Monday, June 21, 2010

Lies, Damn Lies, and the National Popular Vote

Some attention is being paid in Delaware to the National Popular Vote, which is being promoted by It has passed the House of Representatives as HB198 and is currently before the Senate Executive Committee. With any luck it will stay there, but between the wall of text comments left on a press release mentioning the bill and the calls placed on behalf of the bill by Advantage Research it is clear that a great deal of money is being spent on a classic example of Groucho Marx political problem solving:

Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.

(UPDATE: HB198 Has passed the Senate Executive Committee.)

Proponents correctly argue that the "Winner Take All" system is ineffective at spreading candidate attention during presidential races, as states such as Delaware are considered "safe" and offer no benefit to the expenditure of limited campaign resources. They offer as a remedy an interstate compact whereby at least as many states as can constitute 270 electoral votes agree to follow the lead of a national popular vote and offer all of their electoral votes to that candidate regardless of their local voting totals.

Since the 2000 election, where the winner of the popular vote lost the electoral vote to a president who proved to be highly controversial, the electoral college has seemed an opaque and anachronistic mechanism for selecting the leader of our nation. In order to understand its value, it is important first to consider the nature of our Constitutional Federal Government.

The Federal Government is an organization created by the original 13 states following the Revolutionary War and the inability of the Articles of Confederation to adequately provide for the prosperity of the newly independent states. The Constitution delegated some of the powers the states held as sovereign entities to the Federal Government, so as to provide for common defense and what was essentially a free trade union. One of the ways the states preserved their independence was by charging their state governments with choosing the electors who would select the president.

The president was never intended to be the powerful leader of the American people he has become today. He was intended to be the Commander in Chief of the military, when under federal authority, but otherwise only to serve as the executive of the laws passed by congress to carry out the Federal Government's limited constitutional responsibilities. Article II, Section 1 empowers state legislatures to select their electors in any manner which they see fit. Proponents of a National Popular Vote assert that the "Winner Take All" system used by many states does not offer any incentive for candidates to campaign in more than a few states, but fail to mention the numerous alternatives to a National Popular Vote which would have a much greater impact on an individual state's influence in presidential elections.

The Constitution guarantees that each state will have a minimum amount of influence in the electoral college based on the minimum number of representatives and senators from that state. In Delaware, this means we control 3/535 or about 0.5% of the electoral college votes but only 885122/309558000 or about 0.28% of the popular vote. I believe that rather than surrendering much of our limited influence on presidential elections by acquiescing to a National Popular Vote, we should instead seek out new and creative ways of exercising the greater influence of our electoral college as an example to other states of our sovereignty and out respect for the intentions of our founding fathers.

Alternatives include proportional representation, county representation, or even the random selection of registered voters to encourage civic participation and engagement with the political processes of the state.

Please contact your senators and inform them of your opposition to HB198 and the National Popular Vote!

Senate Membership


  1. Don't look now, but this bill was voted out of committee on 16 Jun 2010. I believe this means it can come up for a vote in the Senate any time between now and 30 Jun when we will again be safe from the depredations of our benevolent government

  2. The bill will be voted on TODAY. Stay up to date on this issue and learn more about it at

  3. 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.

  4. 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, along district lines (as has been the case in Maine and Nebraska), or national lines.

  5. 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.

  6. The 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.

  7. Like clockwork. You can tell they're copy/pasting too because it's exactly the same information from the previous press release, and exactly the same information from a much older article.

    They do a good job of tearing down Winner Take All, but don't address how the National Popular Vote dilutes the power of state governments. The claim "The National Popular Vote bill concerns how votes are tallied, not how much power state governments possess relative to the national government." is wrong on its face because the National Popular Vote IS the act of surrendering the decision over who the electors will be to a national vote rather than any decision made at the state level. The sovereignty of states (which means more than just their governments' relative power) is directly threatened by this action.

    They also claim poll support, but polls have very little connection to people's feelings on a policy. If a poll does not provide all the alternatives, doesn't explain all the alternatives, or include a question about how important the issue is to the person being polled, a lot of important information is missing from the poll.

    Proportional vote allocation is just one way other than Winner Take All or a National Popular Vote. The advantage of federalism is we can all try a different approach to make our electors count for as much as possible. A National Popular Vote makes our electors count for nothing. Read Federalist #68 for information about how the Founding Fathers viewed the Electoral College:

  8. In the 3 state examples of polling 800 voters each with a second question that specifically emphasized that their state's electoral votes would be awarded to the winner of the national popular vote in all 50 states, not necessarily their state's winner, there was only a 4-8% decrease of support.

    Question 1: "How do you think we should elect the President: Should it be the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states, or the current Electoral College system?"

    Question 2: "Do you think it more important that a state's electoral votes be cast for the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in that state, or is it more important to guarantee that the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states becomes president?"

    Support for a National Popular Vote

    South Dakota -- 75% for Question 1, 67% for Question 2.

    Connecticut -- 74% for Question 1, 68% for Question 2.

    Utah -- 70% for Question 1, 66% for Question 2.

  9. I don't misconceive anything about "force". The National Popular Vote is the states voluntarily surrendering their voice in the Presidential Process. They elect to choose electors with no consideration of their local population and instead thoughtlessly go along with the National Popular Vote. Read Federalist #68. The "popular will" was supposed to be obstructed by the Electoral College to ensure that the president was a thoughtful and honorable person rather than whoever had the biggest cult of personality.

    I agree with you that the Winner Take All system is deeply flawed, but the National Popular Vote is not the solution.

  10. Question 2 is asking to support "Winner Take All", which is indeed flawed. In Question 1, the "current Electoral College system" is not defined in such a way as to impugn the Electoral College itself, just Winner Take All.