Campaigning Equals Governing

We live in the era of the endless campaign for the presidency.

In 2012, Brendan J. Doherty, a political scientist at the United States Naval Academy, published The Rise of the President’s Permanent Campaign, the thesis of which is that, in the words of a summation of the book, the “distinction between campaigning and governing has become increasingly blurred in recent years.” Doherty notes not only the increase in fundraising but also “the targeting of key electoral states throughout a president’s term in office. . . .  [R]ecent presidents have disproportionately visited those states that are important to their political prospects while largely ignoring those without electoral payoff.”

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Donald Trump began spending on the 2020 race 16 days after the 2016 election.  He officially filed with the Federal Election Commission for the 2020 election on January 20, 2017, the day of his inauguration for his first term.

We can confidently say that this is not what the founding fathers had in mind. George Washington did not begin campaigning for his second term in office shortly after he was elected to his first term. But this is the world we are living in now, and the situation has profound implications for the nation today and tomorrow.

The identity between campaigning and governing means that we must take a hard look at the nature of the campaign. The most salient fact is that the people do not elect the president, “electors” in the various states do. This means that not only in campaigning but in governing, certain states – the swing states – are going to get attention while other states will be ignored.

Indeed, the situation is even more granular. Certain precincts within certain states will get a lot of attention and a disproportionate amount of federal funding. The size of the state does not matter. California and Wyoming will both be ignored. It is the swing states that will be lavished with attention.

The distortion in policy making is obvious, and it is the direct result of the winner-take-all method. If the president were elected by popular vote, every vote would count equally. There would be no such thing as a swing precinct in a swing state.

The election of the president by popular vote will lead to better government. Even Trump has stated that he prefers it.

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The Consent of the Governed?

On March 18, 2018, Vladimir Putin was reelected to his fourth term as president of Russia. The results of the election were hardly a surprise. Putin is a dictator, the tyrant of a closed society which is a stranger to the freedoms which Americans take for granted.

Given the foreordained outcome, an obvious question is: why have an election at all? One reason might be that even though elections in Russia and other dictatorships are charades, they at least provide the appearance that the nation’s ruler has the consent of those who are ruled.

When the United States declared its independence on July 4, 1776, the Declaration asserted that governments “[derive] their just powers from the consent of the governed.”   That phrase has become sacred in the United States. And not only here. Innumerable dictatorships have staged ersatz elections because even tyrants want at least to claim that they exercise their power at the behest of the people over whom they rule.

What’s the attraction? Is it possible the idea of ‘consent of the governed’ is so magnetic that even undemocratic countries thirst for the confirmation that it provides?

It is therefore highly ironic that in the United States, the president does not derive his (perhaps someday her) power from the consent of the governed. Mayors of American cities do, as do governors of American states. But presidents do not.

This is because the president is the nation’s only elected official who is not elected by the people. He is elected by “electors.”   Who are electors?  According to Article 2, Section 1, of the Constitution, they are individuals appointed by each state “in such manner as the legislature thereof may decide.”   When Americans cast their vote for president, they are not voting for the person whose name they mark on the ballot. They are voting for a slate of electors – people unknown to the voters – who are pledged to vote for that person when the electoral college meets. These pledges are usually but not always honored. There is such a phenomenon as a “faithless elector.”

The system of instructing electors left something out: are you voting for president or vice-president?

Because of a poorly designed system a tie totally unintended by the people supporting the candidates took place in 1800. The 12th amendment had to be added to the Constitution in 1804 to make the system even minimally functional.

There have been 58 presidential elections in American history.  In five of those, the person elected did not receive the most popular votes. Two of those instances have happened recently – in 2000 and 2016.  Statisticians tell us that such occurrences are likely to take place more often in the future.

Like Russia, our chief executive does not possess the consent of the governed.   He receives the consent of the states, but that’s what not the first three words of the Constitution say. They say “We The People,” not “We the States.” 

