrong for the candidate with the most popular votes to lose. We don’t allow this in any other election in our representative republic.

        In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support for a national popular vote is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in virtually every state surveyed in recent polls in closely divided Battleground states: CO – 68%, FL – 78%, IA 75%, MI – 73%, MO – 70%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM– 76%, NC – 74%, OH – 70%, PA – 78%, VA – 74%, and WI – 71%; in Small states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE – 75%, ID – 77%, ME – 77%, MT – 72%, NE 74%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM – 76%, OK – 81%, RI – 74%, SD – 71%, UT – 70%, VT – 75%, WV – 81%, and WY – 69%; in Southern and Border states: AR – 80%,, KY- 80%, MS – 77%, MO – 70%, NC – 74%, OK – 81%, SC – 71%, TN – 83%, VA – 74%, and WV – 81%; and in other states polled: AZ – 67%, CA – 70%, CT – 74%, MA – 73%, MN – 75%, NY – 79%, OR – 76%, and WA – 77%.

        More than 2,110 state legislators (in 50 states) have sponsored and/or cast recorded votes in favor of the National Popular Vote bill.

        The National Popular Vote bill has been debated and passed in 31 state legislative chambers, in 21 states.

        NationalPopularVote

  2. Pecuniary Matters says

    “Being able to win the presidency simply by focusing on maximizing turnout in major population centers, the Democratic party would have every incentive to create its platform, craft its message, and adapt its policies to appeal to maximizing base voter turnout in cities. ”

    The Democratic party would do all that, plus could commit the massive voter fraud it routinely practices. By fixing the number of electors in advance the EC serves as a “fraud firewall” to limit the effect of shenanigans to one state, rather than having a suffrage of the dead, voting for dollars and vote early and often schemes that are routinely practiced in places like Cook County negate legitimate votes cast elsewhere.

  3. oldgulph says

    The current state-by-state winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but since enacted by 48 states), ensures that the candidates, after the conventions, will not reach out to about 76% of the states and their voters. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or care about the voter concerns in the dozens of states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind.

    Presidential candidates concentrate their attention on only a handful of closely divided “battleground” states and their voters. There is no incentive for them to bother to care about the majority of states where they are hopelessly behind or safely ahead to win. 9 of the original 13 states are considered “fly-over” now. In the 2012 election, pundits and campaign operatives agree, that, at most, only 12 states and their voters will matter. They will decide the election. None of the 10 most rural states will matter, as usual. About 76% of the country will be ignored –including 19 of the 22 lowest population and medium-small states, and 17 medium and big states like CA, GA, NY, and TX. This will be more obscene than the 2008 campaign, when candidates concentrated over 2/3rds of their campaign events and ad money in just 6 states, and 98% in just 15 states (CO, FL, IN, IA, MI, MN, MO, NV, NH, NM, NC, OH, PA, VA, and WI). Over half (57%) of the events were in just 4 states (OH, FL, PA, and VA). In 2004, candidates concentrated over 2/3rds of their money and campaign visits in 5 states; over 80% in 9 states; and over 99% of their money in 16 states.

    More than 2/3rds of the states and people have been merely spectators to presidential elections. They have no influence. That’s more than 85 million voters, 200 million Americans, ignored. When and where voters are ignored, then so are the issues they care about most.

    The number and population of battleground states is shrinking as the U.S. population grows.
    As of March 10th, some pundits think there will be only Six States That Will Likely Decide The 2012 Election
    http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/the-six-states-that-will-likely-decide-the-2012-election/

    “The presidential campaigns and their allies are zeroing in mainly on nine swing states, bombarding them with commercials in the earliest concentration of advertising in modern politics. “
    “no recent general election advertising strategy has covered so little ground so early. In the spring of 2000, George W. Bush and Al Gore fought an air war in close to 20 states. In early 2004, there were the “Swing Seventeen.” And in 2008, the Obama campaign included 18 states in its June advertising offensive, its first of the general election.”
    “The fall promises to bring wall-to-wall advertising” in the handful of swing states remaining.
    “With so many resources focused on persuading an ever-shrinking pool of swing voters . . the 2012 election is likely to go down in history as the one in which the most money was spent reaching the fewest people.”
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/08/us/politics/9-swing-states-are-main-focus-of-ad-blitz.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

    Policies important to the citizens of ‘flyover’ states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.

