States must react to this

This reasoned decision by the 10th Circuit makes clear that states cannot punish or in any meaningful way constrain an elector from voting his or her conscience.

Prospectively, this means that states must strike from their codes any statutory or regulatory infringement on the authority of an elector to think and not just act when it comes to choosing the president.

In implementing this reform, states might as well go ahead and also vote on the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Under that law, states would appoint electors nominated by the party whose candidate won the national popular vote. The electors cannot be punished if they choose otherwise, but the states plainly have plenary authority to appoint electors from the national vote winner‘s slate.

If states don’t want to pass the Compact then they still have to implement a method of appointing electors that preserves the freedom of these individuals to choose as president the person they think best suited for the job.

As I understand this case, they can choose any otherwise eligible American citizen.

Adopting the Compact might seem to many states the better way to organize the presidential selection system in the wake of this decision.



The System Tears Us Apart

The political parties change their shape—their leaders and policies—in order to win political power. In their current forms, they contribute to dividing the populace and intensifying animosity.

One major reason is that they both take for granted the outcomes in more than 40 states, leaving as few as six as the contested battlegrounds that determine the electoral college outcome. In those states, the two parties focus on turning out their base and then appealing to swing voters, but those swing voters do not necessarily represent in full the views of most swing voters in the country as a whole.

As a result, the presidential election system does not encourage either party's nominee to conduct a unifying, holistic campaign. Instead, the two major parties maximize negative campaigning, reflected in the content of their advertising and the themes of policy proposals. After such divisive elections, the country remains as factionalized and internally discontent as before the voting takes place.



Think the Electoral College will always favor Republicans? Think again

This article makes the very strong case that demographic shifts may lead to a “purple” or “blue” Texas in the very near future, making it extremely difficult for Republicans to win in the Electoral College as it exists today. Though some Republicans may oppose reforming the presidential selection system because they believe it confers a benefit to their party, the article urges them to rethink that position:

“[Republicans] warn that without the Electoral College, a few big cities would dominate the process, at the expense of rural areas and states. What they ignore is that 1) the 10 biggest cities have only 8% of the U.S. population and 2) urbanites don’t all vote the same way.

Trump got nearly 4.9 million votes in California and 2.8 million in New York — many of them in small towns and rural counties — but under the Electoral College, those votes meant nothing. Someday, the same may be true for the millions of conservatives in Texas.

Democrats take the peculiar view that each citizen’s vote should carry the same weight. They also contend that the candidate who gets the most votes from actual people should win — which happens to be how races for virtually every other office in the country are decided.

If Republicans want to salvage their future, they would be wise to join with Democrats now in pushing to elect presidents by popular vote. Because once Democrats have the upper hand in the Electoral College, they may just decide to keep it.”

Though it is understandable that both parties view the system—and any proposed reforms, particularly the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact—through the lens of the advantages they perceive to their own party, it is clear that all Americans would benefit from having their votes count equally in deciding who becomes the president.



More People Vote When They Know It Counts: A Case Study

Texas has been in the bottom five states for voter turnout for the past three presidential elections.  In the 2016 election, only 51.4% of eligible voters went to the polls, compared to 60.1% nationally

There are several reasons why Texas’s voter turnout rate is so much lower than the national average.  Texas is ranked as the state with the fifth highest difficulty of voting, according to a Northern Illinois University study that considered factors such as the registration deadline, restrictions on who is able to vote, ease of registration, the availability of early voting, voter ID laws, and poll hours. 

But voting difficulty does not fully explain Texas’s low turnout rate.  It is even more difficult to vote Virginia than it is in Texas.  Nevertheless, in 2016, despite obstacles to getting to the polls, voter turnout in Virginia 66.1%.

The difference is not that Virginians are more civic minded, or that Texans are lazy.  The differences is that, in recent elections, Virginians were told that their votes count more than Texans’ votes. In 2016, the presidential candidates hosted a total of 23 events in Virginia—the fifth highest of any state. The 2012 campaigns spent $21.6 million on advertising in Virginia—the third highest of any state.  Meanwhile, both parties ignored Texas, making little to no effort to court its voters.