We The People

"How can you keep them down on the farm, after they've seen Paris" -- is a lyric from an old song. Turns out that San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Orlando, among others, have the same magnetic power. Most Americans are moving to eight or nine states. People are moving not only to urban cores, but to increasingly densifying suburbs.

The Internet has made remote working possible, but it also allows people to share photos, opinions, values, and location nearly instantaneously. As a result people know where to find communities of similar cultural traits.

As they exercise their right to travel, people can and do associate in like-minded communities. Because successful political practice has the tribal quality of aligning parties with voters sharing a common set of beliefs and values, opinions and ethics, the parties inevitably find and mirror the culture of people in states with large populations. It follows that these states predictably produce pluralities of voters for the same party in repeat elections.

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Republican and Democratic political professionals have sorted out the big states. The R's win some; the D's, others. Both sides know that Republican nominees aren't going to win California and Texas both, because the dominant communities in those states are culturally different, defining culture as a web of beliefs and values. So the Republicans don't try to win California. And reciprocally the Democrats don't try to win Texas.

Florida is an exception because its growth has been more suburban and more composed of retirees, Central and South Americas, and Mid-Westerners -- an unusual mixture -- than other states. The admixture has accidentally created a political balance where either party can win a presidential plurality.

Moreover, much migration has comprised younger, more educated, multi-ethnic people. In general, Democrat-leaning voters have moved to the growing states, leaving Republican-leaning voters behind in the others. As a result, in most of the 40 or so other states, the Republicans are likely to win presidential elections. There are exceptions, like Vermont, but this is a general truth. It is not about good or evil, right or wrong. This is a story of change in the social landscape.

If people of all kinds were moving to middle size cities distributed all over the map, then candidates for president would have to compete nationally. The winner would always win both the national popular vote and the Electoral College. This was true from 1884 to 2000, an era in which in fact the railroads, the automobile and the industrial economy did cause many medium sized cities in many states to flourish, especially as suburbs grew around old downtown cores. In the present century the unstoppable trends head in the opposite direction.

Given current demographics, the emptying and the filling states together are not easily contested by both major party nominees in a presidential election. Unless the presidential election winner can enjoy a near-landslide like Obama in 2008 or Reagan in 1984, neither party has a reason to shape a message appealing to voters anywhere except an increasingly small number of truly contestable, or "swing", states.  

In 2016, other than Florida, only Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota were closely contestable for both parties. (New Hampshire was close too, but has too few electoral votes to swing an election, save in 2000.) In that Mid-Western swath, for reasons lying in the nature of job creation in the old industrial economy, the two parties have bases of voters that are roughly equal in size. 

Even an incumbent president seeking re-election should reject an electoral strategy that depends on appealing either to the Democratic-voting states or the Republican-voting states. The former he/she cannot win; the latter can be taken for granted. A rival nominee also should assume the votes of the base and not compete in the base of the opposing party.

As a result, free traders in Republican-leaning grain states can be ignored by a president intent on destroying the global anti-tariff framework the United States has upheld since its victory in the Second World War. And that same president can also ignore the desire of voters in urban-densifying states like California and New York for more federal spending on infrastructure, like trains, roads, airplanes and schools. For that matter, a Democratic nominee can ignore the evangelists' agenda or the gun rights advocates in numerous Republican-leaning states. 

Inevitably, if candidates only need to appeal to a tiny fraction of the total voting populace and if that fraction is not demographically and culturally representative of the whole, then the winning candidate will not have any incentive to govern in the best interest of everyone. Instead the motivation will be to appeal to the few, and to express cultural views that divide rather than unite the country, upholding the preferences of critical factions in a few states and rejecting the views and values of most Americans. 

That's a problem. A democracy works only if a majority can have its preferences translated into policy by representatives in government. The rights of the minority should be protected by the courts, but the legislature and executive branch should act consistently with the preferences of most citizens. That is the entire point of a democracy, and of course is likely to maximize benefits for everyone.

