Tuesday, April 24, 2012

In Defense of the Electoral College

When you vote for president in the general election this November, take a close look at the ballot and you’ll notice a number of names in smaller type below that of the presidential candidates. Those listed in the fine print are the people you are actually voting for, since we do not have direct election for president in the US. In 2004 I had the privilege of serving as a Republican presidential elector when I (and eight others) received 1,102,169 votes on November 2, 2004. A few decades ago, Louisiana voters actually cast votes for individual electors who were grouped by party and the names of the presidential and vice-presidential nominees. A voter could apportion the state’s electoral vote total amongst the various candidates and electors, which is why popular high-profile people were sought by the major political parties to stand as presidential electors. In 1976, a well-known physician on the Republican slate ran ahead of his fellow Gerald Ford electors in Louisiana, though Democrat Jimmy Carter fared well enough to avoid creating a split in the state’s electoral votes. And as mundane and simple as the duties of being a presidential elector are, civics books contain a handful of asterisks denoting the occasions when individuals failed to do the easiest of constitutional tasks. One of the best attributes of the electoral college is its default recognition of the importance of states. In this respect, the electoral college is a monument to federalism. Eradicate the electoral college and a restructured US Senate based upon population instead of sovereign states will not be far behind. Secondly, the electoral college does a better job containing election fraud than national popular vote. For example, tainted votes in say Illinois can at no worse throw that state’s electoral votes to a candidate as opposed to providing the margin of victory via direct election. Thirdly, the electoral college system compels candidates to politically invest in regions instead of just population centers. In direct election, California, Texas, Florida and New York would dominate while Delaware, New Hampshire, Nevada and other small to medium sized swing states would be ignored. The electoral college system also tends to philosophically moderate candidates as they cannot just gin up turnout by playing hard to their respective bases. The electoral college forces candidates to develop and present more of a national message as opposed to a Dallas, San Francisco or Phoenix message. The faithless elector is the electoral college’s greatest weakness, though that same flexibility is also part of the genius of this process (keep reading). Though the late Fox McKeithen had his staff type George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney in the appropriate blank on the official electoral vote ballot, I technically could have objected and written in the name of any American legally qualified to serve as president, though to have done so would have betrayed the wishes of the over one million Louisiana voters who expected to see the state’s electoral votes go to Bush. That is a problem though the remedy would be to enact legislation on the state level that would obligate electors to follow the will of the people. The real genius in the system pertains to a “doomsday” scenario should tragedy befall the winning presidential and/or vice-presidential nominees between the November election and the casting of the electoral votes. In that situation, the death of the president-elect or vice-president-elect would not result in the second-place ticket ascending to the White House but would simply throw the decision to the presidential electors to choose substitutes who reflect the philosophy of those who were elected. This happened in 1872 when Horace Greeley (who was the de facto Democratic candidate against President U.S. Grant) died after the presidential election but before the electoral votes were cast. Though this scenario would hopefully be rare in the future, it would be difficult for a national popular vote system to incorporate such a critical contingency. While Americans take for granted the peaceful transfer of power from one political faction to another (instead we should take great pride in this), laws should be crafted to anticipate the maximum of applications, including dreaded worst case scenarios. Abandoning the electoral college would mean far more than the abolition of a system viewed by critics as political anachronism but a major restructuring of the relationship between the federal government and the states and between presidential candidates and the people.


toto said...

The National Popular Vote bill does not eradicate or abandon the Electoral College. National Popular Vote preserves the constitutionally mandated Electoral College and state control of elections. It changes the way electoral votes are awarded by states in the Electoral College, instead of the current 48 state-by-state winner-take-all system (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but since enacted by 48 states). 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.

Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election. Every vote would be included in the state counts and national count. The candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC would get the 270+ ELECTORAL COLLEGE votes from the enacting states. That majority of ELECTORAL COLLEGE votes guarantees the candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC wins the presidency.

National Popular Vote would give a voice to the minority party voters in each state. Now their votes are counted only for the candidate they did not vote for. Now they don't matter to their candidate.

And now votes, beyond the one needed to get the most votes in the state, for winning in a state are wasted and don't matter to candidates. Utah (5 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 385,000 "wasted" votes for Bush in 2004. 8 small western states, with less than a third of California’s population, provided Bush with a bigger margin (1,283,076) than CA provided Kerry (1,235,659).

With National Popular Vote, every vote, everywhere would be counted equally for, and directly assist, the candidate for whom it was cast.

Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states. The political reality would be that when every vote is equal, the campaign must be run in every part of the country, including Louisiana, for a change.

In the 2012 election, pundits and campaign operatives agree that, at most, only 6-12 states and their voters will matter under the current winner-take-all laws (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in each state) used by 48 of the 50 states. Louisiana will not matter, again. At most, 12 states will determine the election. Candidates will not care about at least 76% of the voters-- voters in 19 of the 22 lowest population and medium-small states, and in 16 medium and big states like CA, GA, NY, and TX. 2012 campaigning could be even more obscenely exclusive than 2008 and 2004. In 2008, 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). 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 85 million voters have been just spectators to the general election.

Now, policies important to the citizens of ‘flyover’ states, like Louisiana (that include 9 of the original 13 states) are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing, too.

The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers in 21 states, and been enacted by 9 jurisdictions with 132 electoral votes - 49% of the 270 needed.


toto said...

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 current system does not provide some kind of check on the "mobs." There have been 22,000 electoral votes cast since presidential elections became competitive (in 1796), and only 10 have been cast for someone other than the candidate nominated by the elector's own political party. The electors now are dedicated party activists of the winning party who meet briefly in mid-December to cast their totally predictable rubberstamped votes in accordance with their pre-announced pledges.

If a Democratic presidential candidate receives the most votes, the state's dedicated Democratic party activists who have been chosen as its slate of electors become the Electoral College voting bloc. If a Republican presidential candidate receives the most votes, the state's dedicated Republican party activists who have been chosen as its slate of electors become the Electoral College voting bloc. The winner of the presidential election is the candidate who collects 270 votes from Electoral College voters from among the winning party's dedicated activists.

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld state laws guaranteeing faithful voting by presidential electors (because the states have plenary power over presidential electors).

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 primaries, 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).

toto said...

National Popular Vote covers a potential death of a winning candidate.

The same presidential electors would be available under the National Popular Vote compact to replace the dead, disabled, or discredited President-Elect as would be available under the current system.

The bill defines “presidential slate” as meaning a slate of two persons, the first of whom has been nominated as a candidate for President of the United States and the second of whom has been nominated as a candidate for Vice President of the United States, or any legal successors to such persons, regardless of whether both names appear on the ballot presented to the voter in a particular state.

toto said...

The current state-by-state winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes maximizes the incentive and opportunity for fraud. A very few people can change the national outcome by changing 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. 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.

Hendrik Hertzberg wrote: "To steal the closest popular-vote election in American history, you'd have to steal more than a hundred thousand votes . . .To steal the closest electoral-vote election in American history, you'd have to steal around 500 votes, all in one state. . . .

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, I ask you, is an easier mark for vote-stealers, the status quo or N.P.V.[National Popular Vote]? Which offers thieves a better shot at success for a smaller effort?"