How to Make Every Vote Count—With or Without a Constitutional Amendment

Today, Senators Brian Schatz, Dick Durbin, Dianne Feinstein, and Kirsten Gillibrand introduced a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College. 

This is not the first time such an amendment has been introduced. The constitutional amendment process is long and arduous.  But there is another way to change the system: states could agree to give their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote through the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Some have criticized the Compact as an end-run around the Constitution. To the contrary, the Constitution specifically gives states the right to allocate their electors as they see fit. Further, as Seth Masket explains for Vox, the states have already moved far away from the original system the founders envisioned:

Indeed, the way that the Electoral College is currently implemented and has been practiced over the past two centuries bears little similarity to the way the founders originally described it. This is no council of elites carefully deliberating over the ideal president; electors, with very few exceptions, simply vote the way their states’ voters did, in many cases risking legal penalty for not doing so. This was an adaptation of the Constitution, not an amendment to it.



Rural power!

This article presumes that the Electoral College somehow advantages rural America. Nothing could be further from the truth. 60 million Americans live in rural communities. In most states they are outvoted in the presidential election by people in the cities and suburbs of their own states. The Electoral College doesn’t unite rural Americans. It divides them and marginalizes them.

As a result their interests, cares , preferences,  and concerns are routinely ignored by the candidates of both presidential parties. They get lipservice. They don’t get results. If the national popular vote picked the president then the eligible voters among the 60 million would represent a faction of tremendous significance. They would no longer be ignored.  



Arizona Conservative: The President Should be Chosen by Popular Vote

Columnist Robert Robb explains that the current, winner-take-all Electoral College is not what the Founders envisioned for our system, and how it distorts our elections and policy:

In modern politics, however, the principal effect of the Electoral College is to give all the attention to the handful of swing states that might go either way. Except for fundraising, the rest of the country is ignored once the general election rolls around. 

That’s not healthy. And it weakens the extent to which election outcomes are accepted as a legitimate expression of the popular will.

In the modern era, everyone’s vote for the president should carry the same weight and be equally valued and sought by the candidates.



The way we pick the president means we can save the Great Lakes but not the Chesapeake Bay

After his initial budget threatened to cut 90% of the funding to clean up and preserve the Great Lakes, President Trump announced at a rally in Michigan that the full $300 million budget would be restored.

On the other hand, the same budget still would cut funding to clean up the Chesapeake Bay by 90%—from $93 million to only $7.3 million

Why does the president want to save the Great Lakes but not the Chesapeake Bay? Because Michigan will be a critical swing state in the next election, and no president can afford to potentially anger the small number of voters who, by chance, have the privilege of deciding the election.  On the other hand, Maryland’s electoral votes are taken for granted. 

This is just one example of how our current presidential election system warps our spending, policies, and priorities with very real consequences.



Democracy

You cannot preach temperance from a barstool. A country cannot promote democracy globally without embracing it at home. 

As Professor Tooze writes, our country risks losing its birthright as the modern birthplace of equal rights — of which no one is more important than the right to vote with equal weight for all elected officials. 

This is why presidential candidates should have to compete to win the most votes cast by all Americans.



Ohio State Representatives Debate the National Popular Vote

Representative David Leland (D-Columbus) has introduced the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact in Ohio, along with co-sponsors Kristin Boggs, Janine R. Boyd, Catherine D. Ingram, Mary Lightbody, Michael Skindell, and Kent Smith. On March 13, 2019, the House Federalism Committee debated the bill. Below is an account of the points Representative Leland made in favor of the bill, and his responses to critics.

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New Hampshire Considers the National Popular Vote

In February 2017, New Hampshire Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan voiced support for replacing the Electoral College with a popular vote system, but lamented that such a change would require a constitutional amendment, “which, as Hassan put it, would be ‘a challenge,’ at the very least.”

However, there is no need to get mired down in the constitutional amendment process when our system already gives states the power to award their electors to the winner of the national popular vote. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact has already been passed by jurisdictions equaling 189 electoral votes. Once states with 270 electoral votes enact the Compact, it will go into effect and the person who gets the most votes will become the president.

New Hampshire could be the next state to pass the Compact, which is currently under consideration as House Bill 541.  New Hampshire newspaper Concord Monitor has endorsed the Compact because it will make candidates court voters outside of swing states and will make every vote matter across the country:

The Electoral College system leads candidates to ignore states that they consider sure winners or losers and focus on swing states like Florida, Ohio and New Hampshire. It leads presidents, as can be seen by Trump’s 10 visits to Ohio since he took office, to curry favor with swing states while in office and ignore states they don’t believe will support their re-election.