To make the American democracy work as it should, it is necessary to guarantee that both parties' nominees must seek to pursue the preferences of most people. That means nominees must win the national popular vote in order to become president.

To educate about this topic is why I co-founded Making Every Vote Count and why so many wonderful people have joined our board and signed up as supporters. You can do so by hitting the sign-up button on this page.

The MLB All-Star Game and the Electoral College

It’s the MLB All-Star break—and as always, it’s as much fun to complain about who got snubbed as it is to celebrate who made the cut. (Where’s Trea Turner?)

Fans vote for certain starters, and can vote as often as they want for whomever they want. That rewards exciting players, but also enthusiastic fans. (And, on occasion, ballot stuffing.) Certainly a “one fan, one vote” system would be more fair, but it may not be worth the effort and anyway fan frenzy is sort of the point. It’s a weird system but it tends to work well enough.

Besides, it’s just a game, and it’s not like we’re picking the president this way.    

No, unlike MLB All-Star fan voting, we have a “one person, one vote” rule for electing the president. That’s obviously more fair! But take a closer look: also unlike MLB All-Star voting, not all votes for president tend to count equally. That’s very obviously worse.

Imagine if MLB discarded votes cast by Red Sox fans living in the New York area (They exist! There are other examples). Unfair, one might say. And yet ….

Registered voters in 50 states plus DC cast their ballot not for a presidential candidate but for the slate of electors of that presidential candidate’s party. Unlike MLB All-Star fan voting, the winner of the most total votes cast by actual voters for president is meaningless.  

As a consequence, candidates only campaign in states where they know the number of votes for each candidate will be close That’s bad for the rest of the country (and maybe even for the voters in those states). The person who wins the most total votes cast may not be elected president (which is happening more frequently). That’s bad for all of us.

Voting for MLB All Stars is not totally fair. (Really, how could it be?) Snubs will result, but we basically expect that.

Voting for president ought to be totally fair. Voters should not be snubbed. We expect every vote to count.   

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A Challenge In California

Something you may not know: Harvard Law Professor and former presidential candidate Lawrence Lessig is suing the state of California. His argument? The state disenfranchised Republican voters in the 2016 general election because their votes did not count under the winner-take-all system. That method of allocating electoral votes to the Electoral College is used not only in California but also 47 other states. Writes the Sacramento Bee:

"The lawsuit primarily rests on two claims: First, the state violates the Constitution's equal protection clause by not complying with the Supreme Court's precedent of "one person, one vote." Second, California violates citizens' First Amendment right to free speech by curbing their ability to associate with political parties."

Jason Harrow, chief counsel at Equal Citizens the non-profit founded by Mr. Lessig, commented, "We want to help all voters have some kind of say in states where their votes don't matter," Harrow said.

Lessig is not alone in pointing out that the winner-take-all system harms voters of every political party. In last Friday’s post, “A Better System for Everyone,” Making Every Vote Count Board Member James Glassman wrote, “We don’t need speculative models, however, to tell us that either party could win the presidency without a majority of the popular vote – an outcome that harms legitimacy and democracy.”

The Participation Gap

A common refrain in American politics is that every vote matters and that it is our responsibility as Americans to make our voices heard in elections.  But how true are these sentiments?  Is every voice being heard if presidential candidates are only engaging with voters in a handful of states? 

Under our current system of electing the president, your interaction with the candidates is largely based on what state you’re in.  Rather than focus on appealing to each and every voter, candidates now focus on the voters in battleground states.  With no engagement by the candidates, voters outside of closely contested battleground states will feel ignored.  And ignored voters can quickly become nonvoters.

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Michael McDonald, a political-science professor at the University of Florida, has asked whether the issue of low voter turnout is because candidates aren’t appealing to nonvoters or if the real issue is that voters feel so disengaged and isolated from the political process that they simply give up on participating.  If Americans believe their votes do not matter, then voter turnout will steadily decline.  And low voter turnout leads to other problems in a democracy.