  4. oldgulph says

    With National Popular Vote, big cities would not get all of candidates’ attention, much less control the outcome.
    The population of the top five cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia) is only 6% of the population of the United States and the population of the top 50 cities (going as far down as Arlington, TX) is only 19% of the population of the United States.
    Suburbs and exurbs often vote Republican.

    If big cities controlled the outcome of elections, the governors and U.S. Senators would be Democratic in virtually every state with a significant city.

    A nationwide presidential campaign, with every vote equal, would be run the way presidential candidates campaign to win the electoral votes of closely divided battleground states, such as Ohio and Florida, under the state-by-state winner-take-all methods. The big cities in those battleground states do not receive all the attention, much less control the outcome. Cleveland and Miami do not receive all the attention or control the outcome in Ohio and Florida.

    The itineraries of presidential candidates in battleground states (and their allocation of other campaign resources in battleground states) reflect the political reality that every gubernatorial or senatorial candidate knows. When and where every vote is equal, a campaign must be run everywhere.

    With National Popular Vote, when every vote is equal, everywhere, it makes sense for presidential candidates to try and elevate their votes where they are and aren’t so well liked. But, under the state-by-state winner-take-all laws, it makes no sense for a Democrat to try and do that in Vermont or Wyoming, or for a Republican to try it in Wyoming or Vermont.

    Even in California state-wide elections, candidates for governor or U.S. Senate don’t campaign just in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and those places don’t control the outcome (otherwise California wouldn’t have recently had Republican governors Reagan, Dukemejian, Wilson, and Schwarzenegger). A vote in rural Alpine county is just an important as a vote in Los Angeles. If Los Angeles cannot control statewide elections in California, it can hardly control a nationwide election.

    In fact, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland together cannot control a statewide election in California.

    Similarly, Republicans dominate Texas politics without carrying big cities such as Dallas and Houston.

    There are numerous other examples of Republicans who won races for governor and U.S. Senator in other states that have big cities (e.g., New York, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts) without ever carrying the big cities of their respective states.

    The main media at the moment, TV, costs much more per impression in big cities than in smaller towns and rural area. Candidates get more bang for the buck in smaller towns and rural areas.

    In the 2012 campaign, so far, “Much of the heaviest spending has not been in big cities with large and expensive media markets, but in small and medium-size metropolitan areas in states with little individual weight in the Electoral College: Cedar Rapids and Des Moines in Iowa (6 votes); Colorado Springs and Grand Junction in Colorado (9 votes); Norfolk and Richmond in Virginia (13 votes). Since the beginning of April, four-fifths of the ads that favored or opposed a presidential candidate have been in television markets of modest size.”
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/08/us/politics/9-swing-states-are-main-focus-of-ad-blitz.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

    Candidates would need to build a winning coalition across demographics. Any candidate who ignored, for example, the 16% of Americans who live in rural areas in favor of a “big city” approach would not likely win the national popular vote. Candidates would have to appeal to a broad range of demographics, and perhaps even more so, because the election wouldn’t be capable of coming down to just one demographic, such as soccer mom voters in Ohio.

  5. oldgulph says

    The current state-by-state winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes maximizes the incentive and opportunity for fraud and voter suppression. A very few people can change the national outcome by adding, changing, or suppressing a small number of votes in one closely divided battleground state. With the current system all of a state’s electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who receives a bare plurality of the votes in each state. The sheer magnitude of the national popular vote number, compared to individual state vote totals, is much more robust against manipulation.

    National Popular Vote would limit the benefits to be gained by fraud or voter suppression. One suppressed vote would be one less vote. One fraudulent vote would only win one vote in the return. In the current electoral system, one fraudulent vote could mean 55 electoral votes, or just enough electoral votes to win the presidency without having the most popular votes in the country.