Replacing the Electoral College with a system that rewards the winner of the popular vote would give candidates an incentive to compete in every state. As in other elections, the person who wins the most votes should become president, not the candidate who, with a minority of votes in winner-take-all system, is declared the winner by the Electoral College.

The National Popular Vote compact is a way to restore fairness to the system without amending the Constitution. It would make future presidents more legitimate rather than accidents of an outdated and flawed system.



Believer War

Among its almost innumerable barbarisms, the Electoral College system pits evangelicals against non-church goers in an unasked-for struggle for the plurality in the three Midwestern states that decide the presidency in this century: Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. 

Here's the people count on a national level as of now, according to Thomas Edsall of the New York Times:

White evangelicals, according to Ryan Burge, a political scientist at Eastern Illinois University, now make up 18.6 percent of the population, 4.4 percentage points less than the 23 percent of the population who profess no religious commitment.

Among white evangelicals, Republicans outnumber Democrats 61.1 percent to 21.7 percent, according to Burge. Among those without religious affiliation, Democrats outnumber Republicans 53 percent to 21.5 percent.

Religion and party, it seems, correlate closely. In the trio of battlegrounds, the politics is especially fraught because the size of the two factions, believers and mere ethicists, is about the same. This is an invitation for politicians to promote political divisiveness in pursuit of turn-out. As you may have noticed, you-know-who, the vindicated one, does tend to stoke that on occasion, despite the incongruity of himself as an evangelical apostle, not to mention the flock of epigones in his crowd of courtiers. 

Still another virtue of the national vote as a means of eliminating state battlegrounds is that it would tend to lower the stakes in localized, religiously grounded, factional conflicts and let the large consensus about religion that is in the First Amendment and in the hearts of most Americans provide ample freedom for everyone to follow their own beliefs without the aid (or interference) of state power. 



Let All the People Pick the President

Numerous Democratic presidential candidates want to get rid of the Electoral College. On the other hand, the only Republican candidate says that the system is “brilliant” because if all citizens in a single national vote chose the president then he and his rival Democratic nominee would pay no attention to anyone living in a small state or the Midwest.

Everyone can see that the Democrats believe their nominee would win the national popular vote, and President Trump, having said he could have won in 2016, might not be confident that he could pull that off in 2020. Nothing is surprising about politicians wanting rules of the game that help them win.

But neither Republicans nor Democrats are mentioning the three sins of the current system. Regardless of which candidates a national popular vote would favor, these clearly call for abandonment of an 18th century system designed to protect slavery and solve the logistical problems of travel in a pre-telegraph era.

First, because the pluralities in more than 40 states are predictable in these tribal times, in the general election the two major party campaigns ignore those states in which more than 80% of Americans live. Their indifference to turn-out in those states causes total voter participation to fall between 20 and 80 million votes short of the levels that would be reached if every vote counted in picking the president. Disinterest and disgust come from voter indifference – people who know they are ignored justly harbor resentment that undermines trust in government. 

Second, because the general election presidential campaigns don’t pay much attention to four out of five Americans, the parties and their nominees do not offer promises, platforms or policies that most Americans want. Huge majorities register their desire for sensible compromises and good legislation on immigration, infrastructure, clean power, better support for child care and a host of other common-sense measures. The candidates don’t need votes from most people, so they don’t pay attention to most people during the election cycle and then when in office.   

Third, because the result in presidential election is dictated by small margins in perhaps only four states – currently, Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin – billions of dollars are spent by the two parties in badgering voters and wooing political leaders in these states. The politicians might enjoy the attention. The people in those states do not. They get little or nothing out of robocalls, door knocks, and Facebookery that mark over-intensive campaigning. In Iowa or New Hampshire in the primaries voters actually get to meet the candidates. From September to November every four years the proverbial swing voters just get digitally bludgeoned.

To build some trust between the people and the politically powerful, to give most people what most people want out of government, and to spread the pain of political campaigns fairly and more bearably over the whole country, it is time to let the people pick the president.



Losing Argument

This piece admits that none of the arguments for the Electoral College are valid. It doesn’t protect small states. It doesn’t force candidates to go everywhere. Instead, Ross Douthat claims, the one merit of the system is that it allows a regional minority to elect a president against the wishes of the whole country.