According to Sean McElwee, in low turnout elections, candidates have good reason to prioritize the wants and needs of a small portion of the public.  But in a system with higher turnout, like a system relying on a national popular vote, candidates and politicians would be more inclined to take into account the interests of more people.

Catering to the small portion of the public who do show up results in policies that don’t align with the priorities of the majority of citizens.  This disconnect is apparent when it comes to economic benefits between voters and nonvoters.  For example, nonvoters tend to favor increased spending to support the expansion of government services while voters generally oppose these policies, a divide that roughly mimics the partisan divide on the issue.

But an increase in voter turnout need not result in policies that conservatives automatically oppose.  There are many poverty-reducing benefits that conservatives and liberals can agree on. Annie Lowery, author of a new book on universal basic income, notes:

“Social Security has slashed the poverty rate among seniors to less than 10 percent from more than 40 percent; a child is more than twice as likely to be impoverished as someone over the age of 65 these days. The earned-income tax credit — you work, you’re poor, you pay your taxes, you get it, more or less — has proved remarkably effective at encouraging single mothers to keep working, without stigmatizing them for not doing so or asking them to document their hours every month. It has drawn hundreds of thousands of women into the labor force and kept them there, all while lifting six million Americans a year out of poverty.”

By increasing turnout through a national popular vote, candidates will have to engage more voters if they want to get elected.  And in reaching out to more people, candidates will have to develop policies that reflect the economic interests of a wider segment of the population, resulting in more policies that both conservatives and liberals can get behind.

If our current system of electing the president doesn’t change, candidates will continue to appeal solely to voters in that year’s closest battleground states and voter turnout will remain low.

While some countries solve low turnout by implementing mandatory voting laws, the United States has never required its citizens to vote.  Mandatory voting in America is not likely to happen anytime soon, but mandatory voting is not the only way to remedy low voter turnout.  If candidates for president campaigned, advertised, and appealed to voters in every state, voters would feel more included in the political process. A system that guaranteed that the candidate who received the most votes always became the president would accomplish this. A national popular vote might also have positive effects in non-presidential election years, where voter turnout is even lowerVoting is a habit and by increasing turnout in presidential elections, the trend can continue to non-presidential elections as well. If the narratives around voting - that it’s a civic duty, that it’s the best way to support your interests, that it truly matters - are reaffirmed, then participation will spread across all elections.  A national popular vote will improve voter turnout and ensure that every vote does count and that all of our voices are heard.

 

 

 
Democracy's Debut

In American history classes, we learn that the era between American revolutionaries’ victory at Yorktown and the enactment of the Constitution was chaotic and not exactly popular with voters.

That’s putting it mildly. Post-Yorktown, pre-Constitution America was nothing like the America we know today. The states maintained a weak alliance through the Articles of Confederation. In the absence of an effective federal government with real power, America the sovereign entity was unable to levy taxes, fund its military, or repay the debts that burdened its member states. In short, we were on the verge of collapse.

We rightly remember what came next – the debate over, drafting of, and enactment of the Constitution, completed in 1788 – as one of the greatest consolidations of power into one central government in history. The achievement created order from disarray and solved many of the problems inherent in the Confederation that came before. 

But the Constitution of the United States of America also represents the crowning achievement of democracy up to that point, and possibly until now: one nation, through a vote of its people, constituted itself.

As Yale constitutional scholar Akhil Reed Amar writes, when the draft Constitution was finalized on September 17, 1787, “[t]he proposal was a mere piece of paper .” But the elections held in every state to ratify that piece of paper “made the opening words flesh: We, the people of the United States, did in fact ordain and establish” our government.

