Election Reform: Where to begin?

With the Electoral College, so says Jonathan Turley:

We are now just a month away from the presidential election and our continued inexplicable use of the Electoral College. I have previously discussed steps that we can take to reform our political system. However, the starting point should be the elimination of the electoral college and the requirement that our presidents be elected by a direct and majority vote. As with other leading countries, we should allow for a runoff to guarantee that every president enters office with the support of over half of the voters….

In the U.S., presidents are not elected by the people but by 538 “electors” who award blocks of votes on a state-by-state basis. The result is that presidents can be — and have been — elected with fewer votes than their opponents. Indeed, various presidents have taken office with less than 50% of the vote. The question is whether a president should be elected by a majority of voters of at least one free country before he can call himself the leader of the free world.

The Electoral College is a relic of a time when the Framers believed that average people could not be trusted with selecting a president, at least not entirely. This was consistent with a general view of the dangers of direct voting systems. Until 1913, U.S. senators were elected not by their constituents but by the state legislators. When we finally got rid of that provision with the 17th Amendment, we failed to change its sister provision in Article II on the indirect election of presidents…

The greatest irony of the Electoral College is that it does precisely the opposite of what the Framers intended: Rather than encouraging presidential candidates to take small states seriously, it results in turning most states into near total irrelevancies. With our two-party monopoly on power in the United States, candidates spend little time, if any, in states that are clearly going to go for the other party — or even for their own party. Thus, there is little reason for President Obama to go to Utah or for Mitt Romney to go to Vermont. The result is that elections are dominated by swing states while campaigns become dominated by the issues affecting those states.

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  • chris

    Electoral College (EC) has its problems. In my home state, MO it’s been a lock on Romney and, thus, neither campaign has had much presence—-although senate and gubernatorial races are quite lively here.

    The EC, despite it’s faults, wasn’t intended to protect us from the proletariat, but to ensure that the states themselves are represented in the national election. It’s a confederate nod in an otherwise federal government. Parties hate it when the math isn’t in their favor. Voters feel like their vote is meaningless, but learning about the EC often helps inform the voter of his/her role in a very complex government.

    In other words, voters learn exactly what their vote is worth and maybe in their process of learning, also learn that presidents cannot control gas prices or overturn supreme court decisions.

  • joel g

    I have no problem with the Electoral College. I rather like the way it provides a buffer against simple majorities and overly direct democracy. And, if I had my way, we’d repeal and replace the 17th Amendment. Many western democracies have a relatively less democratic upper house, in part to insulate it from vagaries of electoral politics and the whims of the mob. Yes, I’m more Hamiltonian. Call me old-fashioned.

    But, if I were to reform the American electoral system, my two top priorities would be the following:

    [1] Increase the size of the House of Representatives from the current 435 members (approximately one representative for every 700,000 population). The Constitution allows up to one representative for every 30,000 population. That would give us a House of approximately 10,000 members and that might be too much (the UK has one MP for approximately every 95,000 population). But something in the range of a 1500-2000 member House seems workable to me. This would, I would hope, give us even more direct democracy for our lower house and a greater degree of accountability of representatives to their constituencies.

    [2] Revise our first-past-the-post election system. Perhaps an instant run-off system would be advantageous and relatively simple to implement. In such a system, voters rank their choices. If their first choice candidate comes in last and there is no candidate with an absolute majority, then their first choice candidate is eliminated and their votes are redistributed to their second choices. This continues until a candidate has an absolute majority. I suspect that if the GOP primaries this year had been conducted in this way, Romney would not be the Republican nominee. Such a system gives at least some advantage to less well-placed and well-funded candidates in contexts where there are more than two candidates (as is typically the case in US Presidential primaries).

  • BradK

    The primary reason for the electoral college was not a mistrust of the masses. One purpose was to lessen the power of the large states in electing the president. Small states had more electoral votes per population than the large states. But the biggest reason for the electoral college was for the *states*, not a simple majority of the U.S., to elect the president. The founders never intended for the president to be elected by the general population. This was because the United States was viewed as (basically designed to be) a group of states, almost independent nations, with common interests but also a fundamental mistrust of a strong, centralized government. Even with common interests, those interests might also differ markedly. This is why long ago people would use the phrase “the United States are” rather than “the United States is” like it is usually used today. The founders intended for those states to act in selecting the president rather than the people in a purely democratic process. Complaining about that today is like complaining about having congress rather than a popular vote determine ours laws.

