Why Votes May Not Matter

There are two reasons why many votes for president do not matter. First, in all states except Maine and Nebraska, the state appoints as electors only the slate chosen by the party of the candidate that gets a bare plurality. This is the "unit" or "winner-take-all" rule. It is NOT in the Constitution. It has the effect of subjugating the minority in any state to the will of the majority. For example, it has the effect of causing Republican members of the Church of Latter-day Saints in California, Oregon and Washington to send no electors of their preference to the Electoral College. In short, the "unit" rule causes all votes for the runner-up candidate to be thrown away before they are ever tallied in a national count or before the Electoral College convenes to choose a president.

So voters who know they aren't going to be able to compose a plurality, like Republicans in California since 1992, have no good reason to vote for president. It's amazing so many do vote anyhow. 

Second, a bare plurality of voters in a state triggers the "unit" or "winner-take-all" rule. Every extra vote beyond the one that makes a plurality need never be cast. These extra or surplus votes might as well never be voted. So why should a hard-working person take time off to add unnecessarily to a pile of votes for president? Clinton won California by more than 4 million votes. Maybe another million didn't bother to vote because the surplus didn't matter.

If Republicans and Democrats in California did not vote because runner-up votes and surplus votes don't matter, then do we know what the vote in California would look like if the national popular vote chose the president -- if every vote counted?

Watch: "A Totally Different Campaign"

Update - live broadcast has ended but you can catch the full stream here: http://fordschool.umich.edu/streaming/totally-different-campaign/

Click the image or this link to watch "A totally different campaign" - The way we select presidents live: http://bit.ly/mevc-live

From co-host the Ford School of Public Policy’s event page:

About the event:

The purpose of this symposium is to provide students and Michigan citizens an opportunity to think deeply about the existing system America uses to select the President, and about the viability and wisdom of alternative methods.

Overall, the event is a unique opportunity to hear voices from across the aisle debate and discuss one of the most pressing issues facing America today. While ephemeral partisan fights often control the political airways, our event provides a chance to put those disagreements to the side and think deeply about how we can best organize our country to promote and protect democracy.

NQR: it's not really the Senate

In this piece Paul Krugman notes the increasing inequality in number of citizens represented by different Senators, as Americans concentrate in less than 10 states. He considers the fact that the Senate disproportionately represents rural America to be an emerging constitutional crisis. Although his facts are true, three points are more important:

1. The biggest problem is that states do not award electors to the winner of the national popular vote. As a result, candidates, including incumbent presidents running for re-election, can and do ignore the wishes of the majority of Americans, and focus instead on exciting passionate conviction in bare pluralities in a handful of swing states. If the chief executive of the country is motivated by the system not to govern in the best interest of all or most Americans, that's a true constitutional crisis. Fortunately, any state can fix this problem by linking the choice of its electors to the winner of the national popular vote.

2. If candidates for president campaigned to win the national popular vote, then turn-out would rise considerably -- probably between 17 and 77 million more would vote in 2020. Whether the new voters in all states (urban and rural) would put in the Senate people who were at odds with Krugman's metropolitan preferences is very dubious. It has not been that long since rural America often sent true national leaders to the Senate. The problem now is that because the presidential candidates ignore rural America, turn-out there is not what it should be.

3. The number of representatives in the House is too small. If it were bigger, then gerrymandering would be much more difficult to implement. If the House were more representative of the wishes of most Americans, then it would negotiate with the Senate from a stronger, more enduring position. It is possible that the Senate nevertheless would oppose the desires of most Americans, but it is also possible that a new dynamic would produce a better functioning Congress. 

Join Us Tuesday in Ann Arbor!

This Tuesday, November 13 at 4:30 PM, the Making Every Vote Count Foundation is pleased and excited to bring you the first of this year’s in-state symposiums on the American presidential selection system.

For more information, and to RSVP, please visit the following page on our website:


Thank you, and we hope to see you there!


In the Washington Post last week, Yuval Levin argued in favor of minority control of all institutions — Senate, House and Presidency — with these words: “[B]y requiring overlapping majorities of different kinds, our institutions are designed to reflect the multilayered complexity of our society, compelling governing coalitions to reach out and broaden their appeals.”

“Overlapping” is precisely the opposite of the structure of the House, Senate and presidential election systems. There are possible overlaps — for example, all states could allocate half their electors to a national popular vote winner and half to the statewide plurality winner. That’s an overlap. But the current systems do not overlap at all.