Aside from the practical concerns of the Framing generation (ability to levy taxes, fund a military, repay debts, and engage in unified diplomacy), the ratification of the constitution represented something far more radical:

Before the American Revolution, no regime in history — not ancient Athens, not republican Rome, not Florence nor the Swiss nor the Dutch nor the British — had ever successfully adopted a written constitution by special popular vote.
“The Audacity of Democracy,” The Los Angeles Times, 9/16/12

The Constitution became the binding document of Americans in perpetuity precisely because a majority of American voters chose that to be the case between 1787 and 1788. The process still left most Americans out: although unpropertied white men were temporarily granted the right to vote on ratification, it would take a century more for America to recognize African Americans and freed slaves as voting citizens, and another 50 years for women to win that right.

But when we talk about the founding generation and how they felt about democracy – rule by the people – we would be wise to note that the same federal government we have today was ordained and established by the most radically democratic and popular action known to history.  

We would do well to credit the durability of our Constitution, and nation, to the revolutionary act of democracy that brought it into being. 

Sam Scarrow
Originalism and Presidential Elections

The word "originalism" is back in the news again.  This happens, as in the case now, whenever a new Supreme Court Justice is nominated or sometimes when the Court hands down a decision with far-reaching consequences that is deemed to be consistent with the intent of those who authored the Constitution, namely the country’s justifiably revered founders. 

So, you ask, what does originalism have to do with the country’s Presidential election system?  Few will gainsay the present reality that never before has there been so high a level of distrust and dissatisfaction with our institutions of governance.  There is no agreement, however, about the causes of these attitudes and their destructive effects.  There is, however, a small but growing movement that places major responsibility for these damages and escalating dangers on our system for electing our Presidents and seeks to remedy it.  

Those who defend the current Presidential election system might argue that it is what the founders intended, i.e., a form of originalism. But nothing could be further from the truth.  What the founders intended was never put into effect, and the current system bears even less resemblance to their principles.  James Madison was the primary architect of the Constitution and particularly of the provisions concerning the election of Presidents, the most notable of which was the electoral college system.  His letters, articles, and speeches make clear that the electors would be wise men chosen by each state to convene with wise men from other states to deliberate about and select who should be President.

Today, electors are not selected by the people nor by state legislatures.  They are selected by the political parties using procedures often hidden from the public and perhaps not written down.  Some states, like Texas, even prohibit the names of electors from being placed on Presidential ballots.  Electors are not chosen because they are wise men, but because of their party loyalty.  They do not use their independent judgment in casting their votes for President.  Their functions are worlds apart from what Madison and his fellow founders intended.  The Supreme Court, itself, has taken note of this change.  Modern-day electors are message bearers, akin to the U.S. Postal Service or, today, internet service providers.  As a result, the country’s current Presidential election is entitled to no deference under the originalists’ standard – what the founders intended. 

Moreover, the fundamental flaw in our current system nowhere appears in the Constitution.  In fact, the Constitution itself makes clear that neither the electoral college nor the founders are the culprit.  Who is it, then?  It is the individual states.  The good news is that under the Constitution, it is the states that expressly have not only the authority, but also the responsibility, to remedy the defect that they themselves created in the first two-thirds of the 19th century, long after the Constitution was written, adopted and ratified.  There is no need to resort to the founders’ original intentions to determine where the authority lies to remedy the current system, because the language of the Constitution is without ambiguity in this respect.  Even originalists concede that the plain meaning of the Constitution prevails over all other theories of interpreting it.

This is so because the crucial flaw in our Presidential election process is that 48 states use a winner-take-all system for allocating their electoral college votes.  This system was first adopted in the early 19th century by the state of Virginia to leverage its political clout in Presidential elections, based on its having the largest number of electoral votes.  Other large states followed, and to protect themselves smaller states eventually did the same.  But the result is that the winner-take-all system effectively disenfranchises all Republican and Democratic voters in the vast majority of states and creates various other un-democratic injustices.  And in only one small state, New Hampshire, do votes by both Republicans and Democrats matter.

