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National Popular Vote debacle looming

National Popular Vote debacle looming

Several readers have called my attention to the National Popular Vote movement, through which various states would agree to vote their electors as a block based upon the winner of the national popular vote:

Under the U.S. Constitution, the states have exclusive and plenary (complete) power to allocate their electoral votes, and may change their state laws concerning the awarding of their electoral votes at any time. Under the National Popular Vote bill, all of the state’s electoral votes would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. 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).

I am against the NPV initiative.

While states can decide for themselves how their electors are to vote, this initiative — which bypasses the usual constitutional amendment process — has disaster and uncertainty written all over it.  Here are some reasons, in no particular order:

  1. The NPV compact prejudices large population centers over the rest of the country.  One of the beauties of the current system is that it forces candidates to compete nationwide, not just on the coasts and industrial Midwest. This is not a partisan issue.  I think one could make a good argument that the current system usually favors Democrats, because Democrats are guaranteed a large bloc of electoral votes (all of the states which have signed on so far are heavily Democratic).  Nonetheless, our national cohesiveness is served by candidates having to compete in Nevada, Arizona, the Carolinas and elsewhere trying to pick up electoral votes which have more significance than the mere number of votes.  So on the merits, regardless of the procedure, I’m not convinced that the current system is broken and needs fixing.
  2. If successful, the constitution will have been usurped not because states cannot choose this method (they can), but because the method effectively eliminates the electoral system through a voting compact among the states holding an electoral majority rather than through the Congressional vote and the three-fourths of states needed to amend the constitution.  If we want a popular vote (and there are good arguments for and against), then let’s change the constitution to do away with the electoral system, rather than through this tortured hybrid in which states still vote electors but undermine that system through a block voting agreement.
  3. Recounts will be a disaster.  While the advocates say that statistically a recount would be less likely, if such an event took place, the following mess would result: “In event of a tie for the national popular vote winner, the presidential elector certifying official of each member state shall certify the appointment of the elector slate nominated in association with the presidential slate receiving the largest number of popular votes within that official’s own state.”
  4. The NPV compact moves the vote fraud issue nationwide; right now, frankly, vote fraud only matters in swing states, which can be more carefully monitored.  Under the NPV compact, vote fraud anywhere could be a tiebreaker in a close national popular vote.
  5. What is to prevent a state from backing out if it doesn’t like the person elected by the popular vote?  The compact provides as follows:  “Any member state may withdraw from this agreement, except that a withdrawal occurring six months or less before the end of a President’s term shall not become effective until a President or Vice President shall have been qualified to serve the next term.”  How will this agreement be enforced?
  6. This movement has taken place under the radar.  I had not heard about this until recently, even though it apparently has passed the legislature in my home state of Rhode Island.  A constitutional amendment requires a national debate, including a vote in Congress and a super-majority of states.
  7. There is at least superficial national support for a popular vote mechanism according to Gallup, so if the arguments in favor are so strong, proponents should go about it the right way.  But support for a popular vote mechanism is not the same thing as support for the NPV block voting compact.

The League of Women Voters has a guide to other opposing arguments.  The NPV website gives the arguments in favor.

While there are good arguments on either side of the NPV initiative, something about this smells bad.  A multistate block voting agreement is too cute by half, a back door way to accomplish what cannot be accomplished through the constitutional front door.

Before we tinker with the way in which the nation elects a president, and engage in what amounts to an experiment in block electoral voting, we need the type of national debate which has not taken place so far.


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[quote]all of the state’s electoral votes would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia[/quote]

Is this saying that if passed, once a candidate has won the majority of the popular votes in some combination of states who have 270 electoral votes, all the remaining electoral votes in the remaining states would go to that candidate?

If that is what it is saying – why would we do that? What benefit is it? Seems like candidates would ignore all but the high electoral/population states.

    Awing1 in reply to katiejane. | October 24, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    No, it’s saying that the state would be required to assign its electors to whoever wins the national popular vote. So essentially individual voters would matter more, a Republican in New York or a Democrat in Texas would both count as much as their opposed counterparts in the state, but also a voter in Niovara County, Wyoming would count as much as one in Los Angeles County, California.

      katiejane in reply to Awing1. | October 24, 2011 at 4:42 pm

      Please excuse my dense brain today but if the popular vote in my state is for candidate ABC but the national popular vote is for candidate XYZ the elctoral votes from my state would go to candidate XYZ?

      I must not be understanding this.

        Awing1 in reply to katiejane. | October 24, 2011 at 4:46 pm

        Under NPV that’s correct.