However, in 2000, Virginia’s voter turnout was only 55.0%.  In the intervening years, Virginia shifted from a solidly Republican state to a swing state.  The increase in voter turnout in Virginia demonstrates that, even in states where it is very difficult to vote, people will make the effort if their votes may make a difference.  On the other hand, many Texans determined that it is not worth their time to vote for president because the result seemed pre-ordained. Though Texas and Virginia present particularly striking examples, voter turnout is generally lower in non-battleground states than in swing states lavished with the candidate’s attention.

But things are changing yet again.  Both parties may decide that Virginia is a safe state for the Democrats in 2020, and not bother visiting or spending money on ads and get-out-the-vote efforts.  In Texas, on the other hand, there is more and more talk that the old Republican stronghold may be shifting toward swing state status.  Accordingly, voter participation in Texas is likely to rise, but may fall in Virginia.

Wouldn’t it be better if every vote counted equally, no matter whether your state was a swing state in a given election? Under a national popular vote, 20 million or more voters as turnout surged across the country. 



The Electoral College at Work

From Axios newsletter August 9:

“Trump campaign officials and sources close to the president tell Axios that they believe Democrats' extraordinary charge that the president is a ‘white supremacist’ will actually help him win in 2020, Axios' Alayna Treene reports.”

If true, this is the electoral college at work. There is no way that this “charge” would help any candidate who had to win the national popular vote. But the demographic mix of the handful of swing states is quite a bit different than the rest of the country, and so this alleged claim by “sources close to the president” could be what they really think.

The Electoral College, of course, has its roots in the country’s attitude toward race. By extending the disproportional power given to the slave states in the House into power of the choice of the president, the system virtually assured that presidents would not limit the perpetuation and even expansion of slavery. This worked until 1860, after which the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments gave the Confederate states still more weight in the House by counting former slaves fully, even while they had little to no chance of sending an elector to vote for the president they wanted.

In different ways now, the Electoral College still tilts the scales of political power against people of color.



“It’s the swing states, stupid”

Here is a rare article about the economy and the upcoming election that addresses a sad reality: the only economies that really matter are the economies in the small number of states that will decide the next election. The rest of the nation—where the vast majority lives—hardly matters at all.



Demography is Destiny

As the chart below shows, the swing states' demographics — meaning their balance of whites and non-whites — are, put simply, hugely different than the mix in other, politically uncontested states. So the America that chooses the president is not the actual America. It is nonetheless the America that produces the political stance of, most obviously, Donald Trump.

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Battle in Colorado

A sign that the national popular vote movement threatens to succeed is this well-funded Republican effort to repeal Colorado's adoption of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. 

The goal for the Republicans is simple: maintain the possibility of obtaining the presidency while having most Americans vote against their nominee. This is called minority rule. It is utterly inconsistent with the Constitution which was specifically designed to have a majority pick the president—a majority of electors, state delegations, or Senators, as the situation required. This original intent has been twisted over time to be a mechanism by which voters in a consortium of states dominated by one party, plus pluralities in five or fewer swing states, choose the president, even while most Americans vote for someone else.

Some Republicans believe their party and the country would be better off if their party did not depend on the archaic and otiose electoral system to produce a Republican chief executive. They are being overcome by the party professionals and big donors who believe Donald Trump represents the sort of nominee the party will continue to produce, like it or not, and that therefore their nominee cannot win the national popular vote. These people generally favor keeping the country on the carbon platform that is burning up the world, maintaining the current levels of income and wealth allocation, and the current tax policies. They may not support the immigration or trade policies of the administration but they believe these stances are useful ways to win the electoral college and so must be tolerated.

Most Americans do not agree with these policies. If the national vote chose the president, neither party would nominate people who deny climate change, adopt racial references to rile up white voters, support extreme income and wealth inequality, or conduct trade wars that raise costs for all Americans. Democracy is, as it is supposed to be, the method of having political leaders do what most people want.

