Electoral college determines foreign policy

The United States foreign policy with respect to South America and Central America is inconsistent, inadequate, and frequently anti-democratic. When it comes to Venezuela now, one can make a strong argument for the promotion of a fair popular vote in that country as a way to elect the leader. 

How did this happen? Do we certainly have an outbreak of common sense in our foreign policy? Skeptics might note that nothing about American policy as to Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador seems focused on the well-being of the people in those countries. 

Immigrants from those countries have little or no impact on the results in any swing state in the election coming up in 2020. 

But Venezuelan immigrants who may vote in swing state Florida conceivably could determine the allocation of its electoral votes. So Venezuela now gets attention while the other countries are ignored. Once again the pernicious Electoral College is at work, undermining America’s dream for most people in the country and most people in the world.


The Electoral College Makes Presidents Unaccountable

Declaring a national emergency to build a wall on the southern border is wildly unpopular.  Polls have consistently shown that about 66% of Americans think that Trump should not declare a national emergency build the wall, and only 31% think that he should. 

So why would a president up for reelection double down on such an unpopular policy?

The answer is the Electoral College. The president does not need a majority of Americans to like what he is doing.  All he needs to do is to turn out his base and win by a slim plurality in the few swing states that will decide the election.

If, on the other hand, the president needed to win the most votes from across the whole country, it would be unthinkable for Trump or any other president to chart a course that two-thirds of the nation opposed. 


Florida Newspaper Endorses National Popular Vote

In an editorial urging Florida to commit its electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, the South Florida Sun Sentinel explains that choosing the president by the popular vote could benefit either party and would force candidates to look for votes everywhere across the country instead of just in a few swing states:

It may be a challenge to persuade Republican politicians to endorse reform. They have won every electoral dysfunction since the birth of their party. But that isn’t guaranteed. A shift of just 60,000 votes in Ohio would have elected John Kerry in 2004 despite President George W. Bush having more votes nationwide.

It isn’t difficult to imagine a future election, if not next year, in which a moderate Republican almost wins California and New York and has a popular majority but loses the electoral vote.

. . .

[T]he issue should not depend on which side won by dysfunction or thinks it will again. America can’t afford more outcomes that sap the public’s respect for the process and undermine the authenticity of the presidency.

 Another major liability is that the present system treats most voters — those living everywhere but in 10 or so “battleground” states — as unworthy of attention. There is no incentive for a Republican to troll for votes in California or New York, or for a Democrat to appeal to Texas. In 2016, thirty-eight states saw practically no campaign activity. It took place almost entirely in the 12 “battleground” states. Fewer voters went to the polls where their votes were taken for granted


Giving Female Candidates a Fair Chance

If Senator Gillibrand is running a feminist campaign, then she might want to make this useful point: in the last presidential campaign almost ten million more women voted than did men. By a huge majority the female voters preferred Clinton. The majority of women for Clinton was bigger than the majority of men for Trump.

So what happened? How could the more numerous group of voters, with the stronger preference, not have elected their choice as president?

The only reason that the majority of women did not see their preferred candidate sworn in as president in January 2017 was the Electoral College system.

In a tiny few swing states, the female preference was a little below the national average.

If every vote counted equally and all were counted in a nationwide tally that chose the president, then women (and men) already would have had a fair chance to elect a female president.

And if Senator Gillibrand, or anyone else, wants a fair chance to be a feminist candidate, then the most important reform would be the appointment of electors to the national vote winner instead of only to the winner of statewide pluralities. 


Colorado National Popular Vote Bill One Step Closer to Passing

A Colorado state House committee has voted to advance the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact to a full House vote. The bill has already been approved by the Colorado Senate. The bill will now go to a full vote in the House, and if approved, to Colorado’s governor, Jared Polis (D), who supports the measure,

If Colorado adopts the Compact, Colorado’s 9 electoral votes will be added to the 172 electors that will be pledged to the winner of the national popular vote if states with a total of 270 electoral votes join the Compact.  