        Anon Y. Mous in reply to katiejane. | October 24, 2011 at 5:51 pm

        I must not be understanding this.

        You just have to keep one thing in mind, and it all becomes clear: The people behind this believe in big government; the bigger the better. Therefore, in their eyes, diminishing the power of the individual states is a feature, not a bug.

        Owen J in reply to katiejane. | October 24, 2011 at 5:59 pm

        That is correct if you live in a state that passed NPV. But NPV does not become effective unless states holding at least 270 electoral votes pass it.

        So your vote may or may not actually go to the NPV winner, but if it doesn’t it really doesn’t matter.

That is exactly what would happen, in my view. Many years ago I took an oath to defend the constitution against all enemies, foreign or domestic. At that time the foreign ones outnumbered the domestic, or so it appeared.

Need more clarification :

1. What is the Party affiliation of the person/people who came up with this idea?

2. WHO are these people? (Names please)

3. Are there immediate consequences for November 2012?

Every grassroot activist wants to know…

DINORightMarie | October 24, 2011 at 4:06 pm

I would think Mark Levin and others who are Constitutional watchdogs would sue and ask for an immediate injunction to halt this, should Congress and/or or the states pass such a law, on the grounds that it usurps the US Constitutional process for electing federal representatives.

I agree with you 100%. It would spell the end of our republic, IMHO, by making our voting system a majority-rules democracy – exactly what our Founding Fathers so carefully worked to avoid.

    Actually electors are state representatives, not federal ones (Ray v. Blair, 343 U.S. 214 (1952)), and states may allocate them however they wish.

Sure there is a Gallop Poll that says there is support for a NPV. But how many of the Gallop respondents actually understand this issue?

The whole electoral vote thing is complicated, and Gallop does a big disservice by publishing the results of a “poll” that supports the NPV.

Remember, one-third of the supposedly “informed” electorate doesn’t even know who the Vice President is.


NPV is one man, one vote (unless some other people in some other state disagree with you, in which case shut up.)

    Milwaukee in reply to ThomasD. | October 24, 2011 at 9:12 pm

    Yes, One Man, One Vote. Which I believe is a bad idea. This came about the time of Lucas v. Colorado, in the early 60’s. The problem is that in every state there is a city or two which dominates. They swing state wide races, and the legislature. Those country bumpkins would pit a lid on things. I’m sure there are lots of reasons we’ve been sliding down hill since then, but I’m also sure this hasn’t been carefully examined.

    One-man, one-vote has caused problems. I’m sure population centers in states get more tax dollar than they contribute.

If this were to pass my challenge would be on the grounds that by replacing my vote (and the votes of my fellow Tennesseans) with the aggregated whims of people outside of my State it is a violation of my Constitutional right to a republican form of government.

My vote, cast as per State law, must count, otherwise this nation ceases to be a republic.

    Owen J in reply to ThomasD. | October 24, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    Well, the problem is that it would be according to state law. Republican gov’t is not enshrined in the Constitution in the sense implied — I’m not aware their is anything that says states cannot collude in this way.

    In fact, I think it would take an ammendment to force all the states to assign their electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis according to a statewide election.

      ThomasD in reply to Owen J. | October 24, 2011 at 8:11 pm

      Perhaps you are correct, but could you then explain in what sense is a Republican form of government guaranteed, if not in the sense of a vote counting in the specific manner, instance, and intent for which it was cast?

      This is waaaay beyond hanging chads.

      Because if a ‘vote’ is only a vote so long as it comports with the aggregate results of ‘votes’ cast somewhere else then it is not really a vote now is it?

      We cast our votes, not for candidates, but for electors. If those electors are then to be placed under legal compulsion for actions that are beyond the control of their own voters then they cease to be representative of their own constituency.

        Awing1 in reply to ThomasD. | October 24, 2011 at 9:20 pm

        “Because if a ‘vote’ is only a vote so long as it comports with the aggregate results of ‘votes’ cast somewhere else then it is not really a vote now is it?”

        Are you insane? That’s what every vote is.

        Owen J in reply to ThomasD. | October 25, 2011 at 11:30 am

        “If those electors are then to be placed under legal compulsion for actions that are beyond the control of their own voters then they cease to be representative of their own constituency.”

        Yep — that’s the “faithless elector” problem. But under the constitution, it’s up to the states to deal with the “faithless elector” problem, not the Fed.

        If people don’t like this, they need to change it at their state level. That’s why it’s so important to make people aware of this.

        If voters are ignorant, misinformed, apathetic and/or just plain stupid, the form of gov’t does not mean anything anyway.

