Tuesday, December 6, 2011

National Popular Vote Is a Bad Idea

National Popular Vote Is a Bad Idea
By Phyllis Schlafly

Moving quietly under the cover of the presidential debates and the enormous publicity given to the Republican nomination race is a plan to change how U.S. presidents are elected. It would bypass the procedure spelled out in the U.S. Constitution, which has been used successfully for over two centuries.

The Constitution prescribes how we elect our presidents. It is a mirror image of the Great Compromise. Designed by the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the Great Compromise brought together the large and small states by means of a national Congress, with the House of Representatives based on population and the Senate based on state sovereignty.

Likewise, when the presidential electors meet in gatherings known as the Electoral College, each state's vote is equal to the sum of its House and Senate representation in Congress. Our Founding Fathers understood that America is a nation of both "we the people" and a federal system of states, so it allows all states, regardless of size, to be players in electing our president.

The plan to change this system is called the National Popular Vote. It obviously has a lot of money behind it because it is sending highly paid lobbyists around the country to persuade state legislatures to adopt the NPV plan.

NPV is an attempt to achieve the longtime liberal goal of getting rid of the Electoral College. Instead of proposing an amendment that would first need to be passed by Congress and then ratified by three-fourths of the states (38), NPV is a scheme to deviously bypass the grand design of our U.S. Constitution.

NPV lobbyists are trying to get state legislatures to enact identical bills requiring their own state's presidential electors to ignore the winner of their state's presidential election. Instead, all their state's votes go towards the candidate whom the politicians estimate received the most popular votes nationwide. That candidate would not need a majority or any certain threshold--just more votes than any other candidate (i.e., a plurality).

The NPV campaign lets people believe that NPV will elect presidents who win the majority of popular votes, but that is false. Because of third parties, we've had many elections (including three of the last five) when no presidential candidate received a popular-vote majority. Abraham Lincoln won with less than 40 percent of the popular vote, and only by our Electoral College system was he elected president.

If the NPV lobbyists can get enough states whose votes in the Electoral College total at least 270, they will be able to steal votes away from some candidates, transfer those votes to another candidate and thereby construct a fake majority in the Electoral College. Eight states and the District of Columbia (with 132 electoral votes; half of the 270 needed) have already joined this NPV "compact" to "activate" NPV: Vermont 3, Maryland 10, Washington 12, Illinois 20, New Jersey 14, District of Columbia 3, Massachusetts 11, California 55 and Hawaii 4.

The NPV slogan "Every Vote Equal" is dishonest because the NPV proposal is based on legalizing vote-stealing. For example, Texas or Louisiana could be forced to cast its votes for a candidate who won more votes in other states, such as New York.

If NPV had been in effect in the year 2000, Al Gore would have become president instead of George W. Bush because Gore received more votes than Bush. It's a mystery how any Republican could support NPV, and it's no surprise that the Republican National Committee voted unanimously to oppose NPV because members saw it as unconstitutional and unworkable.

Remember our national trauma as we suffered through recounts in Florida where the margin between Bush and Gore was only about 500 votes? If the election is based on the national popular vote and it's close, NPV would induce recounts in many or most of the 50 states.

Mexico uses a national popular vote system, and it's a good illustration of why we don't want it here. In Mexico's last presidential election, the candidate with the "most votes" received 35.89 percent, while his closest rival got 35.31 percent -- a margin of just one-half of one percent. In the months that followed, Mexico was on the verge of civil war as the runner-up held mass rallies attracting millions of his angry supporters.

People who pretend that the Electoral College system is undemocratic are not only ignorant of the history and purposes of the U.S. Constitution, but they probably don't even understand baseball. Basing the election on a plurality of the popular vote while ignoring the states would be like the New York Yankees claiming they won the 1960 World Series because they outscored the Pirates in runs 55-27 and in hits 91-60. Yet, the Pirates fairly won that World Series, 4 games to 3, and no one challenges their victory.

To read another article by Phyllis Schlafly, click here.


Anonymous said...

The Electoral College is now the set of dedicated party activists who vote as rubberstamps for presidential candidates. In the current presidential election system, 48 states award all of their electors to the winners of their state.