Blast from Past

Below is the electoral map from 1960, the famous Nixon-Kennedy contest. The irrelevant popular vote was very close, 34.2 million to 34.1 million. But Kennedy won the Electoral College by 303 to 219:

nixon map.png

This big margin concealed numerous close statewide races. Labelling a state as a swing state if the popular margin statewide was 3% or less, we see that Kennedy won these swing states: Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, Texas, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. Nixon won these swing states: Alaska, California, Florida, Montana, and Washington.

Obviously there were so many swing states that the election felt like a national election. Moreover, the swing states were so different demographically that the candidates each had to appeal to big, complex coalitions of factions in order to prevail.

The Electoral College system did not appear to contribute to divisiveness, despite the extreme closeness of the outcomes in so many states and the indicative if meaningless closeness of the national popular vote.

Obscured somewhat by Kennedy’s large electoral victory was the untenable nature of the Democrats’ Electoral College block. Kennedy won New York, the state with the most electors at 45, by a 5% margin. This result marked a giant reversal from Eisenhower’s victory there in 1956 with 60% of the votes. The Democratic coalition in urban and suburban areas was racially, ethnically and religiously mixed. This coalition plainly was the base for Democrats to depend upon in future elections, given population gains in the former free states. Its composition, however, differed radically with the party’s southern base, from where 81 Kennedy electors came. That explained Lyndon Johnson’s presence on the ticket. But it foreshadowed the Republican choice to align its party with white voters in the south while relinquishing its historic Lincolnian alignment with African-Americans. New York’s results in 1960 taught the Republicans to look south for winning in the future. By 1968 Nixon’s southern strategy was in place.

With the popular vote virtually evenly divided, the parties could have taken different paths toward political victory if the national popular vote selected the president. The Electoral College system, however, made the southern electors, chosen almost exclusively by white votes, so critical that the Republican Party could not resist reshaping its policies, programs, and promises to take the pluralities in these states. The divisiveness of American politics today stems not from the popular vote in 1960 and thereafter, but instead from the pernicious electoral system.


The National Popular Vote Would Make Every Vote Equal

In her article opposing the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, Tara Ross makes three arguments in favor of the antidemocratic unequal treatment of voters accorded by the Electoral College.  First, she argues that but for the Electoral College, residents small and midsize states would be ignored.  Second, she argues that a change to the national popular vote can only be done by a constitutional amendment.  Finally, she argues that if states are bound together to cast electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, some states will be prejudiced because the rules for voting differ from state to state.  None of these arguments are convincing.

The first argument makes no sense on its face. If all votes counted equally then candidates would have the same motivation to seek all votes regardless of geography. The question is not whether they would do that, but how. As we noted in another blog, advertising on social media makes it easy to reach out to potential voters all across the country, and if the popular vote winner became the president, all candidates would have to do just that.  National brands like Wal-Mart and Amazon do not ignore people in smaller markets; nor would candidates seeking to get the most votes across the country.

Contrary to the argument that the Electoral College protects small states, small and midsized states are entirely ignored under our current system, except for a small number of swing states. The candidates flock to New Hampshire and Iowa, but ignore Rhode Island and North Dakota completely because those votes are taken for granted by one party or the other.  Under a national popular vote system, candidates would reach out to all voters in all states.

Second, we do not need a constitutional amendment to ensure the winner of the national popular vote becomes the president because the Constitution empowers states to allocate their electoral votes as they see fit.  Article I, section 1 of the Constitution provides: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors . . . .” In other words, the drafters of the Constitution specifically left plenary power to the states to decide how to choose the electors.  Our existing, winner-take-all system is not mandated in the Constitution and is only one of a number of options a state could chose to allocate its votes. Originally, many states chose to have their legislatures choose the electors directly, without having the people vote at all, a choice they could theoretically still employ today. Maine and Nebraska have chosen to split their electoral votes by congressional districts with two votes awarded at large.  Assigning electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote is another permissible choice, and a choice that is good for the country. 