    Besides, states are not forced to do “all or none” on delegating their electors and some states currently divide their electors based on the popular vote in the state. If all states did that, the result would be more similar to the popular vote. Most of the time the winner by the electoral vote is not different from the popular vote. It’s only happened twice in the last 125 years or so that the electoral vote was different from the popular vote, once in 1824 and obviously in 2000. But in 2000 the popular vote was less that 0.5% different between the two leading electoral candidates, which is probably in the margin of error for the U.S. voting process. So it’s questionable whether the electoral vote actually selected a different president from the popular vote in 2000. Anyway, if the people of our nation really don’t like the electoral college they can change it through the constitutional amendment process. If it is universally regarded as silly or outdated, if it doesn’t make any sense for us today, it should be easy enough to change it, right? The periodic complaining about the electoral college seems like pointless whining. Pops up every four years.

  • Abolish the electoral college and instead of ignoring states that are not in play, candidates will ignore areas with low population.

  • Phil Miller

    Kind of related to the previous comments, but I don’t think the founders ever envisioned the presidency becoming quite as powerful as it has become, or as it’s perceived to have become. They were clear that they never wanted the executive branch to become something like an elected king. And I also agree that for the most part, the framers envisioned the US as a collection of mostly independent states rather than a collection of states under a powerful and far-reaching federal government. Actually, at the time the Constitution was written, most of these men would consider their identities more wrapped up in their home state than that of being American.

  • Adam O

    While I am sure there were various reasons for the initial use of the electoral college, I agree that it seems to make little sense for the way the federal government works and is thought about in American life today. It it unfortunate that many people feel their votes do not count just because they live in a state that is strongly “red” or “blue.”
    Additionally, if you think about it economically, the economies of states like Ohio, Virginia, and Florida are flooded with the campaign money and events, while my state, Alabama, will receive none of that attention.

  • Kenton

    Money quote: The Electoral College is a relic of a time when the Framers believed that average people could not be trusted with selecting a president.

    Uh… so… what exactly has changed??? 🙂

    I like what the above commenters have said, and especially joel g. If we increase the size of congress, then we also increase (and “level out”) the electoral college, which would probably emphasize the importance of states other than the handful that are emphasized today.

    I would also repeal the 17th amendment.

  • Alan K

    The problem is not the Electoral College. The problem is settling for a mere two parties.

  • Barb

    Happily living in a “blue” state because we are spared all the nasty TV ads

    best reform to me would be reverse the rulling that corporations are people and that money is speech.

  • Phil Miller

    I would also that the electoral doesn’t simply come down to a small state/big state thing. It’s also a way to make sure that politics in the US doesn’t simply become dominated by the biggest urban areas. If it were purely a popular vote, many rural areas all over the country could simply be ignored totally. It’s not that they aren’t now to a degree, but at least having the electoral college allows for the people in the rural areas in swing state to have some say.

    And, yes, this argument does come up every four years. I’ve not heard a convincing argument that the system really does need changed. It leads to some odd results sometimes, but I don’t know that having a system with potentially a bunch of run-offs would be any better.

  • #3

    What Kullervo said. Without an electoral college the campaigns will be in places NYC, Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Denver, L. A. and San Fran. Kiss places like Harrisburg, Knoxville, Peoria, Omaha, El Paso, Provo, and Fresno good-bye, much less entire states like Montana and Wyoming. I prefer being the republican democracy we are, over becoming just a democracy.

  • Old Man

    IMHO, the biggest problem at the federal level is gerrymandering of congressional districts – and I don’t know how to fix it. The electoral college is a non-issue as far as I’m concerned. (And I would be surprised if 2 out of 10 voters even knew what I was talking about.)

  • Larry Barber

    Abolishing the electoral college would only accomplish two things that I can see. It would concentrate the campaigns in the major media markets. Candidates would spend all their time in New York, Texas and California trying to rack up large majorites there. It also opens up a can a worms in that a crooked county registrar could conceivably swing the whole election. The electoral college compartmentalizes fraud, no matter how much corruption their is in a state, the most they can do is swing that one state to one candidate or another. This could still cause the election to go to the wrong guy, but the problem would be much worse with a direct election.

    Perhaps a compromise could be reached? How about just abolishing the physical electoral college, this would eliminate the potential for faithless electors. Maine and Nebraska already split up their electoral votes by House of Representatives district, why not do it that way for the whole country? This would further compartmentalize voting fraud (actually, its usually vote tabulation fraud), fraud in any one district could only affect that one district. It would also help keep urban areas from dominating rural ones. You could either eliminate the two electors in each state that correspond to senators, or award those votes to whoever carries the state as a whole. Keeping the senatorial electors would also give smaller, rural states more clout. Some would say that this would unfair, undemocratic, but there is nothing democratic about having urban populations dominating rural ones.

