Saturday, November 28, 2015

Why we should keep the Electoral College

Writing in today’s Tennessean, a letter writer argues we should abolish the Electoral College. The writer explained that when we vote for president, that we are actually voting for electors who then vote for president. The letter writer opposes the Electoral College but never does explain why we have an Electoral College.

The United States is not a popular democracy but a representative democracy and a republic. The Constitution was designed to be a mixture of state-based and population-based representation. The Electoral College is part of the compromise that made adoption of the Constitution possible. It is part of the fabric that makes us a republic. Without the Electoral College system, a candidate for President could be elected President by appealing only to the interest of the largest urban areas and the rest of the country could be ignored.

The Electoral College is comprised of representatives from each state and each state gets a number of electors equal to their number of Senators and Representatives. Thus, not each person’s vote for president is equal. A vote of a person from a small state counts almost twice as much as the vote of a person from a large state. If this seems unfair, then you should surely be for abolishing the U.S. Senate and being governed just by the House of Representatives alone. In the Senate, each state gets two senators regardless of how small or how large the population of the state. In the House there is a representative for about each 734,000 people. Several states have such low population they only have one representative, yet they have two Senators. If you live in a state with low population, your Senate representation is about fifty times greater than if you live in a state with a large population. Is that fair? To my way of thinking it is because I accept that our federal government is designed to represent the interest of the people as individuals and the states that comprise the Union.

As a less philosophical reason but a more practical reason for supporting the Electoral College, consider what would have happened without the Electoral College during the ballot recount of 2010 in the contest between Gore and Bush? If the president were elected by a popular vote, then every vote cast anywhere in the country would have been equal to any other vote in the country and every vote cast anywhere would have had to have the same scrutiny as the votes cast in Florida. Think what a job and nightmare that would have been.

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  1. A survey of Tennessee voters showed 74% overall support for the idea that the President should be the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states.

    Popular election of the chief executive does not determine whether a government is a republic or democracy.

    Keeping the Electoral College, by state laws, without changing anything in the Constitution, the National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the majority of Electoral College votes, and thus the presidency, to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the country, by replacing state winner-take-all laws for awarding electoral votes in the enacting states.

    Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps of pre-determined outcomes. There would no longer be a handful of 'battleground' states where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in 80% of the states that now are just 'spectators' and ignored after the conventions.

    The National Popular Vote bill would take effect when enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—270 of 538.
    All of the presidential electors from the enacting states will be supporters of the presidential candidate receiving the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC)—thereby guaranteeing that candidate with an Electoral College majority.

    The presidential election system, using the 48 state winner-take-all method or district winner method of awarding electoral votes used by 2 states, that we have today was not designed, anticipated, or favored by the Founding Fathers. It is the product of decades of change precipitated by the emergence of political parties and enactment by states of winner-take-all or district winner laws, not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution.

    The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founders in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for President. States can, and have, changed their method of awarding electoral votes over the years. Historically, major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

    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 every state surveyed recently. In the 41 red, blue, and purple states surveyed, overall support has been in the 67-81% range - in rural states, in small states, in Southern and border states, in big states, and in other states polled.
    Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.

    The bill has passed 33 state legislative chambers in 22 rural, small, medium, large, red, blue, and purple states with 250 electoral votes. The bill has been enacted by 11 jurisdictions with 165 electoral votes – 61% of the 270 necessary to go into effect.

  2. With the current system, Tennessee is politically irrelevant in presidential elections.

    In 2012, more than 99% of presidential campaign attention (ad spending and visits) was invested on voters in just the then only ten competitive states. 38 states were politically irrelevant.There are only expected to be 7 remaining swing states in 2016.

    Issues of importance to non-battleground states are of so little interest to presidential candidates that they don’t even bother to poll them.

    Over 87% of both Romney and Obama campaign offices were in just the then 12 swing states. The few campaign offices in the 38 remaining states were for fund-raising, volunteer phone calls, and arranging travel to battleground states.

    Since World War II, a shift of a few thousand votes in one or two states would have elected the second-place candidate in 4 of the 15 presidential elections

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

    “Battleground” states receive 7% more federal grants than “spectator” states, twice as many presidential disaster declarations, more Superfund enforcement exemptions, and more No Child Left Behind law exemptions.

  3. 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 15% of the population of the United States.
    One-sixth of the U.S. population lives in the top 100 cities, and they voted 63% Democratic in 2004.

    One-sixth lives outside the nation’s Metropolitan Statistical Areas, and rural America voted 60% Republican.

    The remaining four-sixths live in the suburbs, which divide almost exactly equally.

    In a nationwide election for President, candidates would campaign everywhere—big cities, medium-sized cities, and rural areas—in proportion to the number of votes, just as they now do in only the handful of battleground states.

    A nationwide presidential campaign of polling, organizing, ad spending, and visits, with every voter 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. In the 4 states that accounted for over two-thirds of all general-election activity in the 2012 presidential election, rural areas, suburbs, exurbs, and cities all received attention—roughly in proportion to their population.

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

    With National Popular Vote, when every voter 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.

  4. Equal representation of the states in the U.S. Senate is explicitly established in the U.S. Constitution. This feature cannot be changed by state law or an interstate compact.

    In fact, equal representation of the states in the U.S. Senate may not even be amended by an ordinary federal constitutional amendment. Article V of the U.S. Constitution provides:
    “No State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.”

    Thus, this feature of the U.S. Constitution may only be changed by a constitutional amendment approved by unanimous consent of all 50 states.

    In contrast, the U.S. Constitution explicitly assigns the power of selecting the manner of appointing presidential electors to the states. The enactment by a state legislature of the National Popular Vote bill is an exercise of a legislature’s existing powers under the U.S. Constitution.

    In short, enactment of the National Popular Vote compact has no bearing on the federal constitutional provisions establishing equal representation of the states in the U.S. Senate.

  5. 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).

    In 2012, 24 of the nation's 27 smallest states received no attention at all from presidential campaigns after the conventions after Mitt Romney became the presumptive Republican nominee on April 11. They were ignored despite their supposed numerical advantage in the Electoral College. In fact, the 8.6 million eligible voters in Ohio received more campaign ads and campaign visits from the major party campaigns than the 42 million eligible voters in those 27 smallest states combined.

    The 12 smallest states are totally ignored in presidential elections. These states are not ignored because they are small, but because they are not closely divided “battleground” states.

    Now with state-by-state winner-take-all laws (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later 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.

    Similarly, the 25 smallest states have been almost equally noncompetitive. They voted Republican or Democratic 12-13 in 2008 and 2012.

    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

    Among the 13 lowest population states, the National Popular Vote bill has passed in 9 state legislative chambers, and been enacted by 4 jurisdictions.

    Now, the 11 most populous states (with over 270 electoral votes), by themselves, containing 56% of the population of the United States, could determine the Presidency.

  6. The current presidential election system makes a repeat of 2000 more likely. All you need is a thin and contested margin in a single state with enough electoral votes to make a difference. It's much less likely that the national vote will be close enough that voting irregularities in a single area will swing enough net votes to make a difference. If we'd had National Popular Vote in 2000, a recount in Florida would not have been an issue.

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

    No recount, much less a nationwide recount, would have been warranted in any of the nation’s 57 presidential elections if the outcome had been based on the nationwide count.

    The state-by-state winner-take-all system is not a firewall, but instead causes unnecessary fires.
    “It’s an arsonist itching to burn down the whole neighborhood by torching a single house.” Hertzberg

    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 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.

    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.

    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.