        Owen J in reply to ThomasD. | October 25, 2011 at 11:32 am

        To put it another way: the constitution provides no protection from the ignorance and/or virulent stupidity of voters.

The whole point of the electoral college was to allow the small population states some leverage over the larger population states. The way the count of members is made is by taking the amount of members of the House(variable and giving voice to the general population) and adding the number of Senators (giving voice to the States as sovereign entities). Without this balance the small population states will be dis-enfranchised and be made moot in national or Presidential elections. The compromise made during the creation of the Constitution allowed for the handicapping of 2 votes to the small states so they would not be run over by the larger states simply by size of population. Remember, this is supposed to be a Representative Republic with Democratic Principles, not a pure Demos (mob rule).

Hmmm…Let me ponder this for a moment….

If this were in place in time for 2012 election, I would expect the participating states to repeal it promptly afterwards.

In 2012 it is highly conceivable that Obama could carry the states with a large number of electoral votes (NY, CA, et al), maybe by a razor thin margin. On the other hand, the states that gave McCain a large margin the last time (e.g., TX, OK, ID) will vote for his opponent, whomever that may be, by a landslide. It may even by possible that Obama could obtain an electoral college victory despite a popular vote loss.

However, with this compact in place, those participating states (presumably some with a large number of electoral votes) would be obligated to give all of their electoral votes to Obama’s opponent despite that fact that he eked out a win in the state. If DC was one of the participating “states,” it might even be possible that Obama’s opponent could obtain a 538-0 victory in the electoral college!

Although I like the above possibility for 2012 (I live in a state that went 2-1 for McCain in 2008), I still oppose NPV.

The elections that did not follow popular vote are 1876 (Republican Hayes over Dem. Tilden), 1888 (Repub. Harrison over Dem. Cleveland) and 2000 (Repub. Bush over Dem. Gore)– I think I see a partisan movement here. In every case, the elected president won more states than the loser. The 1888 and 2000 elections had a difference in popular vote of under 1% — a virtual dead heat. I hardly think we need to tinker with the system. Woodrow Wilson’s tinkering with election of senators seemed like a good idea at the time, but now we see how this emboldened Washington to become completely unaccountable to the States.

    Milwaukee in reply to Mark30339. | October 24, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    Something like 23 or 24 of the longest serving Senators have been in the Senate since 1916. Leaving the election of the Senators to the state legislature forced some accountability.

    Didn’t the Constitution leave the election of Senators to the States? Seems like that amendment was meddling in States Rights.

I don’t like NPV at all, but I also think the proponents have not thought it through. I think they are stuck in 2000, not realizing how things have changed. (Can I say “stuck on stupid”? )

In addition to the points donb makes, I think right now Republican voting tends to be suppressed in deep Blue states, especially in Calif (where I am), because we think our votes won’t matter. If our guy loses by 55-45 or 50.5-49.5 it’s all the same. So it’s hard to generate enthusiam here and our candidates don’t spend a lot of effort here because it’s just not worth it.

But NPV would mean our votes would give us an incentive to swing the popular vote, and if that happened, we also get the joy of watching the dems either give their votes to our guy or run screaming from their arguments about hos this is such a great idea.

That supposition does not make me support NPV — I don’t think the current system is broken and NPV would not fix it even if it was.

But it would be kinda nice to see them hoist on their own petard.

Number 5 is the inevitable and inexorable deal killer. The first time we have a close election result where one or the other party claims something underhanded took place (“they intimidated black voters” — “they cheated”), some die hard state legislature will change its law, compact or no compact, to award its electoral votes to the state winner. E.g., amidst an apparent GOP narrow victory and charges of the GOP suppressing minority votes (which charges could easily be trumped up), the Democratic legislature and governor of California pass a bill reqiring that the states huge boodle of votes be cast for the Democrat who won California.

I think this is 100 percent predictable.

    Owen J in reply to JEBurke. | October 24, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    I think that certainly is the case, but that also breaks the compact so all the other states in the compact have to change their votes also, so things go back the way it is now.

    What I don’t think can happen is that a cabal of states can get together after the election and figure out a way to apportion their electoral votes — some by the state’s popular vote and some by according to the NPV — to get the result they want.

    But doubt this is going to go through — with the way the polls are now, blue states are not going to want to be forced to assign their votes to the Republican.

The Founders of this country knew what they were doing when they set this up so that the power of the cities, always needy and grasping, would not overwhelm the Heartland. Indeed, the blue states prove that the cities who are generally more liberal and NEEDY, are a disaster financially. Red states somehow balance themselves out, while the blue states continue to commit suicide, like Ca and RI.