Finally, differences in voting requirements from state to state is not a reason to stick with the outdated, undemocratic Electoral College.  Ross notes that some states have more opportunities for early voting or make it easier to vote absentee, and states that under the Electoral College system, “no one cares if Texans have more time to early vote than voters in Colorado.”  However, with the national popular vote, “a ballot cast in Texas could dictate the outcome in Colorado. Suddenly, it matters a great deal that Texans had more opportunities to vote.”  This does not follow.  The outcome of a vote in one state can already impact the outcome of the election for all other states under the Electoral College.  Further, when only a few states matter, our elections are much more vulnerable to foreign meddling or election irregularities because it is far easier to hack an election in the three critical swing states that decided the 2016 election than in the whole country.

The current system allows the candidates to ignore the vast majority of the governed, focusing only on the small number of people living in states where the election is likely to be close.  If the winner of the national popular vote became the president, the interests of rural voters in Illinois would matter as much as rural voters in Michigan, and city dwellers in Texas would matter as much as city dwellers in Florida. For these reasons, most people agree that the person who wins the popular vote should become the president.


National Vote Would Minimize Money's Power over Presidency

As this chart shows, money does not enter politics equally from both ends of the political spectrum:

spending chart.png

Most of the policy preferences supported by the biggest funders on this list run counter to the wishes of the majority of Americans. Gun control stands out as a clear illustration. Money cannot be kept out of politics (although the Supreme Court has done the country no favor by increasing its importance). But the current presidential selection system increases money's leverage by causing the winner of the election to be chosen from a handful of swing states, where the dollar-to-voter ratio rises to dizzying levels. If money had to persuade not just a hundred thousand voters in swing states but up to 200 million voters, then its power over the outcome would be diminished. 

Seeking federal legislation to constrain the role of money is hopeless, even if the Democrats controlled both houses, given the make-up of the Supreme Court and its unfortunate precedents. But moving to the national popular vote as the means to choose the president is quite possible. If the amount of money spent by any of the groups in the chart were dedicated to legislation awarding electors to the national vote winner, then this reform would be effective for the 2020 election, and the role of money on choosing the next president would shrink far more radically than any other feasible method could accomplish.


The Electoral Process Cannot Save us if the Process is Broken

Actor Robert Redford wrote in a letter to the Washington Post:

“Our most powerful tool is still the electoral process. We must not be distracted from the opportunity we have in 2020 to reject hatred and division and choose civility and progress. Let’s not talk about impeachment or put all our hopes on the special counsel: The former is mired in Washington politics, and the latter will be once the report is released. Let’s stay focused on taking back our country with the power of our votes.”

Unfortunately, the electoral process, which Redford hopes will be the avenue for our country to “choose civility and progress” is not working.  In the last presidential election, the losing candidate got over three million votes more than the winning candidate.  The “power of our votes,” is diluted by a system that treats a small, random percentage of voters in swing states as more important than all other voters. 

Until we reform our electoral process, we cannot pin all our hopes onto it.  But if states choose to assign their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, then candidates will be forced to return to civility, good works, and the issues that Americans care about. 


If Candidates Had to Win the National Tally They’d Compete Everywhere

A shibboleth of the enemies of direct democracy for choosing the president is this:

If every vote mattered equally no candidates would care about the votes in less dense or rural states.

On its face this claim seems self-contradicting. If every vote counted equally, then obviously every candidate would try to get every vote everywhere. The question would not be whether they wanted every vote, but rather how would they go after the votes in less dense areas. 

We already know the answer by looking at how major brands and retailers reach every possible customer. 

First, retailers invest in national branding. Currently in the general election presidential candidates spend almost nothing advertising on national television shows. If every vote mattered equally this would change. You’d see the president advertising on the Super Bowl, or for that matter, stalking the sidelines for “product placement.”