With this critical flaw having been identified and it being understood that the cure resides in the states, the next question is what the cure should be.  The answer to that question comes from the people, and it already has.  Polls, in all states of which we are aware, show that a majority of the people believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should become President, as is the case for every other election in this country.

Originalists and non-originalists can agree that having expressly given this responsibility to the states, they can and should meet this responsibility by allocating their electoral college votes to the winner of the national popular vote and thereby vindicate the founders’ faith in democracy.

 

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A Better System for Everyone

In “An Explosion is Coming,” Dana Milbank writes: “Electoral college models show Republicans could plausibly continue to win the White House without popular majorities.”

We don’t need speculative models, however, to tell us that either party could win the presidency without a majority of the popular vote – an outcome that harms legitimacy and democracy. Under the current system, only about a dozen states determine who is president, and those states, by definition, are tightly contested. President Trump’s victory margins of only about 1% in such states as Pennsylvania, Florida, Wisconsin, and Michigan indicate several possible outcomes where either a Democrat or Republican could win the popular vote and still get fewer electoral votes than an opponent.

Remember that with a shift of fewer than 60,000 votes in just one state (Ohio), Sen. John Kerry would have won the 2004 election while losing to George W. Bush by nearly 3 million popular votes.

By a wide margin, Americans want to elect their president by national popular vote – not because such a system would favor Democrats (it would not) but because a popular vote would mean every person’s vote in every state would count the same – and, as a result, three-quarters of the states would not be written off in a campaign, as they are now. That’s why 11 states and the District of Columbia have already passed legislation to set the path to elect as president the person who gets the most ballots nationwide.

 Nationwide Survey Results 10/12/17

Nationwide Survey Results 10/12/17

Voters Make Great Myth Busters
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The dustbin of history is littered with things we thought we knew.  The Earth was definitely flat until it definitely wasn't.  Eventually, the Sun stopped revolving around the Earth.  Much later on, the Red Sox managed to break The Curse and, not long after that shock, Pluto wasn't even a planet anymore.

Apparently, nothing is sacred.

At least Americans can be certain that as far as the Electoral College goes, there are red states, there are blue states, and the rest are perpetually toss-ups, like Florida – and that's that.  Right?  Well, if you're still misty-eyed from having to peel your glow-in-the-dark Pluto decal off the bedroom wall, you may want to stop reading here.  Florida is going blue.

It turns out this is far from an isolated incident or evidence of a trend in only one direction.  Stepping gingerly through the rubble of the "Blue Wall" that crumbled under Hillary's feet, one realizes that the idea that states are irreversibly entrenched for one party or another is apocryphal.  Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin voting Republican in 2016 was no more of a betrayal than Indiana tipping for Barack Obama in 2008.  States don't belong to parties. They belong to people – people who move, people whose lives are affected by changing economies – and the political leanings of the states where they live will continuously evolve as a result.

"It is foolish to look at the national map as a collection of red and blue states. Over the long march of time, all of them are purple ."

Brandon Finnigan, 12/1/16 National Review

Meanwhile, in the service of these mythical advantages, the Electoral College renders millions of votes meaningless and encourages presidential candidates to ignore large portions of our country based on "electoral math."  When this math is out of the picture and candidates actually compete for the affection of all voters, the results may surprise you – did you know that 4 of the 5 most popular governors in America right now are Republicans in states that went to Hillary Clinton in 2016?

The only electoral math that adds up in a democracy is counting every vote.

What happens if we start to count everybody's vote?  Don't let anyone tell you they know.  Anything is possible.

Watch your back, Mercury.

The Consent of the Governed

 “Governments derive their only just powers from the consent of the governed.” 

Do you agree with this statement?

In a 2012 poll, 70 percent responded “Agree,” 13 percent “Disagree,” and 17 percent “Undecided.”

