It's a Simple Question

Americans do vote when they know their votes will count (see WSJ 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.

He Nailed It

In his 2004 book on the Electoral College, George Edwards debunked the reasons for keeping the system as is, noting that (i) small states have little common interests with each other and are not a block that deserves outsized power in choosing the president; (ii) large-state citizens should not be disfavored because big states are not controlled by particular factions that should not be given too much power; and (iii) the selection of the president does not in any way promote federalism.

In other words, three rationales considered in 1787 in creating the electoral system are no longer based in reality, if they ever were.

So advocates against change need new reasons to keep the presidential selection system. To speculate, they might include:

1.      No one thinks there is a way to change the system. So let’s just give up on improving the Republic.

2.      One party or the other typically thinks the system advantages them. Therefore one party always blocks reform. Let's have short-term thinking harm the best interest of all Americans.

3.      Some politicians don’t want to learn a different system. We have to tolerate their limitations, so let's not change a thing.

4.      Some people like the voting rolls as they are, because true democracy might lead to different taxation, spending and law-making. Everything is now for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

5.  Although all states have recount procedures, a national vote count potentially would require all states to use them to do recounts in a very close election, like the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon election. That was a long time ago but it could happen again. And it's too much trouble to have lots of recounts, when only the presidency is at stake. 

Anything else come to mind? They spin, you decide. 

How To Defend Democracy

In How to Save a Constitutional Democracy (University of Chicago, 2018), political scientist Tom Ginsburg and law professor Aziz Huq examine the constitutional mechanisms that populist leaders have universally exploited to undermine democracies. The authors unearth the structural causes of atrophying constitutional democracies using case studies from around the globe. Many recent books have sounded the alarm by decrying the growth of anti-democratic movements globally and, potentially, within the United States. Ginsburg and Huq go further: not only do they explicate the many causes of democratic decline, but they go on to propose serious structural reforms and improvements upon existing constitutional safeguards.

 How to Save a Constitutional Democracy also serves as a stern reminder that the United States may not be immune to such threats. On October 28th Brazil, the world’s fourth-largest democracy elected neo-fascist presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro. For anyone concerned with the rising threat of autocracy abroad, a “how-to” volume on defending democracy is both timely and essential.

 As this blog noted in its coverage of the backslide toward authoritarianism in Poland, one democratic safeguard is paramount among many: all constitutional democracies, including the United States, should conduct elections in a way that all votes matter. The U.S. Elections Project’s analysis of the 2016 presidential election found that “147 million voters, two-thirds of the electorate, were relegated to the sidelines” because of the nearly ubiquitous winner-take-all system practiced by the states.

If the profound imbalance in presidential voting power is allowed to continue, citizens will increasingly lose faith in the system, vote less, and the foundations of our democracy itself will weaken. After all, a constitutional democracy is only as strong as the participation of the People, entrusted to preserve equality through self-governance.

NYT Misses the Point

This article on turn-out pits democracy advocates against opponents of mob rule. The situation is that a minority of eligible voters cast a ballot in the mid-terms. The complications are the steeplechase course required to register, prove identity, get a ballot or get time off to vote on voting day. The pro-democracy side thinks turn-out would go up if voting were as easy as (and cheaper than) buying a Starbucks coffee or a McDonalds burger.

The other side’s view is epitomized by a politician who calls non-voters “political couch potatoes” – namely, Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader. This side thinks if you don’t vote, you’re stupid, lazy and it’s good for the country that your ignorant vote was never cast. See also John Samples, Cato; Bryan Caplan, George Mason.

Both sides miss the biggest point: neither major political party knocks itself out trying to get all Americans everywhere in the country to vote.

Starbucks would like us all to buy its coffee. McD’s, burgers. Business in general is in the business of maximizing total addressable markets and winners seek total penetration.

But in the business of politics, things are different. Republicans and Democrats write off most of the country.

For all the talk about increased competition for Congressional seats, the two parties conceded most seats a year ago.

In the upcoming presidential election, they will concede each to the other a total of 40 states. These have 81% of the population.

The voters are customers who don’t shop for the product because they hear the marketing message from the R’s and D’s: “we don’t care, do you?”

Suppose victory in the presidential race went to the person who won the biggest number of votes cast in the country. The nominees would compete to sell as many of their burgers (that is, policies & promises) to everyone, lowering barriers to vote for his/her likely voters, doing everything possible to get supporters to turn out everywhere. Everything would change, and we would discover what democracy produced, if every vote for president mattered.

They would even let you register at Amazon and have the ballot delivered to your house. Or vote on-line. What an innovation.

At the congressional level, if districts were not gerrymandered into pretzel shapes but instead purposefully mirrored the balance of voters in every region, then many more seats would be contested, and competitors would make it clear to millions more voters that their ballots mattered.

The people derided as lazy and stupid by people in the Senate, or at Cato or George Mason, know the biggest thing of all: those who currently control the voting systems in most states don’t want competition to force the parties to seek every vote. So they despise the politicians for not caring about the preferences of the people. And the Republic is at risk of dying.

