Popular Vote Support

If They Asked Me

A Republican interested in running statewide in, say, Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina, or Michigan, would be well-advised to support a plan that compelled the presidential candidates to compete nationally for every vote. There are two reasons at least: (a) Most voters want a guarantee that the person who wins the national vote always to become president. The way to do this is to have some electors awarded from at least some states to the winner of the national vote. (b) The Republican party needs to build a big tent that attracts multiple factions and groups in order to be a majority-supported party. If the party commits to winning the national vote, it will be a big tent party.

Make Your State Matter

Because the presidential selection system currently consists of independent simultaneous statewide votes, state politicians in a single state logically conclude their actions will have little effect on the presidential election’s outcome in other states. 

Republican legislators in North Carolina, Michigan, and Wisconsin can act against the apparent desire of the majority of voters in last month’s election without worrying about the effect on their party’s ability to win a national popular vote — because no such vote ever matters. 

But things would be different if some states awarded some electors to the national vote winner. Then state officials in both parties (for the first time in American history) would have a ballot-based reason to be concerned about the reaction to their conduct from fellow Americans across the whole country. Anti-democratic moves by either party in any state might shift public opinion against that party in other states. Notorious bad actions by either party even in a single state then might cost the party a national popular vote majority and as a result lose the presidency. 

The anachronistic notion that what happens in a single state stays in that state would be eradicated. If the national popular vote mattered then the actions of officials in a single state might be subjected to meaningful judgment in the court of national public opinion. 

Not Good, Part 2

Out of the total eligible voting population in 2016, 40.9% did not vote. That amounted to 93.9 million people. They did not have better things to do. They realized that the current presidential selection system either makes their votes irrelevant or makes other people's votes much more significant. The nearly 100 million no-shows were not dumb or lazy or unworthy of voting. They realized that the campaigns made little or no effort to get their vote.

Making Media Matter

Commenting about direct election of the president in 1974, political scientist Charles Press wrote that "a most important effect of a straight out popular vote system will be an increased influence of the national media." 

If the national media is composed of the news-related cable channels and network television, they have little influence on the presidential elections of this century. Newspapers have even less.

If the national popular vote count determined the president, then more advertising would go to these outlets. In this sense national TV would have increased influence. Currently the networks get almost no presidential campaign ad money. It goes almost entirely to local broadcasters in a few swing states.

A national vote that mattered would cause local newspapers to make more money, potentially a lot more.

But would Fox News and MSNBC have bigger audiences? I doubt it. Would their commentators be more influential? Nope. Would they have editorials? Not likely.

Campaigns would use social media to reach every voter in the country. They would not spend money on broadcast or cable ads in big cities; too expensive. They would pump up ads on local broadcast in all states, local newspapers and radio too.

NYT, WaPo, and WSJ would have to spend more money figuring out what moved voters in every state. They probably would get more subscribers. Local newspapers would surely sell more copies. Interest in local elections would go up. But social media would provide the primary avenue to voters everywhere. 

National Election Good for Increasing Optionality in Candidates

In 1974, Charles Press argued in 68 American Political Science Review 1756-58 that choosing the president by total national popular vote would "encourage a further nationalizing of American politics."  What he meant was that big city bosses and state leaders would lose influence over the nomination, and "Under [this] reform, you will be able to recruit your presidential candidates from South Dakota and Arizona without apology."  

Presumably he meant that each of the two parties owed the country a big "sorry" for the Goldwater and McGovern nominations but that a national vote might lead to candidates being chosen from small states.

Looking back at his point these many years later, it seems that "nationalizing" actually means that nominees would be less likely to come from a big state where they have a robust financial donor base. That seems good.

Primary Voting

In the post-Watergate reforms of the 1970s both parties adopted nominating systems that allocate delegates according to population in large part but not exclusively. Famously or notoriously they also created super-delegates, composed mostly of elected officials, who are thought to be likely to choose the candidate who seems ideal at the end of the long primary season. Presumably early voters or poorly informed voters in some states might have erred in the process. 

This anti-democratic measure is under attack. Primary voters in both parties want to choose directly the nominee.

It follows that the same voters, by far the most likely to vote in the general, also support the notion that the popular vote should directly choose the president in the general election.

If the nominee needed to win the national popular vote to win the general election, it seems likely that the nominating process would become more democratic, and the number of super-delegates would diminish. It would make sense for any national party to use the nominating process as a test run to determine vote getting capability in every state. More than that, the vote getting would try out themes, policy positions, and arguments in advance of the general election. In short, the whole process from soup to nuts would probably become more democratic with a little "d." 

The History of America is the History of Race

The principal reason animating southern state opposition to direct election of the president at the time of the Constitutional Convention was slavery. To protect slavery, the southern state representatives had obtained the compromise that allocated them House seats according to population with slaves counted as three-fifths of a person.

If direct popular vote picked the president, the Three-Fifths gimmick would not have given southern states inequitable advantages in choosing the president.

Slaves of course could not vote, and the northern states had more eligible voters.

Founders from the slave states feared the outcome could be presidents unsympathetic to their "peculiar institution."

So they insisted on the electoral college system. By giving states two electors plus the number equaling the House members, the scheme extended the Three-Fifths Compromise to the process of choosing the president. It wasn't until 1860 that the unsympathetic president at last was elected. 

A Good Idea for Any Politician

In his book "Why the Electoral College is Bad for America," George Edwards reports that six times in American history a switch of less than 10,000 votes would have made the popular vote runner-up the president, in addition to the other occasions where that did happen.

As Alexander Keyssar, the preeminent historian of the vote in American, put it in a review of the book, the most "unpopular political institution" in America is the electoral college.

Any politician supporting reform of the presidential selection system to make it more directly based on the national popular vote will be pushing something popular. 

How Big Turnout Could Be

If every voter in every state mattered, and if it followed that at least voter turnout in non-battleground states in 2016 matched turn-out in battleground states, then the non-battleground state turnout would rise by at least 16.3%. That could be close to 20 million more votes in 2020. 

But in fact if both campaigns competed to win every vote from every eligible voter in the country, they would use digital marketing, TV advertising, reinvigorated local party structures, appeals on nationally broadcast shows, newspaper ads, door knocking, and phone calls (1) to increase registration, (2) increase participation, (3) encourage people to think of joining with like-minded members of the same church, cause-related group, fellow high school graduates, family and friends -- regardless of domicile -- and voting together for the candidate of their choice. Voting would be a sport of many teams. Participation could approach registration levels, adding perhaps 50 to 70 million more voters to the process of picking the president. Everyone would have to acknowledge that the president really represented the people's choice.

When Every Vote Does Matter

In state-level congressional elections, and in the elections of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives — in almost every election in America — every single vote counts and has the potential to be the one that's decisive.

Just see what happened this year in Kentucky: https://bit.ly/2Bpld05

Why should the way we elect the president be any different?

60% Don't Matter

If you add up all the runner-up votes and all the surplus votes cast for president, then the total is about 60%. Let's repeat that: about 60% of all votes cast for president under the current system do not matter at all. They are "systematically discarded," in the good phrase of lawsuits catalyzed by the brilliant Larry Lessig of Harvard Law School. It's a wonder as many people vote as do vote given how many votes the system ignores.

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?

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?

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. 

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.