  • Rick

    Turley is concerned with financial reform of elections, but he unfortunately wants to use a sledgehammer to accomplish it.

    The focus needs to be more on the laws written to deal with the means of fundraising, and on educating the public about the current limited control there is on spending. We don’t need to remove the protections the founding fathers/framers put in place regarding the electoral process.

  • Jeremy

    So ignoring anything more than 100 miles from the coast is a positive move for democracy? I’ve been kicking around the electoral college for a while and I can’t come up with a better way of doing it aside from removing the human element and eliminating all-or-none methods of assigning the votes.

    That said, we could probably pare down our election “season” significantly as the candidates wouldn’t need to cover as much ground, which would be nice.

  • AHH

    As a resident of a “swing state” where it seems like 80% of ads on TV these days are telling me how bad the other candidate is, right now I’d welcome anything that spread the attention out to more places in the country. But as people point out, any proposal has some drawbacks.

    And getting big anonymous money out of the campaigns should also be done, somehow. Something called “Crossroads GPS” is spending huge amounts of money on (often misleading) negative advertising in my state, and there are others, on both sides.

  • joel g

    On “what the founders envisioned” and “They were clear that they never wanted the executive branch to become something like an elected king,” I think we need to be careful. It’s very difficult to generalize about “the founders” and what they wanted or envisioned. They were, after all, a very diverse bunch.

    Guys like Patrick Henry, though appointed to attend the Constitutional Convention, outright refused to participate in any kind of federalization that would move us much beyond the Articles of Confederation. Alexander Hamilton, on the other hand, explicitly spoke of the executive branch as a kind of “elective monarchy” and argued that presidents should be elected for life rather than merely a term of a few years.

    It’s not as if an appeal to our “founding principles” transparently refers to something definite and clear. Many of the disputes we engage in today are a transposition of disputes that go back to the very inception of this nation, even if our present context in terms of population, geography, power, technology, and economics is vastly different to the late 18th century.

  • Joe Canner

    I would support getting rid of the electoral college. The shift from a collection of states to a unified nation happened after the Civil War and in most places (excepting perhaps parts of the South) it has been a long time since people identified more with their state than with their country.

    It is no doubt true that campaigns would focus on more populated areas, but the objective should be un-disenfranchisement (is that a word?) not determining how campaigns are run. As a resident of a fairly solidly “blue” state I often feel like voting is a waste of time and if I were more apathetic and/or if it weren’t for local elections, I probably wouldn’t vote. Getting rid of the electoral college would make every vote count and would probably increase voter turnout. How and where candidates campaign is beside the point.

  • Joe Canner

    P.S. My comments above notwithstanding, I don’t buy that candidates would focus entirely on large urban areas. Most such areas are already solidly “blue”. The real battlegrounds would be smaller urban areas and suburban areas. Rural areas, most of which are already solidly “red”, would continue to be ignored.

  • Peter Bylen

    What of the farcical primary system that brings us tweedledee and tweedledum in the first place? Iowa, New Hampshire, and a few southern states decide, give me a break.

  • toto

    With the Electoral College and federalism, the Founding Fathers meant to empower the states to pursue their own interests within the confines of the Constitution. The National Popular Vote is an exercise of that power.

    The Electoral College is now the set of dedicated party activists who vote as rubberstamps for their party’s presidential candidate. That is not what the Founders intended.

    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 conventions, in 2012 will not reach out to about 80% 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.

    80% of the states and people have been just spectators to the presidential elections. That’s more than 85 million voters, 200 million Americans.

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

    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.

    States have the responsibility and power to make all of their voters relevant in every presidential election and beyond.

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

    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).

  • MatthewS

    The author clearly has legal chops way out of my league but… I disagree with him. He names “mischiefs of faction” as an original concern, and as something that now seems to be happening, for example, the majority of the population might want immigration reform but the swing states dictate a different stance. Hence, if I’m reading him correctly, the electoral college perpetuates the very thing it was supposed to protect us from.

    From wikipedia (which cites the CIA factbook page): The US “is a very urbanized population, with 82% residing in cities and suburbs as of 2008 (the worldwide urban rate is 50.5%). This leaves vast expanses of the country nearly uninhabited. ”

    Another way to look at it: 82% of the population lives in urban areas, leaving 18% scattered across the rest of the land mass.