Veterans Day

When the Great War ended on November 11, one century ago, W.E.B. Du Bois wrote: “Make way for democracy! We saved it in France, and by the Great Jehovah, we will save it in the United States of America.” 

We can answer his call for democracy at last. Every state should link some or all of its electors to the national popular vote instead of just the state plurality. Then all citizens’ votes would matter in choosing the president. That’s the essence of democracy. 

It's a Simple Question

Americans do vote when they know their votes will count (see WSJ https://bit.ly/2SYegt). In Congressional and gubernatorial races, all votes matter and count equally. What if our presidential electoral system worked the same way? 

And why shouldn't it?

Plurality Good Enough to Maintain Two-Party System

Some people think that direct election of the president should be conditioned on the winner getting at least 40% of the national vote. In his 1971 book "Reform and Continuity" Alexander Bickel argued persuasively that such a requirement would undermine the two-party system.

It follows that if states chose to allocate electors based on who won the national popular vote, regardless of the size of the plurality, then the two-party system would be strengthened, or at least in no way undercut. 

Updated - 2020 Forecast

As of today, revised vote totals show that the Democrats won the most votes cast in House races in states totaling more than 270 electoral votes. Consequently, we conclude that the Democrats won the mock electoral college based on Tuesday's results.

More vote counting might flip the electoral college back to the Republicans but for now we have to wait. 

Here is an updated list of states won by the Republicans based on revised vote totals. These may shift again. A number of the states are very close. As of now, the Republican electoral vote count would be: 253. 

Alabama 9

Alaska 3

Arizona 11

Arkansas 6

Florida 29

Georgia 16

Idaho 4

Indiana 11

Kansas 6

Kentucky 8

Louisiana 8

Mississippi 6

Missouri 10

Montana 3

Nebraska 5

North Carolina 15

North Dakota 3

Ohio 18

Oklahoma 7

South Carolina 9

South Dakota 3

Tennessee 11

Texas 38

Utah 6

West Virginia 5

Wyoming 3

Founders Smart

James Madison, James Wilson, and Gouverneur Morris, among the Framers, all favored direct, popular election as the means to select the president. Others thought the country then was too large for people to become familiar with different candidates. Today modern media makes this concern all too invalid. To honor the principles that animated the Framers, and to put aside objections no longer pertinent, all who respect the Framers' intent should support any reform that increases the likelihood that the will of the people directly leads to the choice of president. 

2020 Forecast

Based on extrapolating the vote in all the House races to the presidential election in 2020, the Democratic nominee will win the popular vote by nearly ten million nationally but the Republican nominee wins 274 electoral votes and the Democratic nominee 264.

In the 2016 presidential election, the Republicans won 230 solid red states and the House results show the Rs keep these states in 2020. In 2016 Democrats had 210 solid blue. There were 98 votes in close states (FL, ME, MI, MN, NE, NH, NV, PA, and WI).

Based on the House votes, in 2020 the Republican presidential nominee wins 3 of the swing states: Florida, Nebraska, and Wisconsin, for 274 total votes (230 + 29 + 5 + 10 = 274). So the D nominee wins the popular vote by a landslide and loses the presidency.

Original Intent: Let the States Make Changes in the Election System

It's surprising that opponents of the direct election of the president dwell on the intent of the Framers. These drafters of the Constitution plainly invested the states with the authority to decide how to allocate electors. See Article II.

The question then is: how should states exercise that authority in the best interest of their citizens and all the citizens of the United States? The Framers made some interesting comments about the choice of the president, and they are worth revisiting. But there is no doubt the manner of choosing electors was left to the states. They can change to any method they like, as long as they are not running afoul of some other provision of the Constitution.

Make It Easy

There are many articles about long lines at some voting places. There is nothing good about making hard-working people take more time off in order to vote. All states should make it as efficient to vote as possible. 

It should take as long to vote as it takes to buy a hamburger at McDonald’s.

In addition all ballots should be cast on paper to make votes and recounts extremely easy. Also to maximize security. 

If the national popular vote always dictated who became president then all states would need to put better voting infrastructure in place. Congress should appropriate money for states to use for that purpose. 

Feel The Same Way Now?

Here are some endorsers in the past of the direct election of the president by the people: Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Newt Gingrich, Robert Dole, the American Bar Association, the League of Women Voters, the United States Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO.

Making Every Vote Count Foundation will inquire into the current views of prominent, living, supporters of the notion that the person with the most votes should automatically become president.

If you want to help with this inquiry, please consider being a supporter of our 501 (c) (3).

