Wednesday, December 17, 2008

C-J endorses Electoral College

A good editorial in the C-J this morning-- well-reasoned, progressive (in the proper sense of the word-- rare for them), and as it turns out, correct. I often give them a hard time, but need to give credit where credit is due!

In case you missed it, Monday was a big day for Barack Obama. He was elected president of the United States. That's because that was when members of the nation's antiquated Electoral College system cast the real ballots for president and vice president.

And because there is always a possibility of rogue electors who defy the public's will in their states, each presidential election cycle brings renewed calls for direct election of the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote.

One problem:

...in a particularly close election -- and, in recent history, 1960, 1968 and 2000 would have all qualified -- there would have to be national recounts. Those would be a horror in a country this size, complicated by the quilt of different state laws for qualifying voters and counting ballots.

Another-- not mentioned in the article: It changes the dynamics of a race, putting more emphasis on urban areas. And it limits (although it does not eliminate) problems with vote and voter fraud to individual states more than the entire nation.

Two potential reforms:

A more sensible idea is just to award electoral votes automatically, without electors serving as problematic middlemen. Better still, scrap the winner-take-all system used in 48 states in favor of a formula that recognizes differing perspectives within states. Maine and Nebraska award two votes to the statewide winner and one to the victor in each of their U.S. House district.

7 Comments:

At December 17, 2008 at 8:57 PM , Blogger mvymvy said...

The major shortcoming of the current system of electing the President is that presidential candidates concentrate their attention on a handful of closely divided "battleground" states. In 2004 two-thirds of the visits and money were focused in just six states; 88% on 9 states, and 99% of the money went to just 16 states. Two-thirds of the states and people were merely spectators to the presidential election. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or worry about the voter concerns in states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. The reason for this is the winner-take-all rule 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.

Another shortcoming of the current system is that a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide. This has occurred in one of every 14 presidential elections.

In the past six decades, 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 (and, of course, in 2000, did elect) a presidential candidate who lost the popular vote nationwide.

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Every vote would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections.

The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).


The bill is currently endorsed by 1,246 state legislators — 460 sponsors (in 47 states) and an additional 786 legislators who have cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.

The National Popular Vote bill has passed 22 state legislative chambers, including one house in Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, and Washington, and both houses in California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland. These four states possess 50 electoral votes — 19% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

See http://www.NationalPopularVote.com

 
At December 17, 2008 at 8:58 PM , Blogger mvymvy said...

The 11 most populous states contain 56% of the population of the United States and that a candidate would win the Presidency if 100% of the voters in these 11 states voted for one candidate. However, if anyone is concerned about the this theoretical possibility, it should be pointed out that, under the current system, a candidate could win the Presidency by winning a mere 51% of the vote in these same 11 states — that is, a mere 26% of the nation’s votes.

Of course, the political reality is that the 11 largest states rarely act in concert on any political question. In terms of recent presidential elections, the 11 largest states include five “red” states (Texas, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Georgia) and six “blue” states (California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New Jersey). The fact is that the big states are just about as closely divided as the rest of the country. For example, among the four largest states, the two largest Republican states (Texas and Florida) generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Bush, while the two largest Democratic states generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Kerry.

Moreover, the notion that any candidate could win 100% of the vote in one group of states and 0% in another group of states is far-fetched. Indeed, among the 11 most populous states, the highest levels of popular support were found in the following seven non-battleground states:
● Texas (62% Republican),
● New York (59% Democratic),
● Georgia (58% Republican),
● North Carolina (56% Republican),
● Illinois (55% Democratic),
● California (55% Democratic), and
● New Jersey (53% Democratic).

In addition, the margins generated by the nation’s largest states are hardly overwhelming in relation to the 122,000,000 votes cast nationally. Among the 11 most populous states, the highest margins were the following seven non-battleground states:
● Texas — 1,691,267 Republican
● New York — 1,192,436 Democratic
● Georgia — 544,634 Republican
● North Carolina — 426,778 Republican
● Illinois — 513,342 Democratic
● California — 1,023,560 Democratic
● New Jersey — 211,826 Democratic

To put these numbers in perspective, Oklahoma (7 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 455,000 votes for Bush in 2004 — larger than the margin generated by the 9th and 10th largest states, namely New Jersey and North Carolina (each with 15 electoral votes). Utah (5 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 385,000 votes for Bush in 2004.

Under a national popular vote, a Democratic presidential candidate could no longer write off Kansas (with four congressional districts) because it would matter if he lost Kansas with 37% of the vote, versus 35% or 40%. Similarly, a Republican presidential candidate could no longer take Kansas for granted, because it would matter if he won Kansas by 63% or 65% or 60%. A vote gained or lost in Kansas is just as important as a vote gained or lost anywhere else in the United States.

Although no one can predict exactly how a presidential campaign would be run if every vote were equal throughout the United States, it is clear that candidates could not ignore voters in any state. The result of a national popular vote would be a 50-state campaign for President. Any candidate ignoring any particular state would suffer a political penalty in that state.

 
At December 17, 2008 at 8:59 PM , Blogger mvymvy said...

When presidential candidates campaign to win the electoral votes of closely divided battleground states, such as in Ohio and Florida, the big cities in those battleground states do not receive all the attention, much less control the outcome. Cleveland and Miami certainly did not receive all the attention or control the outcome in Ohio and Florida in 2000 and 2004.