Krugman Wrong

Paul Krugman writes in New York Times October 25, 2018: “So how do Republicans manage to win elections? Partly the answer is that gerrymandering, the Electoral College and other factors have rigged the system in their favor; Republicans have held the White House after three of the past six presidential elections, despite winning the popular vote only once.”

This is wrong.

First, gerrymandering has nothing to do with presidential elections. Second, more importantly, no one knows who would win the popular vote if the major parties campaigned everywhere. Third, the Electoral College is not “rigged” in favor of either party: it is fundamentally unfair to most Americans. In some elections, the system aids one party more than the other, but the advantage shifts from election to election. It is, however, always unfair to most people, and always a bad idea for democracy.

The Past is Not A Perpetual Re-Run

In his 2004 book scrutinizing the electoral college, George Edwards noted that the Founders included those who had concerns about the ability of voters to discern the appropriateness of candidates in light of the size and poor communications platforms of the not-yet-formed United States, and some who understood that to get the deal done they had to create a system that protected the slave states from the risk of an antislavery president.

He pointed out that none of the factors that led to the unusual, unprecedented and flawed system for picking the president is relevant to the current American condition.

Originalists do not argue that we must pretend to be in 1789, or be confined to embrace the common denominator of the beliefs and values of the Founders. To keep our Republic, we are not perpetually replaying, as if in some fantasy land, the Philadelphia debates.

We have to examine texts for what they say and what was meant, but in terms of solving problems we look at the situation that exists today and might come into existence tomorrow.

Nothing in the Constitution bars states from reconsidering how to choose electors in light of what is happening in America today. And as the great Republican, Abraham Lincoln, memorably put it: “As our case is new so we must think and act anew.”

Who is Gary Abernathy and How Did He Get Printed in WaPo?

Washington Post fact-checkers must be up in arms about the howlers in this Gary Abernathy article, October 25, 2018. Or maybe it’s the in-house logicians who are crying into their keyboards.

Item 1: He wrote: “American history resists the notion of a majority fully imposing its will on a minority.” He meant, presumably, that throughout history most Americans repeatedly have been denied the opportunity to have a government reflect their wishes. His statement is the principal reason why the person who wins the most votes in the whole country should always become the president.

Item 2: He claims Democrats would “almost assuredly be defending the [presidential selection] system” if their candidates had lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College. Apparently, he defends the system for the same utterly self-interested reason; namely, his preferred candidates used it to deny the will of the people. This also is an argument for changing to a democratic method of choosing the president.

Item 3: He asserts that the United States is a “collection of individual states.” Abraham Lincoln in his first inaugural address quashed this specious assertion: “The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured and the faith of all the then thirteen States expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution, was "to form a more perfect Union."

Item 4:  He says the “electoral college exists to protect” the “social and geographic interests” of states. People have “social and geographic interests” and they are best protected when their communities, geographic, demographic, religious, ethnic, familial, or even tribal, can vote with each vote counted equally for the political preferences that their interests lead them to have.

Item 5: “Our nation settled on the electoral college” as part of “protecting and valuing each state.” Actually, the slave state-small state alliance demanded that the anti-democratic, inequitable advantages they obtained in the compromise over the composition of the Senate and House be perpetuated in the method of choosing the president. The slave states did not want a chief executive who would oppose the expansion, or maintenance, of slavery. What was “valued” was, principally, slavery.

Item 6: “States are largely awarded electoral votes commensurate with their population.” So he claims, and then he compares West Virginia to California, noting that California has 20 times as many people and only 11 times as many electors. I do not think “commensurate” means what Abernathy thinks it means.

Item 7:  If the president were the person who won the national popular vote, then a “disproportionate majority of voters from the largest states” would be “imposing their will on the more vulnerable minority in smaller states.” There are many things wrong with this sentence, but I conclude with noting only three: (i) a majority is not “disproportionate” under a popular vote system; it is proportionate to the votes cast; (2) under the existing, anti-democratic system the “vulnerable” minorities in every state are “imposed” upon because their votes for the runner-up are discarded, meaning never counted with like-minded voters in other states possibly to form a majority opinion; (3) no candidate seeking a national win would ignore voters anywhere, because campaigns are not that dumb, whereas in the current system the two major parties do not campaign in about 40 states, with more than 80% of the population.  

No Need To Dismantle

In reviewing George Edwards’ Why the Electoral College is Bad for America  (2004), Jeffrey Cohen of Fordham University concluded: “I do not think the Founders designed the electoral college with egalitarian ends in mind, but that does not mean that, over 200 years after the adoption of the Constitution, we should not promote political equality, even if it means dismantling institutions that undermine political equality.”

Of course the granting of suffrage to former slaves and women and people aged 18 to 21 all promoted “political equality” even if the electoral system denied true equality.

But it’s also worth noting that the Electoral College does not need to be “dismantled.” Any state can choose as electors those from the party slate whose nominee for president has won the most votes cast in the United States. That would make every vote count, or matter, equally.