    The closest popular-vote election in American history (in 1960), had a nationwide margin of more than 100,000 popular votes. The closest electoral-vote election in American history (in 2000) was determined by 537 votes, all in one state, when there was a lead of 537,179 (1,000 times more) popular votes nationwide.

    For a national popular vote election to be as easy to switch as 2000, it would have to be two hundred times closer than the 1960 election–and, in popular-vote terms, forty times closer than 2000 itself.

    Which system offers voter suppressors or fraudulent voters a better shot at success for a smaller effort?

  6. oldgulph says

    The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC), without needing to amend the Constitution.

    The National Popular Vote bill would change existing state winner-take-all laws that award all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who get the most popular votes in each separate state (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but since enacted by 48 states), to a system guaranteeing the majority of Electoral College votes for, and the Presidency to, the candidate getting the most popular votes in the entire United States.

    The National Popular Vote bill preserves the constitutionally mandated Electoral College and state control of elections. It ensures that every vote is equal, every voter will matter, in every state, in every presidential election, and the candidate with the most votes wins, as in virtually every other election in the country.

    The presidential election system that we have today was not designed, anticipated, or favored by the Founding Fathers but, instead, is the product of decades of evolutionary change precipitated by the emergence of political parties and enactment by 48 states of winner-take-all laws, not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution.

    The Electoral College is now the set of dedicated party activists, who vote as rubberstamps for presidential candidates. In the current presidential election system, 48 states award all of their electors to the winners of their state. This is not what the Founding Fathers intended.

    The Founding Fathers in the Constitution did not require states to allow their citizens to vote for president, much less award all their electoral votes based upon the vote of their citizens.

    The presidential election system we have today is not in the Constitution. State-by-state winner-take-all laws to award Electoral College votes, were eventually enacted by states, using their exclusive power to do so, AFTER the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution. Now our current system can be changed by state laws again.

    Unable to agree on any particular method for selecting presidential electors, the Founding Fathers left the choice of method exclusively to the states in section 1 of Article II of the U.S. Constitution– “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors . . .” The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the state legislatures over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as “plenary” and “exclusive.”

    The constitution does not prohibit any of the methods that were debated and rejected. Indeed, a majority of the states appointed their presidential electors using two of the rejected methods in the nation’s first presidential election in 1789 (i.e., appointment by the legislature and by the governor and his cabinet). Presidential electors were appointed by state legislatures for almost a century.

    Neither of the two most important features of the current system of electing the President (namely, universal suffrage, and the 48 state-by-state winner-take-all method) are in the U.S. Constitution. Neither was the choice of the Founders when they went back to their states to organize the nation’s first presidential election.

    In 1789, in the nation’s first election, the people had no vote for President in most states, only men who owned a substantial amount of property could vote, and only three states used the state-by-state winner-take-all method to award electoral votes.

    The current 48 state-by-state winner-take-all method (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in a particular state) is not entitled to any special deference based on history or the historical meaning of the words in the U.S. Constitution. It is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, the debates of the Constitutional Convention, or the Federalist Papers. The actions taken by the Founding Fathers make it clear that they never gave their imprimatur to the winner-take-all method.

    The constitutional wording does not encourage, discourage, require, or prohibit the use of any particular method for awarding the state’s electoral votes.

    As a result of changes in state laws enacted since 1789, the people have the right to vote for presidential electors in 100% of the states, there are no property requirements for voting in any state, and the state-by-state winner-take-all method is used by 48 of the 50 states. States can, and frequently have, changed their method of awarding electoral votes over the years.

  7. oldgulph says

    With the Electoral College and federalism, the Founding Fathers meant to empower the states to pursue their own interests within the confines of the Constitution. The National Popular Vote is an exercise of that power, not an attack upon it.

    The Electoral College is now the set of dedicated party activists who vote as rubberstamps for their party’s presidential candidate. That is not what the Founders intended.

    The National Popular Vote bill preserves the Electoral College and state control of elections. It changes the way electoral votes are awarded in the Electoral College.