 But in Colorado, not to mention most of the country, you still see people like Governor Hickenlooper in this article, fail to note the importance of the national vote as a fight for democracy. It is time for the national vote reform to battle on a big stage.

To defeat the repeal effort, it will be necessary to contest the issue in three ways:

1. Get national and local attention to the issue, which is democracy versus autocracy. Let there be no mistake: the repeal cause in Colorado has its source in the battle for a permanent minority to choose the president.

2. Coordinate all grassroots activity in Colorado in an open, collaborative manner, with experienced personnel handling the many dimensions of the contest, as was done in the 2018 victories against gerrymandering in Michigan and elsewhere.

3. Use the legal resources of Making Every Vote Count and any other volunteers to take all appropriate issues to all appropriate courts, while endorsing the fundamental idea that a ballot measure to have the people pick the way to pick the president is precisely in line with the fundamental cause here: democracy should be expanded in America. 



The Electoral College Causes This

Assuming this story is accurate, it is a result of the electoral college system. This “white working class“ voting block is disproportionally larger in the handful of that midwestern swing states than anywhere else in the country.

A campaign based on this strategy cannot win the national popular vote. Donald Trump probably could win the national popular vote with a different strategy because the economy is doing so well and it was time to stand up to China. But he is playing by the rules.

They are bad rules for the country.



This is what a non-democracy looks like

As this story shows, the British are finding out how frustrating is the system that chooses a national leader without a democratic process. In the United States only about 20% of the voters effectively matter in the choice of the president because of the electoral college system.

According to Nate Cohn, Donald Trump could lose the national vote by 5 percent and still probably win the electoral college by winning a plurality among that 20% who occupy the swing states.

The British system risks the dissolution of the United Kingdom. The American system threatens the unity of the country and the survival of the republic.

U.K. Voters’ Frustration High as 99% Are Sidelined in Prime Minister Election


Coloradans Write in Support of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact

 In March 2019, Colorado became one of 15 states plus the District of Columbia to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Not long after, opponents of the national popular vote began circulating a petition to repeal the Compact that may be on the ballot in 2020. 

But Coloradans who want to make every vote count are rushing to the defense of the Compact: calling friends and neighbors, posting on social media, and writing letters to the editor in local papers.  Here are two great letters that explain how the national popular vote works and why it is in the interest of Colorado—and all Americans—to make sure that every vote is counted and that every vote count’s equally:

Making every vote count in Colorado by Sylvia Bernstein in the Vail Daily

Popularity Contest by Diane Alexander in the Aspen Daily News



It is Also About Where they Live

This chart from the New York Times shows something very important but leaves out the key fact. Again and again political reporters leave this out.


The electoral college system does not magnify every political faction. It minimizes some, such as college educated (also high turnout) or African Americans. It magnifies white evangelicals because of their large presence in the few midwestern swing states, where their voting exceeds 30%:

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Why? One reason is $$

I was telling a friend the other day that his state adopted the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact and he demurred. "We aren't a democracy and we shouldn't be," he said. Why? "My state is smaller than the really big ones. In a democracy we wouldn't matter."

I pointed out that his state has never had any presidential candidate visit in the modern era. I noted that no small states attract any attention from presidential candidates or elected presidents, with the exception of New Hampshire, a small swing state, and occasionally Nevada. 

He stuck to his guns, the way people do in this era of non-agreement on everything. 

At bottom he does not like democracy. He has his reasons.

But here is one argument in favor of democracy, even if irrefutable thinking about elemental fairness or the virtue of participation in elections doesn't grab everyone.

This paper concludes that democracy produces greater wealth for the whole society.



Presidential elections are about the past

A truism in politics is that elections are about the future. Typically the change candidate wins.

But actually with the broken system that prevails in the United States the presidential election is more about the past. The backwards looking candidate is advantaged.

As the chart below shows the states where America is changing the most rapidly are almost all irrelevant to the outcome of the presidential election.

