Tuesday, April 20, 2010

End Run Around the Constitution for Electing the President

There are changes being contemplated in state legislatures all across the country. There is a popular movement afoot to alter the way in which we choose the President of the United States. Delaware is just one of many states to consider these changes.


Delaware HB 198 would diminish the voice of Delawareans in the selection of the President of the United States. The goals sound reasonable on first glance, but on further examination, the warts start to show. This bill is an attempt to ensure that the nationwide winner of the popular vote could not lose the presidency to someone who got fewer popular votes, but more Electoral College votes. This is what happened in the Bush vs Gore election of 2000.


It accomplishes this by coordinating legislation in the various states to award all their Electoral College votes to whichever candidate wins not the statewide popular vote, but the nationwide popular vote. This is a nationwide movement to get as many individual state legislatures as possible to pass similar bills. Delaware HB 198 is an attempt to circumvent the Constitution without formally amending it. The Electoral College mechanism remains intact, but the states change the way they allocate their votes. Here is the synopsis of the bill from the Delaware Legislature website.


The goal may be appealing, ie. the popular vote determines the winner, but there are a couple of problems. First, even if Delaware votes overwhelmingly for one candidate, all of our Electoral College votes would go to a different candidate if that candidate won the nationwide popular vote. The other problem with the legislation is that candidates would have no incentive to campaign in small states or cater to their interests because their Electoral College votes could be secured by appealing to regions with greater populations. They could promise the people of California, New York, Texas etc. whatever they wanted, even to the detriment of smaller states like Delaware, without jeopardizing their Delaware electoral votes. This disenfranchises small states like Delaware.


As appealing as the idea of popular election of the president sounds, there are elements on both sides of the political spectrum who object to the concept. Here is a blogpost from one of Delaware's more liberal websites. Here is one from a conservative site. What do you know. The spirit of bipartisanship lives.


If you agree with me that this bill mutes the voices of Delawareans in choosing a president, please write your State Representative and State Senator and tell them you do NOT support HB 198.


State Senate Contact Info


State Representative Contact Info



Jess McVay

11 comments:

  1. A more enfranchising way to achieve the same goal would be to use a system of proportional representation in the electoral college rather than winner take all. This would likewise render impossible a situation like in 2000 where one candidate wins the popular vote but not the electoral college vote. This solution would not disenfranchise states with smaller populations, would not result in a unanimous electoral college, and may even allow presidential electors to vote for someone from a 3rd party.

    Worthy goal, there's a better method.

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  2. A survey of 800 Delaware voters conducted on December 21-22, 2008 showed 75% overall support for a national popular vote for President.

    Support was 79% among Democrats, 69% among Republicans, and 76% among independents.

    By age, support was 71% among 18-29 year olds, 70% among 30-45 year olds, 77% among 46-65 year olds, and 77% for those older than 65.

    By gender, support was 81% among women and 69% among men.

    http://nationalpopularvote.com/pages/polls.php#DE_2008DEC

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  3. The current system of electing the president ensures that the candidates do not reach out to all of the states. Presidential candidates concentrate their attention on a handful of closely divided "battleground" states. In 2008, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their campaign events and ad money in just six 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 four states (Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia). In 2004, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their money and campaign visits in five states; over 80% in nine states; and over 99% of their money in 16 states, and candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their money and campaign visits in five states and over 99% of their money in 16 states.
    Two-thirds of the states and people have been merely spectators to the presidential elections.

    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 state-by-state 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.

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  4. 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, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states.

    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 uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for president. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President (for example, ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote) have come about without federal constitutional amendments, by state legislative action.

    The bill is currently endorsed by over 1,707 state legislators (in 48 states) who have sponsored and/or cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.

    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). The recent Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University poll shows 72% support for direct nationwide election of the President. Support for a national popular vote is strong in virtually every state, partisan, and demographic group surveyed in recent polls in closely divided battleground states: Colorado-- 68%, Iowa --75%, Michigan-- 73%, Missouri-- 70%, New Hampshire-- 69%, Nevada-- 72%, New Mexico-- 76%, North Carolina-- 74%, Ohio-- 70%, Pennsylvania -- 78%, Virginia -- 74%, and Wisconsin -- 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): Alaska -- 70%, DC -- 76%, Delaware --75%, Maine -- 77%, Nebraska -- 74%, New Hampshire --69%, Nevada -- 72%, New Mexico -- 76%, Rhode Island -- 74%, and Vermont -- 75%; in Southern and border states: Arkansas --80%, Kentucky -- 80%, Mississippi --77%, Missouri -- 70%, North Carolina -- 74%, and Virginia -- 74%; and in other states polled: California -- 70%, Connecticut -- 74% , Massachusetts -- 73%, Minnesota -- 75%, New York -- 79%, Washington -- 77%, and West Virginia- 81%.