The Founding Fathers in the Constitution did not require states to allow their citizens to vote for president, much less award all their electoral votes based upon the vote of their citizens.

The presidential election system we have today is not in the Constitution, and enacting National Popular Vote would not need an amendment. State-by-state winner-take-all laws to award Electoral College votes, were eventually enacted by states, using their exclusive power to do so, AFTER the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution. Now our current system can be changed by state laws again.

Unable to agree on any particular method for selecting presidential electors, the Founding Fathers left the choice of method exclusively to the states 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.”

The constitution does not prohibit any of the methods that were debated and rejected. Indeed, a majority of the states appointed their presidential electors using two of the rejected methods in the nation’s first presidential election in 1789 (i.e., appointment by the legislature and by the governor and his cabinet). Presidential electors were appointed by state legislatures for almost a century.

Neither of the two most important features of the current system of electing the President (namely, universal suffrage, and the 48 state-by-state winner-take-all method) are in the U.S. Constitution. Neither was the choice of the Founders when they went back to their states to organize the nation’s first presidential election.

In 1789, in the nation’s first election, the people had no vote for President in most states, only men who owned a substantial amount of property could vote, and only three states used the state-by-state winner-take-all method to award electoral votes.

The current 48 state-by-state winner-take-all method (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in a particular state) is not entitled to any special deference based on history or the historical meaning of the words in the U.S. Constitution. It is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, the debates of the Constitutional Convention, or the Federalist Papers. The actions taken by the Founding Fathers make it clear that they never gave their imprimatur to the winner-take-all method.

The constitutional wording does not encourage, discourage, require, or prohibit the use of any particular method for awarding the state’s electoral votes.

As a result of changes in state laws enacted since 1789, the people have the right to vote for presidential electors in 100% of the states, there are no property requirements for voting in any state, and the state-by-state winner-take-all method is used by 48 of the 50 states. States can, and frequently have, changed their method of awarding electoral votes over the years. Maine and Nebraska do not use the winner-take-all method– a reminder that an amendment to the U.S. Constitution is not required to change the way the President is elected.

The normal process of effecting change in the method of electing the President is specified in the U.S. Constitution, namely action by the state legislatures. This is how the current system was created, and this is the built-in method that the Constitution provides for making changes. The abnormal process is to go outside the Constitution, and amend it.

Anonymous said...

With the Electoral College, and federalism, the Founding Fathers meant to empower the states to pursue their own interest within the confines of the Constitution. The National Popular Vote is an exercise of that power, not an attack upon it.

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.

Under National Popular Vote, 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 votes from the enacting states. That majority of electoral 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.

With National Popular Vote, every vote, everywhere would be counted equally for, and directly assist, the candidate for whom it was cast. No votes would be stolen away from some candidates, and transferred to another candidate.

With the current system of electing the President, no state requires that a presidential candidate receive anything more than the most popular votes in order to receive all of the state’s electoral votes.

Not a single legislative bill has been introduced in any state legislature in recent decades (among the more than 100,000 bills that are introduced in every two-year period by the nation’s 7,300 state legislators) proposing to change the existing universal practice of the states to award electoral votes to the candidate who receives a plurality (as opposed to absolute majority) of the votes (statewide or district-wide). There is no evidence of any public sentiment in favor of imposing such a requirement.

Since 1824 there have been 16 presidential elections in which a candidate was elected or reelected without gaining a majority of the popular vote.– including Lincoln (1860), Wilson (1912, and 1916), Truman (1948), Kennedy (1960), Nixon (1968), and Clinton (1992 and 1996).

Anonymous said...

With the current system, it could only take winning a plurality of the popular vote in the 11 most populous states, containing 56% of the population of the United States, for a candidate to win the Presidency — that is, a mere 26% of the nation’s votes.)

With National Popular Vote, candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in the current 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.

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.

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).

Anonymous said...

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

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.

No recount would have been warranted in any of the nation’s 56 previous presidential elections if the outcome had been based on the nationwide count.

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 approach, all counting, recounting, and judicial proceedings must be conducted so as to reach a “final determination” prior to the meeting of the Electoral College.