    If we removed the electoral college, why would the campaigning not shift to center entirely on about a dozen cities (New York, LA, Miama, and Chicago, etc.)? Someone living in one of those urban areas may now feel irritated that the swing states capture such attention but why would any state from Utah to Ohio receive any attention at all without the electoral college?

    Picking Montana at random it looks like the population is just under a million, while the population of the US is just over 300 million people. Montana has 3% of the population – would a presidential candidate even stop there once?

    Further, it seems to me that people would quit thinking in terms of states as voting units and only focus on the numbers provided by the various cities.

  • Sean P. Nelson

    I’m not sure what the solution is for certain, I wish I were more “read up” on it. However, I do feel like something about it needs to be addressed. One of the biggest reasons (for me) I feel the EC needs to be addressed is for the simple fact that if I’m “Blue” living in a “Red” state, my vote doesn’t count. You can try to convince me otherwise, but when I know that my state is primarily bent towards one party and I’m voting for the other party, I know my vote won’t have impacted the race at all since my state will give it’s Electoral Votes to the state majority winner. Something about that just doesn’t seem right. But again, I’m open to correction or other viewpoints. 🙂

  • Sean P. Nelson

    Great link for review to further the discussion. Very interesting…


  • The issue is the domination of ideas by only promoting two parties

  • Stephen Hesed

    To those who are concerned with candidates skipping rural areas if the electoral college was abolished: how is that any worse than what we have now? Is degree of urbanization really any more arbitrary than degree of political-affiliation-mixing and number of swing voters? And most importantly of all, in the scenario where the electoral college is abolished, the people in rural areas still get an equal vote in the system to everyone else, whereas under the current system the votes of people in populous states literally counts for less than those in the three electoral vote states. This is an abomination to democracy.

  • Jon

    I say we should keep the EC but that they should vote to represent their districts rather than the whole state. The two extra votes for each state could go to the popular winner of the state. That way, everybody’s vote counts, no matter the size of state or strength of a single party in that state.

  • soren

    1. Every state has their own election laws… for instance states differ on whether felons can vote.
    2. Close elections would be an absolute recount mess.

  • kierkegaard71

    One-man, one-vote democracy is the idea that I as an individual, regardless of any personal gift, talent, or other merit that I possess, should have as much say over the selection of officeholders and policy, as anyone else. In what other areas of life do we apply this principle – that the wise man and the fool should have equal influence in areas of management, governance, and the like?

  • Phil Miller

    This is an abomination to democracy.

    Well, and in a sense, it’s supposed to be. People like Jefferson and Adams saw pure democracy as inherently unstable. That’s part of the reason they wanted to insulate the executive and judicial branches from it somewhat.

    And the idea that an individual’s vote in smaller state with fewer EC votes count more than an individual’s vote in a larger one is actually correct. The fear was that without being weighted in some way, the more populous states would band together and put their needs ahead of the smaller states. In a sense, the larger, more populous states in the US are always subsidizing the smaller, less populous ones. That’s one of the compromises inherent in having a union of independent states.

  • CGC

    Spoken like Soren Kierkegaard . . . Prophetic and telling and I don’t know what the answer is unless there was some kind of process that people had to be involved and informed voters in order to vote (which of course in our freedom and rights world with little to none accountability and responsibility which always seem to be at odds with each other).

  • toto

    National Popular Vote has nothing to do with pure democracy. Pure democracy is a form of government in which people vote on policy initiatives directly. With National Popular Vote, the United States would still be a republic, in which citizens continue to elect the President by a majority of Electoral College votes by states, to represent us and conduct the business of government in the periods between elections.

    There is nothing incompatible between differences in state election laws and the concept of a national popular vote for President.

    Under the current system, the electoral votes from all 50 states are comingled and simply added together, irrespective of the fact that the electoral-vote outcome from each state was affected by differences in state policies, including voter registration, ex-felon voting, hours of voting, amount and nature of advance voting, and voter identification requirements.

    Under both the current system and the National Popular Vote compact, all of the people of the United States are impacted by the different election policies of the states. Everyone in the United States is affected by the division of electoral votes generated by each state. The procedures governing presidential elections in a closely divided battleground state (e.g., Florida and Ohio) can affect, and indeed have affected, the ultimate outcome of national elections.

    The U.S. Constitution specifically permits diversity of election laws among the states because it explicitly gives the states control over the conduct of presidential elections (article II) . The Founding Fathers in the U.S. Constitution permit states to conduct elections in varied ways. The National Popular Vote compact is patterned directly after existing federal law and preserves state control of elections and requires each state to treat as “conclusive” each other state’s “final determination” of its vote for President.