    The National Popular Vote bill has passed 29 state legislative chambers, in 19 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Oregon, and both houses in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, and Washington. These five states possess 61 electoral votes -- 23% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

    See http://www.NationalPopularVote.com

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  5. The small states are the most disadvantaged group of states under the current system of electing the President. Political clout comes from being a closely divided battleground state, not the two-vote bonus.

    12 of the 13 smallest states (3-4 electoral votes) are almost invariably non-competitive, and ignored, in presidential elections. Six regularly vote Republican (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota),, and six regularly vote Democratic (Rhode Island, Delaware, Hawaii, Vermont, Maine, and DC) in presidential elections. So despite the fact that these 12 states together possess 40 electoral votes, because they are not closely divided battleground states, none of these 12 states get visits, advertising or polling or policy considerations by presidential candidates.

    These 12 states together contain 11 million people. Because of the two electoral-vote bonus that each state receives, the 12 non-competitive small states have 40 electoral votes. However, the two-vote bonus is an entirely illusory advantage to the small states. Ohio has 11 million people and has "only" 20 electoral votes. As we all know, the 11 million people in Ohio are the center of attention in presidential campaigns, while the 11 million people in the 12 non-competitive small states are utterly irrelevant. Nationwide election of the President would make each of the voters in the 12 smallest states as important as an Ohio voter.

    Small states recognize they are the most disadvantaged group of states under the current system.

    In the 13 smallest states, the National Popular Vote bill already has been approved by eight state legislative chambers, including one house in Delaware and Maine and both houses in Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermont. It has been enacted by Hawaii.

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  6. The votes of a couple of big states, alone, could not decide an election.

    The 11 most populous states contain 56% of the population of the United States and 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.

    The political reality is that the 11 largest states rarely agree 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 "wasted" 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 "wasted" votes for Bush in 2004.

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  7. I certainly don't dispute a state's right to allocate its electors as it sees fit. I just question whether surrendering the right to choose their electors at all is actually better than choosing for themselves to make the votes of all of their citizens count. We should force candidates to campaign for each electoral vote rather than getting votes representing the dissenters for free. Winner take all and a national popular vote both lead to electors in the electoral college who do not represent their constituents.

    Proportional representation is the way to go.

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  8. To have it your way, you would need to abolish the Electoral College. A federal constitutional amendment favored by states containing 97% of the people of the U.S. could be blocked by states containing 3% of the people.

    The National Popular Vote plan, enacted by states with 270 electoral votes, is much more possible. 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 practical result would be every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states.

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  9. A system in which electoral votes are divided proportionally by state would not accurately reflect the nationwide popular vote and would not make every vote equal.

    Every vote would not be equal under the proportional approach. The proportional approach would perpetuate the inequality of votes among states due to each state's bonus of two electoral votes. It would penalize states, such as Montana, that have only one U.S. Representative even though it has almost three times more population than other small states with one congressman. It would penalize fast-growing states that do not receive any increase in their number of electoral votes until after the next federal census. It would penalize states with high voter turnout (e.g., Utah, Oregon).

    Moreover, the fractional proportional allocation approach does not assure election of the winner of the nationwide popular vote. In 2000, for example, it would have resulted in the election of the second-place candidate.

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  10. The constitution doesn't need to be amended to allow states to allocate their electors proportionally. See Article II. Section I.

    States don't have two "bonus" votes. There is an established minimum. If you want to change that, THEN you need a constitutional amendment.

    The founders established the electoral college to ensure that each state had a minimal level of influence on such an important matter as the presidential elections. This bill, and this movement, explicitly aims to undo that and further degrade the sovereignty of state governments. The 97% have not earned the right to dictate to the 3%.

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  11. The powers of state governments are neither increased nor decreased based on whether presidential electors are selected along the state boundary lines, along district lines (as is currently the case in Maine and Nebraska), or national lines.

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