That’s right: only 70 percent of Americans concur with the premise of the Declaration of Independence as it’s literally written.

If it’s any consolation to some perplexed that the results weren’t 100 percent, consider this: only 66 percent responded “Agree” in 2011 and a paltry 56 percent in 2008. During the Revolution itself? Historians estimate only 40 percent of free men supported declaring independence from Great Britain.  

From the beginning, it was clear that the founding document was ahead of its time. John Hancock described the Declaration as “the foundation of a future government.”

We’re still catching up to an idea that shook the world 242 years ago.

Where to go from here? How do we deliver on the Founders’ promise of a government with the consent of the governed?

In a recent interview, former President Barack Obama said this,

“The simple message right now is that if people participate and they vote, that this democracy works,”

Voter participation polls show that the inverse is probably more accurate: Our democracy in not working because most Americans have no reason to vote and participate in our country's most important election. And that is because of the way we chose our presidents. The current systems prevents voters in the vast majority of states from picking the winner. Instead the election is decided in a handful of states where the election will be close. Americans turn out to vote in the few states where they know their votes will make a difference. Likewise, significantly fewer voters turn out in states where it will not.

 

On the other hand, a National Popular Vote would make every vote count equally. Candidates would finally have to campaign in all 50 states as well as stress the need for policies that benefited voters everywhere.

The Founders did not choose their presidents with the winner-takes-all system. That’s one of the reasons the method of counting votes is neither mentioned in the Declaration of Independence (the Presidency would come later) nor in the Constitution itself. But do we have the opportunity now to fill in the blank.

Happy 4th of July! 

 

Reed E. Hundt
Losing Trust In Government
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Would it surprise you to learn that a large majority of Americans affirmatively agree that they do not want to see their local hospitals destroyed by heavy rainstorms? I mean, let’s hope not. Fine, the question is silly but the problem isn’t: it’s raining more than it used to.

82 percent of those polled support a requirement that all federally funded infrastructure in flood-prone areas be constructed to better withstand the impacts of flooding. This would apply to new construction and to repairing and rebuilding structures severely damaged by flooding, including roads, transit systems, or hospitals.”

                                                                                    The Washington Post, 6/24/18

Sure, the poll wasn’t completely unanimous, but we as Americans all (pretty much) agree on some things, like non-flooded hospitals.

Vulnerable infrastructure presents a national problem, and a large majority of the country agrees on the solution: Over 250 bipartisan elected leaders representing more than 45 million Americans signed a statement of principles, including prioritizing decisions that “improve resiliency requirements for buildings and infrastructure systems built before and after flood-related catastrophes.”

Given the scope of the problem, and its national bipartisan support, it seems like a job for our national government. Well.…

The problem here isn’t just that the national government won’t require taking caution before building hospitals in flood-prone areas (to give just one example—we can all acknowledge there are examples on each end of the political spectrum). It’s that Americans not only don’t expect their government to do the popular thing everybody wants; it’s that increasingly Americans of all political affiliations don’t even expect their government to do the right thing:

When the National Election Study began asking about trust in government in 1958, about three-quarters of Americans trusted the federal government to do the right thing almost always or most of the time. …. Since 2007, the share saying they can trust the government always or most of the time has not surpassed 30%.”

Why the erosion in trust? For one thing, twice in the last 18 years our country didn’t send to the Oval Office the person who won the national popular vote. The electoral system doesn’t incentivize candidates to pay attention to national issues: In 2016, the candidates (and the public) knew that the presidential election would effectively be decided by the voters of only 11 states.

There’s a potential solution here, as common-sense as flood-proof hospitals: make every vote count

Matthew J Donnelly
Party Upheaval

Who is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and what does her upset victory tell us about the shape of the two party-system in America today?

As described in Politico,

“A former organizer for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, Ocasio-Cortez campaigned on abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and pushing the Medicare-for-all bill championed by Sanders.”