  • toto

    The presidential election system that we have today was not designed, anticipated, or favored by the Founding Fathers but, instead, is the product of decades of evolutionary change precipitated by the emergence of political parties and enactment by 48 states of winner-take-all laws, not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution.

    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. This is not what the Founding Fathers intended.

    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.

  • toto

    Most Americans don’t care whether their presidential candidate wins or loses in their state. . . they care whether he/she wins the White House. Voters want to know, that even if they were on the losing side, their vote actually was directly and equally counted and mattered to their candidate. Most Americans think it’s wrong for the candidate with the most popular votes to lose. We don’t allow this in any other election in our representative republic.

    A shift of a few thousand voters in one or two states would have elected the second-place candidate in 4 of the 13 presidential elections since World War II. Near misses are now frequently common. There have been 6 consecutive non-landslide presidential elections (1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008). A shift of 60,000 voters in Ohio in 2004 would have defeated President Bush despite his nationwide lead of over 3 million votes.

    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.

    And now votes, beyond the one needed to get the most votes in the state, for winning in a state are wasted and don’t matter to candidates. Utah (5 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 385,000 “wasted” votes for Bush in 2004. 8 small western states, with less than a third of California’s population, provided Bush with a bigger margin (1,283,076) than California provided Kerry (1,235,659).

    With National Popular Vote, there wouldn’t be distorting and divisive red and blue state maps. Every vote, everywhere would be counted equally for, and directly assist, the candidate for whom it was cast.

    Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a 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 National Popular Vote bill would end the disproportionate attention and influence of the “mob” in the current handful of closely divided battleground states, such as Florida, while the “mobs” of the vast majority of states are ignored. 98% of the 2008 campaign events involving a presidential or vice-presidential candidate occurred in just 15 closely divided “battleground” states. 12 of the 13 lowest population states (3-4 electoral votes), that are non-competitive are ignored, in presidential elections. 9 of the original 13 states are considered “fly-over” now. Over half (57%) of the events were in just four states (Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia). Similarly, 98% of ad spending took place in these 15 “battleground” states. At most, 9 states will determine the 2012 election.

  • toto

    Now political clout comes from being among the handful of battleground states. 80% of states and voters are ignored.

    None of the 10 most rural states (VT, ME, WV, MS, SD, AR, MT, ND, AL, and KY) is a battleground state.
    The current state-by-state winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes does not enhance the influence of rural states, because the most rural states are not battleground states, and they are ignored.

    Now with state-by-state winner-take-all laws (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but since 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. 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. Support in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK -70%, DC -76%, DE –75%, ID -77%, ME – 77%, MT- 72%, NE – 74%, NH–69%, NE – 72%, NM – 76%, RI – 74%, SD- 71%, UT- 70%, VT – 75%, WV- 81%, and WY- 69%.

    In the lowest population states, the National Popular Vote bill has passed in nine state legislative chambers, and been enacted by 3 jurisdictions.

    Of the 25 smallest states (with a total of 155 electoral votes) 18 received no attention at all from presidential campaigns after the conventions. Of the seven smallest states with any post-convention visits, Only 4 of the smallest states – NH (12 events), NM (8), NV (12), and IA (7) – got the outsized attention of 39 of the 43 total events in the 25 smallest states. In contrast, Ohio (with only 20 electoral votes) was lavishly wooed with 62 of the total 300 post-convention campaign events in the whole country.

    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).

  • toto

    With National Popular Vote, big cities would not get all of candidates’ attention, much less control the outcome.
    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. Suburbs and exurbs often vote Republican.

    If big cities controlled the outcome of elections, the governors and U.S. Senators would be Democratic in virtually every state with a significant city.

    A nationwide presidential campaign, with every vote 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 met
    hods. 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.

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

    With National Popular Vote, when every vote 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.

    Even in California state-wide elections, candidates for governor or U.S. Senate don’t campaign just in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and those places don’t control the outcome (otherwise California wouldn’t have recently had Republican governors Reagan, Dukemejian, Wilson, and Schwarzenegger). A vote in rural Alpine county is just an important as a vote in Los Angeles. If Los Angeles cannot control statewide elections in California, it can hardly control a nationwide election.

    In fact, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland together cannot control a statewide election in California.

    Similarly, Republicans dominate Texas politics without carrying big cities such as Dallas and Houston.