What Happens When Texas Votes

According to POLITICO, “Early voters in three states — Texas, Nevada and Arizona — have already surpassed total turnout in the last midterm election.” The outlet reported at 6:42 EST that over 36 million people have already voted.

In Texas, the race between Senator Ted Cruz (Rep.) and upstart candidate Beto O’Rourke (Dem.) has been billed as one of the closest races in years in a state that traditionally goes Republican by double digits.

The turn-out in Texas is largely due to both candidates strenuously vying to get out the vote as the incumbent Cruz warned supporters that O’Rourke posed a serious threat to his seat. Texas earned the distinction of coming in “dead last” in turn-out in the 2016 presidential election, reported the Houston Chronicle in September 2018, echoing the findings of the Washington Post that Texas and Washington, D.C. tied for last place in the nation.

Yet the Lone Star State has already shown tremendous turnout in the early vote, bolstering the national total that is already breaking records. It should come as no surprise since the Cruz-O’Rourke U.S. Senate race has been hotly contested and fueled national attention. Both candidates agree that every single vote will make a difference—Mr. Cruz implored his supporters to each bring five other people to the polls to vote for him.

If our presidential elections were also decided by the sum total of all votes, in the same way that all other elections for higher office work, could we expect a similar turn of events?

Texas may not be the only state with an ace or two up its sleeves.

No State Benefits

Reviewing Edwards’ 2004 screed against the electoral college, Brian Gaines in 2005 wrote that Edwards “punctures the myth that it was carefully designed according to an explicit theory of federalism.”  Gaines did not have space, or perhaps inclination, to elaborate the point. The fact is that the current system does not empower state governments, much less the citizens of most states. It simply causes a torrent of money to flow into multimedia campaigns aimed at discouraging a few hundred thousand people to vote in a handful of states while stimulating with anger and fear a roughly equal number to troop to the polls.

No state laboratory of democracy gets anything out of this system. Especially in the swing states, the two parties lose influence over their own elections, as mercenaries wearing red and blue uniforms invade, occupy for a few months, and then leave the ravaged land behind to head for the Executive Branch or political purgatory.

Write Another One, George

In his review of the 2004 edition of George Edwards’ Why the Electoral College is Bad for America, Alan Siaroff says Edwards’ book is “impressive and insightful.” It remains, I think, the go-to book on the topic, but it’s time for another, because the woes that the current system inflict on America are worse and different than when Edwards wrote his book.

One is that many people moved to a few states, and these states are mostly strongly tilted either in the red or blue direction. The result is that in the general election presidential campaigns now pay almost no attention to almost every voter in the country. This situation is far more extreme even than it was one or two decades ago, again because of increasing density in less than 10 states.

A second problem is that essentially unlimited money backs the major party candidates in the general elections, thanks to the increasingly political Supreme Court. This money funds every imaginable form of confusing, annoying, discouraging, and inaccurate messaging in every communications mode to an ever-decreasing number of potential voters.

The independents in swing states can barely catch their breath in the fall of the quadrennial election. By and large they hate the experience and don’t want the responsibility for the outcome. They would prefer to see campaign money spent broadly, and to get less attention.

The Great Blunder

In his review of Allan Lichtman’s The Embattled Vote in America: From the Founding to the Present (Harvard: 2018), James Morone wrote in the New York Times September 12, 2018, that this “important book emphasizes the Founders’ great blunder: They failed to enshrine a right to vote in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.” As a result, Morone reports and Lichtman documents, “Each party gropes for advantage by fiddling with the franchise.”

Lichtman lists the “vital reforms” – he includes abolition of the electoral college, automatic voter registration, national election standards, less partisan voting districts. Morone adds limiting the power of the judiciary to strike down laws and proportional representation for congressional elections.

Neither Lichtman nor Morone, as far as I can tell, points out that the single biggest limitation on the right to vote is that neither party seeks the votes of more than 80% of the eligible populace when it comes to the choice of president. Either the Red or the Blue team concedes to the other a victory in at least 40 states. The unit or winner-take-all rule then allocates all electors to the party that won a plurality in a state basically simply by having its nominee appear on the ballot. This system plainly communicates to most people in the country that their vote does not matter in the choice of the most important political figure on the planet.

This message then discourages would-be voters from showing up. That in turn means that less “fiddling” is required to alter the outcomes of down-ballot races. A huge increase in turn-out everywhere in the country would make fairly small-scale shenanigans less impactful and as a result would minimize their occurrence. Certainly at the least, the “fiddling” would more often be drowned out by the clamor of millions more voting for president in every state, if only states would allocate their electors to the winner of the national vote instead of the winner of the state vote.