Second, in major urban areas the cost of reaching customers through broadcast or cable channels is much higher than in less dense areas. Therefore campaigns would proportionally spend less on television spots in dense areas, and much more on television in less dense areas. If you own a television station in the Dakotas, you should want the national popular vote to pick the president. Similarly there’d be political advertising on local radio in rural areas, whereas today there is none from the presidential candidates.

Third, the rise of social advertising is inexorable, because social advertisers can pick the target audience with more precision than can one-to-many advertising. Especially in dense areas, social would be preferred over old school techniques. But because distance is irrelevant for social advertising, the big social firms would be a platform for reaching every voter everywhere.  

Fourth, just as Wal-Mart ignores no one, so candidates would ignore no region in their search for votes. Very likely, in right-leaning states the effort to get out the vote for the Republican nominee would go up, because the Republicans currently gain nothing by seeking higher turn-out in the more rural states where they are the preferred party.

 Fifth, there is some evidence already that confirms these hypotheses. This is from the estimable web site Nationalpopularvote.com:

The fact that serious candidates solicit every voter that matters was also demonstrated in 2008 by Nebraska’s 2nd congressional district (the Omaha area). Even though each congressional district in the country contains only 1/4% of the country’s population, the Obama campaign operated three separate campaign offices staffed by 16 people there. … Mitt Romney opened a campaign office in Omaha in July 2012 in order to compete in Nebraska’s 2nd district and … the Obama campaign was also active in the Omaha area.

In many cases, small states offer presidential candidates the attraction of considerably lower per-impression media costs …


Can't Save What Never Had

Rick Hasen rightly praises the many good features of H.R.1, a bill that would reform many aspects of our elections, but the title of the article wrongly claims it may save democracy.

You cannot save what you do not have. We do not have a democratic method of choosing the president.

If you want democracy, the single most important reform of elections in the United States unquestionably would be a guarantee that the national vote winner always became president.

This reform would: 

  • cause both parties to compete everywhere for votes, using all the Internet-enabled tools to find and seek to persuade every eligible voter in every part of the country.

  • drive up total participation by 20 to 80 million votes, roughly ten times the amount of increased participation that all the measures in H.R.1 would be able to accomplish. Yes, that's right: ten times more impact!

  • change the two major parties' policies, practices, and pitches so that each would be far more likely to seek voters than to reject voting. The reason is that wooing and winning a plurality among the extra tens of millions of voters is more likely to succeed than discouraging a few hundred thousand voters in swing states.

  • discourage voter suppression by bringing every effort of that kind into proximity of every voter. Why? Because if both campaigns valued, looked for, needed, and tried to get every vote, then any effort to discourage voting necessarily would occur in every precinct. That would cause the vote-suppressing party to be known everywhere as the enemy of democracy—hardly the way to win elections. By contrast, with the current system, where the presidency is chosen by votes that are elsewhere, far away, in a distant state, from the perspective of the vast majority of voters, then voter suppression too is someone else's problem. 


Who’s on First

Elaine Kamarck explains at page 71 passim of Primary Politics how Iowa and New Hampshire politicians have fought successfully to keep their caucus and primary systems at the front of the nominating process. The lesson is that just two states can affect the entire system profoundly.

So, if just two states awarded their electors to the national winner, they would go a long way, maybe all the way, to forcing the candidates in the general election to try to win the national popular plurality.

Just two states’ politicians could give America a true one person-one vote democratic way of choosing the president. The leadership role is there for the taking.


Another Voice in Favor of Keeping Connecticut in the NPVIC

Connecticut newspaper The Day has published an excellent response to their op-ed urging Connecticut to withdraw from the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.  The response, by Jonathan Perloe, notes that according to Making Every Vote Count’s poll, “a substantial majority of Connecticut voters across party lines (78 percent) agree that the candidate who wins the most votes nationwide should become president.”  As we noted in our blog responding to the same op-ed, a system that ensures the winner of the national popular vote becomes the president is better for Connecticut and better for the nation.