    The current state-by-state winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but since enacted by 48 states), under which all of a state’s electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state, ensures that the candidates, after the conventions, in 2012 will not reach out to about 76% of the states and their voters. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or care about the voter concerns in the dozens of states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind.

    More than 2/3rds of the states and people have been just spectators to the presidential elections. That’s more than 85 million voters.

    Policies important to the citizens of ‘flyover’ states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.

    States have the responsibility and power to make all of their voters relevant in every presidential election and beyond.

    Unable to agree on any particular method, the Founding Fathers left the choice of method for selecting presidential electors exclusively to the states by adopting the language contained in section 1 of Article II of the U.S. Constitution– “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors . . .” The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the state legislatures over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as “plenary” and “exclusive.”

    Federalism concerns the allocation of power between state governments and the national government. The National Popular Vote bill concerns how votes are tallied, not how much power state governments possess relative to the national government. The powers of state governments are neither increased nor decreased based on whether presidential electors are selected along the state boundary lines, or national lines (as with the National Popular Vote).

  8. oldgulph says

    The idea that recounts will be likely and messy with National Popular Vote is distracting.

    The 2000 presidential election was an artificial crisis created because of Bush’s lead of 537 popular votes in Florida. Gore’s nationwide lead was 537,179 popular votes (1,000 times larger). Given the miniscule number of votes that are changed by a typical statewide recount (averaging only 274 votes); no one would have requested a recount or disputed the results in 2000 if the national popular vote had controlled the outcome. Indeed, no one (except perhaps almanac writers and trivia buffs) would have cared that one of the candidates happened to have a 537-vote margin in Florida.

    Recounts are far more likely in the current system of state-by-state winner-take-all methods.

    The possibility of recounts should not even be a consideration in debating the merits of a national popular vote. No one has ever suggested that the possibility of a recount constitutes a valid reason why state governors or U.S. Senators, for example, should not be elected by a popular vote.

    The question of recounts comes to mind in connection with presidential elections only because the current system so frequently creates artificial crises and unnecessary disputes.

    We do and would vote state by state. Each state manages its own election and is prepared to conduct a recount.

    The state-by-state winner-take-all system is not a firewall, but instead causes unnecessary fires.

    Given that there is a recount only once in about 160 statewide elections, and given there is a presidential election once every four years, one would expect a recount about once in 640 years with the National Popular Vote. The actual probability of a close national election would be even less than that because recounts are less likely with larger pools of votes.

    The average change in the margin of victory as a result of a statewide recount was a mere 296 votes in a 10-year study of 2,884 elections.

    No recount would have been warranted in any of the nation’s 56 previous presidential elections if the outcome had been based on the nationwide count.

    The common nationwide date for meeting of the Electoral College has been set by federal law as the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December. With both the current system and the National Popular Vote, all counting, recounting, and judicial proceedings must be conducted so as to reach a “final determination” prior to the meeting of the Electoral College. In particular, the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that the states are expected to make their “final determination” six days before the Electoral College meets.

  9. oldgulph says

    With National Popular Vote, when every vote counts equally, successful candidates will find a middle ground of policies appealing to the wide mainstream of America. Instead of playing mostly to local concerns in Ohio and Florida, candidates finally would have to form broader platforms for broad national support. Elections wouldn’t be about winning a handful of battleground states.

    Now political clout comes from being among the handful of battleground states. More than 2/3rds of states and voters are ignored.

    Now with state-by-state winner-take-all laws (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but since enacted by 48 states), presidential elections ignore 12 of the 13 lowest population states (3-4 electoral votes), that are non-competitive in presidential elections. 6 regularly vote Republican (AK, ID, MT, WY, ND, and SD), and 6 regularly vote Democratic (RI, DE, HI, VT, ME, and DC) in presidential elections. Voters in states that are reliably red or blue don’t matter. Candidates ignore those states and the issues they care about most.