Under a national popular vote, every vote is equally important politically. There is nothing special about a vote cast in a big city. When every vote is equal, candidates of both parties know that they must seek out voters in small, medium, and large towns throughout the state in order to win the state. A vote cast in a big city is no more valuable than a vote cast in a small town or rural area.

Another way to look at this is that there are approximately 300 million Americans. 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 is only 19% of the population of the United States. Even if one makes the far-fetched assumption that a candidate won 100% of the votes in the nation’s top five cities, he would only have won 6% of the national vote.

Further evidence of the way a nationwide presidential campaign would be run comes from the way that national advertisers conduct nationwide sales campaigns. National advertisers seek out customers in small, medium, and large towns of every small, medium, and large state. National advertisers do not advertise only in big cities. Instead, they go after every single possible customer, regardless of where the customer is located. National advertisers do not write off Indiana or Illinois merely because their competitor has an 8% lead in sales in those states. And, a national advertiser with an 8%-edge over its competitor does not stop trying to make additional sales in Indiana or Illinois merely because they are in the lead.

 
At December 17, 2008 at 9:00 PM , Blogger mvymvy said...

Dividing a state's electoral votes by congressional district would magnify the worst features of our antiquated Electoral College system of electing the President. What the country needs is a national popular vote to make every person's vote equally important to presidential campaigns.

If the district approach were used nationally, it would less be less fair and accurately reflect the will of the people than the current system. In 2004, Bush won 50.7% of the popular vote, but 59% of the districts. Although Bush lost the national popular vote in 2000, he won 55% of the country's congressional districts.

The district approach would not cause presidential candidates to campaign in a particular state or focus the candidates' attention to issues of concern to the state. Under the winner-take-all rule (whether applied to either districts or states), candidates have no reason to campaign in districts or states where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind. In North Carolina, for example, there are only 2 districts the 13th with a 5% spread and the 2nd with an 8% spread) where the presidential race is competitive. In California, the presidential race is competitive in only 3 of the state's 53 districts. Nationwide, there are only 55 "battleground" districts that are competitive in presidential elections. Under the present deplorable state-level winner-take-all system, two-thirds of the states (including North Carolina and California and Texas) are ignored in presidential elections; however, seven-eighths of the nation's congressional districts would be ignored if the a district-level winner-take-all system were used nationally.

A national popular vote is the way to make every person's vote equal and guarantee that the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states becomes President. The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC). The National Popular Vote bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill is enacted in a group of states possessing 270 or more electoral votes, all of the electoral votes from those states would be awarded, as a bloc, to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC). This would guarantee the White House to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

The National Popular Vote bill has passed 22 state legislative chambers, including one house in Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, and Washington, and both houses in California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland. These four states possess 50 electoral votes — 19% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

See www.NationalPopularVote.com

 
At December 17, 2008 at 9:01 PM , Blogger mvymvy said...

The potential for political fraud and mischief is not uniquely associated with either the current system or a national popular vote. In fact, the current system magnifies the incentive for fraud and mischief in closely divided battleground states because all of a state’s electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who receives a bare plurality of the votes in each state.
Under the current system, the national outcome can be affected by mischief in one of the closely divided battleground states (e.g., by overzealously or selectively purging voter rolls or by placing insufficient or defective voting equipment into the other party’s precincts). The accidental use of the butterfly ballot by a Democratic election official in one county in Florida cost Gore an estimated 6,000 votes ― far more than the 537 popular votes that Gore needed to carry Florida and win the White House. However, even an accident involving 6,000 votes would have been a mere footnote if a nationwide count were used (where Gore’s margin was 537,179). In the 7,645 statewide elections during the 26-year period from 1980 to 2006, the average change in the 23 recounts was a mere 274 votes.

 
At December 17, 2008 at 9:01 PM , Blogger mvymvy said...

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

Under the current system, there are 51 separate vote pools in every presidential election. Thus, our nation’s 55 presidential elections have really been 2,084 separate elections. This is the reason why there have been five seriously disputed counts in the nation’s 55 presidential elections. The 51 separate pools regularly create artificial crises in elections in which the vote is not at all close on a nationwide basis, but close in particular states.

If anyone is genuinely concerned about the possibility of recounts, then a single national pool of votes is the way to drastically reduce the likelihood of recounts and eliminate the artificial crises produced by the current system.

 
At December 17, 2008 at 10:51 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

Thanks very much to my passionate commenter! A few thoughts in response:

-If the federal govt was much smaller in size and scope (back to its constitutional limits), then all of this wouldn't matter nearly as much.

-All of the proposed reforms for the Electoral College are pros/cons, benefit/cost. None of them is a panacea; there are problems with all of them; all have strengths and weaknesses.

-Thanks for the analysis of big states. Two concerns remain: 1.) While not an issue now, it could be in the future-- especially if 2.) campaigning changed as a result of the voter reform.

-I don't see how one can argue against the proposition that a single national recount would be an out-and-out Disaster. Look at the Coleman/Franken debacle or any other close local race or Bush/Gore in 2000.

-If our country is a republic and not a democracy, why is popular vote favored over state-by-state results?

-Do you see winner-take-all (WTA) per congressional district as a net improvement vs. the status quo?

 

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