    There are numerous other examples of Republicans who won races for governor and U.S. Senator in other states that have big cities (e.g., New York, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts) without ever carrying the big cities of their respective states.

    With National Popular Vote, candidates would need to build a winning coalition across demographics.Candidates would have to appeal to a broad range of demographics, and perhaps even more so, because the election wouldn’t be capable of coming down to just one demographic, such as Walmart mom voters in Ohio.

  • toto

    With the current state winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes, winning a bare plurality of the popular vote in the 11 most populous states, containing 56% of the population, could win the Presidency with a mere 26% of the nation’s votes!

    But 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.

    Among the 11 most populous states in 2004, the highest levels of popular support, hardly overwhelming, 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. 8 small western states, with less than a third of California’s population, provided Bush with a bigger margin (1,283,076) than California provided Kerry (1,235,659).

    In 2008, campaign events were held in only 12 of the 25 largest states.

    In 2004, % and margin of popular votes:
    * California (55% Democratic), 1,023,560
    * New York (59% Democratic), 1,192,436
    * Texas (62% Republican), 1,691,267
    * Georgia (58% Republican), 544,634
    * North Carolina (56% Republican), 426,778
    To put these numbers in perspective, 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. 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. 8 small western states, with less than a third of California’s population, provided Bush with a bigger margin (1,283,076) than California provided Kerry (1,235,659).

  • toto

    Dividing more states’ electoral votes by congressional district winners would magnify the worst features of the Electoral College system.

    If the district approach were used nationally, it would be less fair and less accurately reflect the will of the people than the current system. In 2004, Bush won 50.7% of the popular vote, but 59% of the districts. Although Bush lost the national popular vote in 2000, he won 55% of the country’s congressional districts.

    The district approach would not provide incentive for presidential candidates to campaign in a particular state or focus the candidates’ attention to issues of concern to the state. With the 48 state-by-state winner-take-all laws (whether applied to either districts or states), candidates have no reason to campaign in districts or states where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind. In North Carolina, for example, there are only 2 districts (the 13th with a 5% spread and the 2nd with an 8% spread) where the presidential race is competitive. In California, the presidential race has been competitive in only 3 of the state’s 53 districts. Nationwide, there have been only 55 “battleground” districts that were competitive in presidential elections. With the present deplorable 48 state-level winner-take-all system, 80% of the states (including California and Texas) are ignored in presidential elections; however, 88% of the nation’s congressional districts would be ignored if a district-level winner-take-all system were used nationally.

    Awarding electoral votes by congressional district could result in third party candidates winning electoral votes that would deny either major party candidate the necessary majority vote of electors and throw the process into Congress to decide.

    Because there are generally more close votes on district levels than states as whole, district elections increase the opportunity for error. The larger the voting base, the less opportunity there is for an especially close vote.

    Also, a second-place candidate could still win the White House without winning the national popular vote.

    A national popular vote is the way to make every person’s vote equal and matter to their candidate because it guarantees that the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states and DC becomes President.

  • toto

    The current state-by-state winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes maximizes the incentive and opportunity for fraud and voter suppression. A very few people can change the national outcome by adding, changing, or suppressing a small number of votes in one closely divided battleground state. With the current system all of a state’s electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who receives a bare plurality of the votes in each state. The sheer magnitude of the national popular vote number, compared to individual state vote totals, is much more robust against manipulation.

    National Popular Vote would limit the benefits to be gained by fraud or voter suppression. One suppressed vote would be one less vote. One fraudulent vote would only win one vote in the return. In the current electoral system, one fraudulent vote could mean 55 electoral votes, or just enough electoral votes to win the presidency without having the most popular votes in the country.

    The closest popular-vote election in American history (in 1960), had a nationwide margin of more than 100,000 popular votes. The closest electoral-vote election in American history (in 2000) was determined by 537 votes, all in one state, when there was a lead of 537,179 (1,000 times more) popular votes nationwide.

    For a national popular vote election to be as easy to switch as 2000, it would have to be two hundred times closer than the 1960 election–and, in popular-vote terms, forty times closer than 2000 itself.

    Which system offers voter suppressors or fraudulent voters a better shot at success for a smaller effort?

  • toto

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

    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, 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.

  • Phil Miller

    Did you copy and paste all this stuff from somewhere? I hope you didn’t write it all out simply for the comments section here, because, man, tl;dr!

  • Rob Henderson

    I am all for keeping the Electoral College system the way it is. Besides, they have a pretty good football team.

  • RM


    There’s way too much money in college football these days. I say do away with it.