Kamarck Explains

A bunch of points from Elaine Kamarck’s “Primary Politics”:

1.     Turnout in Iowa has increased almost every year in which there’s a competitive contest. In 2008 227,000 Democrats participated in the caucus, as compared to 124,000 in 2004. Page 17. When candidates show up, participation goes up.

2.     In the 1970s the caucus and convention system, “long a private or at most semi-public process, became, by law in both parties, a fully public system.” Pp 20-21. States can change the system.

3.     “As the process became public it attracted the kind of attention and voter interest that was unheard of in prior days.” Page 21. If states allocated some or all of their electors to the national winner, then the nominees’ search for voters everywhere would attract huge attention and voter interest everywhere.

4.     The primary system had led to consolidation of voting around certain days. It could lead to a national primary, which is favored by “substantially more than 50% of the American public [that] favors the simplest and most direct form of democracy.” Page 26. Similarly, well more than 50% favor simple, direct democracy as the way to choose the president in the general election. The cure for non-participation in politics is to let the people participate directly in a single national vote for president.


Against Kings

Katherine Stewart writes that: 

"The Christian nationalist movement today is authoritarian, paranoid and patriarchal at its core. They aren’t fighting a culture war. They’re making a direct attack on democracy itself." 

The American experiment is and always has been a "direct attack" on a king, on the idea of kings, on the notion that kings should rule and the people should not. The American Revolution, the Civil War, the War to End All Wars, the triumph of the United States against fascism and then communism: our country has always been dedicated to opposing authoritarians, dispelling the dark magic of paranoia, and, yes, fighting for the equality of all people, including women oppressed by patriarchal regimes.

If Ms. Stewart is right, then Christian nationalists are on the wrong side of truth, justice and the American Way. They will have to be out-voted. Democracy must prevail. 

Might as well start in 2019 with reforming the way the president is selected. Seems like good timing given that several dozen people are announcing they want to be president. They should all say publicly that they do not want to win without campaigning nationally to win the national popular vote in order to become president. The rules of the game have to be changed. 


The State of the Union Shows how the Electoral College Distorts Our Policies

In the State of the Union, President Trump called out a few specific states that, according to him, were particularly harmed by U.S. trade deals:

“Another historic trade blunder was the catastrophe known as NAFTA. I have met the men and women of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Hampshire, and many other states whose dreams were shattered by the signing of NAFTA.”

It is no coincidence that Trump’s list of states includes some of the most important battleground states that will decide the 2020 election. Under our current system, the president is free to ignore the needs of most Americans, focusing only on a few closely contested states. Our policies should be evaluated based on their overall impact on the nation, not just their impact on swing states.


How about using democracy to choose the president?

Here is Stacey Abrams in her response to the State of the Union:

 “From making it harder to register and stay on the rolls to moving and closing polling places to rejecting lawful ballots, we can no longer ignore these threats to democracy.”

And I would add that we should no longer ignore the fact that we do not have a democratic method of choosing the president. We don’t depend on one person/one vote to pick the single national leader, and that is the essence of democracy. 


New Mexico House Passes National Popular Vote Bill

New Mexico’s state House has passed a bill that would add New Mexico to the 11 states plus D.C. to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Currently, the Compact has 172 electors that will be pledged to the winner of the national popular vote if states with a total of 270 electoral votes join the Compact. If the New Mexico Senate also approves the bill, the state’s 5 electoral votes will be added to the total. 

A similar bill recently passed in the Colorado Senate and is awaiting consideration by the House. Colorado has 9 electoral votes.


Presidential Selection System Skews Policies Badly

If you overlay against the map below the Electoral College, you’ll see that the Midwestern states critical to getting 270 electoral votes are more vulnerable to automation’s effects than the country as a whole:

automation.png

It’s in the interest of all Americans to have forward-looking governmental policies for job creation. But the Electoral College system invites presidential candidates to promise reactionary, hostile, and ultimately useless responses to technological change.

It’s in the interest of businesses in the Midwest, as well as political leaders, to support the national popular vote as the means to choose the president. That’s the best way to get national job creation policies that are good for everyone.