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Thanks, Electoral College

Almost all the voters in the problem locations below are ignored by the system. Florida, it gets attention, and sometimes North Carolina. But the candidates in both parties take for granted the outcome all the rest of these states. Given the plight of the people in these states, the voters really ought to be able to have all their votes count in a national election of the president.

There are two maps shown. The first is Lincoln’s, used to inform him about the slave population. The second, is Raj Chetty’s report on where low income parents are located. The overlaps show, among other things, how long the Electoral College system has denied voice to the people – of all races! – in these states.

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Listening to voters

According to this article, politicians pay attention to voters. The problem with a president, however, is that to get a second term it is only important to pay attention to the voters in the swing states. More than 80% of the voters are ignored because they are in states where the results are taken for granted.



Here's Why Splitting Electoral Votes Proportionally Is Not the Answer

In another post, we discussed the problems with dividing a state’s electoral votes by congressional district (in a word: gerrymandering).  Another proposed solution to the winner-take-all problem is allocating electors proportionally based on the votes of the state at large.  Simply put, if a candidate won 70%-30% in a state with 10 electoral votes, 7 votes would go to the winner and 3 to the runner-up. 

The upsides of this proposal are straightforward: more votes would matter, turnout would increase, and candidates would have incentives to seek votes in more places. But proportional representation is unlikely to create a national campaign, nor would it make every vote truly equal.  Indeed, a proportional system may lead to an even more undemocratic result than is likely under our current system.

While there would be fewer wasted votes under a proportional system, it would not make every vote count. Absent a constitutional amendment, the votes would have to be rounded to the nearest whole elector.  So there would still be wasted surplus votes and votes for the runner up that do not count in the final tally.  In close elections, this could lead to the winner of the national popular vote still losing the presidency.

But splitting electoral votes proportionally would raise a whole new problem: a dramatic increase in the likelihood of third-party candidates throwing the election to the House of Representatives.

If a third-party candidate could get enough votes to win just a few electors in a close election, that candidate could prevent anyone from reaching the 270 electoral votes necessary to win.  In such a case, the election would go to the House of Representatives, with each state getting a single vote regardless of population. This is a profoundly undemocratic outcome that would lead to voters losing their voices entirely. 

Looking at past elections, the House would have decided the outcome in at least 2000 and 2016 if electors were awarded proportionally.  But if elections actually occurred under the proportional system, the percentage of elections decided by the House would be much higher as the incentives for third-party candidates grew exponentially. In large states, a third-party candidate would be able to garner at least a couple of electoral votes by winning only a tiny fraction of the vote in that state, and in a close election, that could keep any party from reaching 270.

Once the vote goes to the House, horse-trading, corruption, and backroom deals could lead to a candidate being inaugurated despite having little popular support.  So proportional representation is not cure for the evils in our system and would create a host of new and bigger problems.

There is also a feasibility problem under any proposal that involves splitting votes. Unless all or almost all states signed on, the campaigns would still not be truly national—and many states will be unwilling to split their votes for fear of losing political influence. 

Splitting up a state’s electoral votes makes sense for a few small states—like Maine and Nebraska—that are perpetually ignored.  But most states adopted a winner-take-all system in order to increase their political heft. They wanted candidates to campaign in their states in hopes of winning a large number of electoral votes at once.  Therefore, states will be unlikely to unilaterally split their votes for fear of losing that clout. 

Safe states would hesitate to give up any of their votes to the other party, and swing states would hesitate to lose their special status. And as long as just a few big swing states kept the winner-take-all system, candidates would have a strong incentive to focus their campaigns on those states alone rather than battling it out for the one or two swing electoral votes in most other states.

The best way to make every vote count—and to make presidential candidates campaign for every vote—is to enact the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.  Unlike splitting electoral votes, no state is put in the position of unilaterally giving up any influence because the Compact does not go into effect until enough states join to guarantee the winner of the national popular vote will become the president.  And the Compact is over 70% of the way there—only a few more states need to sign on to make it a reality.  When that happens, all votes will count equally—no matter where you live.