    Actually, this is a common misconception. In the few studies that have been done, tax dollars consistently flow from more urban areas to less urban areas.

      Milwaukee in reply to Awing1. | October 24, 2011 at 9:24 pm

      Awing1: I would disagree with your assessment of the linked report. That report only discusses how much Federal money goes to which state. A more detailed analysis would need to include a discussion of Defense spending. North and South Dakota come out gangbusters in that report, but they have military without having a large population. Texas has large military, but also has a large population, so the per capita amounts are lower.

      Your response appeared to be to the comment that “that the power of the cities, always needy and grasping, would not overwhelm the Heartland. ” This report doesn’t sway my concurrence with that observation. Let’s examine a few states, such as Illinois, where it is possible to win a statewide election and only carry one county. Cook County has seems to have too much influence on state politics.

        Awing1 in reply to Milwaukee. | October 24, 2011 at 9:52 pm

        I have a problem with the assessment that urban areas are needy, yes. But I also have a general problem with the whole idea that urban areas should have their influence discounted. What would be the justification for weighing the vote of an urban individual less than that of a rural individual?

        It only takes 187,876 votes in Wyoming to cancel out 677,345 votes in California under our current system. Regardless of my feelings about California’s political tendencies, why should a voter in Wyoming have 3.6 times the political power of someone in California? The fact that one is more urban than the other seems a poor justification. Maybe it makes sense in the context of the Congress, but not for the Presidency.

        ExExZonie in reply to Milwaukee. | October 24, 2011 at 9:56 pm

        A long time ago, the Illinois Board of Tourism had a little jingle that went, “Just outside Chicago, there’s a place called Illinois.” Always made me smile to hear it.

I heard about it a couple of months ago …decided then not just no but hell no

huskers-for-palin | October 24, 2011 at 8:22 pm

What of the states that aren’t part of the deal? Are you telling me that as few as 11 states could dictate the terms of a POTUS election?

The idea of my state’s popular vote being nullified by other states disenfranchises my vote.

Doesn’t congress have to approve such compacts?

In a multi-candidate general, someone could win the presidency with less than 40% of the vote. All you need is to fund a few “straw dog” candidates to dilute your opponent’s base.

Two words: Voter Fraud

I would like to suggest an alternative plan: A proportional electoral college such as Nebraska or Maine. Electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who wins the popular vote in each, separate congressional district with the remaining two EVs going to overall state’s popular vote winner.

Now, every state is in play. Even the bluest of blue and reddest of red has a few areas the opposing side could pick off. States written off by the other side now have some importance. Voter participation and organization would increase.

The problem with a proportional electoral college is that it dilutes the votes. In Wisconsin there at least two Congressional Districts which will always go Democratic. Getting 10 Electoral votes is worth some work. Winning a majority by 7-to-3 or 6-to-4 doesn’t give the candidate as much of a bump.

Would this NPV encourage crossing state lines to vote fraudulently?

    I think NPV would encourage the negation of state lines, creating new trans-state representaional districts that, to today’s eyes, would appear as new state lines while, in practice, if not fact, states would no longer exist. The ultimate “one nation” to which we pledge our allegiance.

The first time CA discovers that it is obligated to assign its votes to Palin, the entire system goes kaboom.

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Here’s an idea: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

There is a problem with Electoral College which NPV can only exacerbate. At the founding of our nation, each electoral vote represented 30,000 voters. Today, that number varies from less than 200,000 to over 600,000 voters. With today’s population of ~300 million voters, we should have at least 10,000 representatives in the House of Representatives.

Is that too unwieldly? I think not. Today, the conservative suburban voters are split into heavily liberal urban districts where they have no say. While the districts can still be gerrymandered, the Representatives will have but a tentative hold on their voters, resulting in a more responsive legislature.

Besides, with 10,000 members in the House, the lobbyist’s expense will really be dramatically increased. We would also be justified in building barracks equipped with a cafeteria to house and feed the legislators, saving untold expenses.

    MrSock in reply to MSO. | October 26, 2011 at 1:31 am

    Just wanted to comment that I agree that the House needs to be expanded. Congress stopped the expansion in 1911 but it had been expanded many times before that.

    While 10,000 reps may be unwieldy I think it would change the nature and caliber of the people elected for the office. Also with modern videoconferencing the need to actually assemble everyone in one location is unnecessary.

    In fact there’s no reason all 3 branches of government need to be co-located anymore it might be better if they were spread out.

NPV has passed in 31 States, but organizers in South Dakota today failed to get the required signatures to put the issue to a popular vote.