This is the ultimate condemnation of the system. The great—or I should say horrible—example of history is that the electoral college perpetuated white supremacy for more than two centuries. That was what a regional minority wanted and thanks to the electoral college was able to keep in place. Even now the views of a regional minority distort politics on ethnic grounds. I won’t go into this more because it is too depressing.

The point is that in a fair system, what most people want as policy is what politics should give most people—except to the degree that the individual rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights must be protected. 

The current electoral system frustrates most people and that includes most people in the Midwest. A poll MEVC did last week showed a large majority of people in Ohio think the country is on the wrong track. This is a state that voted for Donald Trump by a huge margin. According to the people in that state his victory has not given them a good future. Time for a change of the system. Let every American participate equally in picking the president. 



Why Conservatives Should Support the National Popular Vote

From Republican activist Brian Laurens in the Washington Times:

If you a conservative residing in the deeply red and rural South, you’re taken for granted every four years while the Republican ticket pours almost all of its time and money into 12 so-called “battleground” states. There’s basically no reason to even bother to vote.

All together in 2016, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana delivered 5,971,583 popular votes and 45 electoral votes to the TrumpPence ticket — exactly one-sixth of the 270 electoral votes necessary to elect a president. Yet, just four of the 151 major Republican general election events held across the country took place in those five deeply red states.

It’s easy to understand why campaigns treat their most solid supporters so offhandedly. Why, they reason, should we waste precious resources in states where we are so far ahead we can’t possibly lose? (Or, for that matter, in states where they are so far behind they can’t possibly win.) So, while 38 states sit on the political sidelines, the real campaign takes place in 12 battleground states with big blocks of electoral votes, and a propensity to swing them back and forth between red and blue every four years.

As a result, Americans don’t elect a president of the United States of America. Rather, they elect a president of the Battleground States of America.

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which has already passed 14 states and the District of Columbia with a current 186 electoral votes, would change that situation dramatically.

Knowing they need to win the popular vote in order to be awarded 270 electoral votes and the White House, candidates would be compelled to conduct truly national campaigns, seeking out every voter in every nook and cranny of the nation. The Democratic ticket kissing babies in rural red Kansas, while the Republican ticket mines for conservatives in blue Oregon. Just imagine that.


Legal Scholar Paul Smith Makes the Case for the National Popular Vote

From the Campaign Legal Center:

“Under the U.S. Constitution, states have the power to determine how they award their electoral votes in national elections. States are increasingly showing that the will of their voters is to do away with the winner-take-all laws, which award all of its electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes within the state. They are signing up for the National Popular Vote Compact.”


The Winner-Take-All Electoral College Benefits Big Battlegrounds, Not Small States

One of the most prominent argument in favor of keeping our current electoral system in place is that it keeps small states from becoming ignored. But in reality, the Electoral College is not doing much to promote the relevance of small states. From the New York Times:

The Electoral College’s small-state bias had essentially nothing to do with Donald J. Trump’s victory. In fact, he won seven of the 10 largest states, and Hillary Clinton won seven of the 12 smallest states.

Over all, the Electoral College’s bias toward small states probably cost her a net of four votes — essentially nothing.

If there is a benefit to protecting small states, the Electoral College is not doing a great job of providing it. Big states can dominate small ones under the system, and they have done so at times.


Let the People Decide if They Want the National Popular Vote

So far, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact has only been passed by Democratic legislatures. But it’s also possible for the people to weigh in directly via the ballot box on whether they want every vote across the country to count equally. From Time:

Reed Hundt, head of the bipartisan Making Every Vote Count advocacy group, thinks the states that will put [the Compact] over the top might instead come from a successful ballot measure driven by grassroots support. Twenty-six states allow voters to approve either an initiative or a referendum on an issue, including potential interstate-compact targets like Ohio, Missouri and Arizona.

“The important thing is public opinion,” the former FCC chairman said. “The American people by large numbers need to say, ‘What’s up with this 18th century artifact? We don’t need to let it pick the president for us. We should pick ourselves.’”

Hundt remains optimistic that it will succeed eventually, in part because he thinks Electoral College results will increasingly cut against the popular will. A statistical analysis in 2017 done for Making Every Vote Count predicted splits between the Electoral College and the popular vote could happen in nearly one out of three elections in the next century, and neither party is likely to have a long-term advantage.

Based on how members of both parties have reacted in the past, a Republican loss under those circumstances would likely move public opinion on the right pretty quickly. And that, Hundt believes, could be what finally makes the difference.