    Support for a national popular vote is strong in every smallest state surveyed in recent polls among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group. Support in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK -70%, DC -76%, DE –75%, ID -77%, ME – 77%, MT- 72%, NE – 74%, NH–69%, NE – 72%, NM – 76%, RI – 74%, SD- 71%, UT- 70%, VT – 75%, WV- 81%, and WY- 69%.

    In the lowest population states, the National Popular Vote bill has passed in nine state legislative chambers, and been enacted by 3 jurisdictions.

    Of the 25 smallest states (with a total of 155 electoral votes) 18 received no attention at all from presidential campaigns after the conventions. Of the seven smallest states with any post-convention visits, Only 4 of the smallest states – NH (12 events), NM (8), NV (12), and IA (7) – got the outsized attention of 39 of the 43 total events in the 25 smallest states. In contrast, Ohio (with only 20 electoral votes) was lavishly wooed with 62 of the total 300 post-convention campaign events in the whole country.

    In the 25 smallest states in 2008, the Democratic and Republican popular vote was almost tied (9.9 million versus 9.8 million), as was the electoral vote (57 versus 58).

    With the current state-by-state winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes, it could only take winning a bare plurality of popular votes in the 11 most populous states, containing 56% of the population of the United States, for a candidate to win the Presidency with a mere 26% of the nation’s votes!

  10. oldgulph says

    After more than 10,000 statewide elections in the past two hundred years, there is no evidence of any tendency toward a massive proliferation of third-party candidates in elections in which the winner is simply the candidate receiving the most votes throughout the entire jurisdiction served by the office. No such tendency has emerged in other jurisdictions, such as congressional districts or state legislative districts. There is no evidence or reason to expect the emergence of some unique new political dynamic that would promote multiple candidacies if the President were elected in the same manner as every other elected official in the United States.

    Based on historical evidence, there is far more fragmentation of the vote under the current state-by-state system of electing the President than in elections in which the winner is simply the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the jurisdiction involved.

    Under the current state-by-state system of electing the President (in which the candidate who receives a plurality of the popular vote wins all of the state’s electoral votes), minor-party candidates have significantly affected the outcome in six (40%) of the 15 presidential elections in the past 60 years (namely the 1948, 1968, 1980, 1992, 1996, and 2000 presidential elections). The reason that the current system has encouraged so many minor-party candidates and so much fragmentation of the vote is that a presidential candidate with no hope of winning a plurality of the votes nationwide has 51 separate opportunities to shop around for particular states where he can affect electoral votes or where he might win outright. Thus, under the current system, segregationists such as Strom Thurmond (1948) or George Wallace (1968) won electoral votes in numerous Southern states, although they had no chance of receiving the most popular votes nationwide. In addition, candidates such as John Anderson (1980), Ross Perot (1992 and 1996), and Ralph Nader (2000) did not win a plurality of the popular vote in any state, but managed to affect the outcome by switching electoral votes in numerous particular states.

    If an Electoral College type of arrangement were essential for avoiding a proliferation of candidates and people being elected with low percentages of the vote, we should see evidence of these conjectured apocalyptic outcomes in elections that do not employ such an arrangement. In elections in which the winner is the candidate receiving the most votes throughout the entire jurisdiction served by that office, historical evidence shows that there is no massive proliferation of third-party candidates and candidates do not win with small percentages. For example, in 905 elections for governor in the last 60 years, the winning candidate received more than 50% of the vote in over 91% of the elections. The winning candidate received more than 45% of the vote in 98% of the elections. The winning candidate received more than 40% of the vote in 99% of the elections. No winning candidate received less than 35% of the popular vote.

    Since 1824 there have been 16 presidential elections in which a candidate was elected or reelected without gaining a majority of the popular vote.– including Lincoln (1860), Wilson (1912, and 1916), Truman (1948), Kennedy (1960), Nixon (1968), and Clinton (1992 and 1996).

  11. oldgulph says

    None of the 10 most rural states (VT, ME, WV, MS, SD, AR, MT, ND, AL, and KY) is a battleground state.
    The current state-by-state winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes does not enhance the influence of rural states, because the most rural states are not battleground states, and they are ignored.

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