It would be stunning enough if Ms. Ocasio-Cortez had defeated a Democratic incumbent in any race in America today. Her double-digit victory is as earth-shattering as party leader Rep. Joe Crowley’s loss:

“Crowley became the highest-profile Democrat to lose a primary this year and the highest-ranking House member to lose an intraparty fight since Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost in 2014.”

How did this happen? In Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s words, it was rebellion against party: 

“We meet a machine with a movement, and that is what we have done today,” Ocasio-Cortez told NY1 before the race was called. “I think what we’ve seen is that working class Americans want a clear champion and there is nothing radical about moral clarity in 2018.”

Her victory connects to a trend in both parties: unrest.

Republican leaders have taken note of a similar volatility fomenting in their own party. As former House Speaker John Boehner describes it, “There is no Republican Party. There’s a Trump party,” Boehner offered up when asked about the current GOP. “The Republican Party is kind of taking a nap somewhere.”

Are the two parties as we know them disintegrating?

At the very least, we are finally seeing the consequences of voter dissatisfaction with the two-party system. 43 percent of Americans now consider themselves independents. In fact, independents have outnumbered Republicans and Democrats for nearly 10 years.

Distrust in the electoral process stirred even before the results of 2016 general election. According to polls cast in October of that year:

Fewer than half (43%) of the public say they have a great deal of confidence that their vote will be counted accurately.

In that same poll, 61 percent of respondents described themselves as growing dissatisfied with the two party system.

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The dissatisfaction is not surprising: Candidates for president increasingly leave out the majority of states in terms of visits, advertising, and policy promises on the campaign trail, instead honing their attention on the battlegrounds that become clear even before the general election has begun.

Is the backlash toward incumbents in the two parties today a sign that Americans are ready for a Third Party?

Since Ross Perot’s surprising 18.9 percent of the popular vote in 1992, third party candidates have met great resistance in viable runs for President, in no small part because the leaders of the Democratic and Republican Parties make the rules and benefit from a duopoly on attention in campaigns.  

A National Popular Vote change would give candidates who run as independents the ability to compete fairly with Democratic and Republican nominees. 

In a popular vote system, Democratic and Republican candidates might also find that third party challenges are not a zero sum game. America lags behind other countries in voter participation. If Independents can bring more voters to the polls, everyone might benefit from great faith in our elections and public debates that offer policies closer to the political center.

James K. Glassman
An Uphill Battle

What is gerrymandering and can it be stopped?  

The two-party system gives Americans the ability to choose their leaders. When it comes to picking US Senators and state executives like Governors, voters have a choice between candidates. All votes are added statewide. One voter equals one vote.

Even in states we consider deep red and deep blue, statewide races remain unpredictable. Democrats win in Alabama. Republicans win in Massachusetts. Voters surprise us when they choose candidates over party. The only predictable fact about these races is that the voters will choose their leaders.

But in congressional races? It's frequently the other way around. 

Consider Maryland’s 6th District, which includes the state’s entire western portion and before the last census had voted Republican in 10 straight Congressional races. In 2012, the district suddenly became safely Democratic. What changed? It wasn’t the politics of the district’s voters. It was the voters themselves. Democratic politicians redrew the district's boundaries to include enough of Democratic-leaning Montgomery County to guarantee the seat would favor their party for the foreseeable future. Democratic leaders in Maryland did not hide their reasoning. As Democratic Governor Martin O’Malley described the logic behind changing the map, "It was also my intent to create … a district where the people would be more likely to elect a Democrat than a Republican." 

Depending on the state, gerrymandering can benefit or hurt members of either party, and politicians have taken note. In a recent amicus filed in Gill v Whitford, the Wisconsin gerrymandering case before the Supreme Court, Sen John McCain, Sen Sheldon Whitehouse, and their legal council argued, “Americans do not like gerrymandering. They see its mischief, and absent a legal remedy, their sense of powerlessness and discouragement has increased, deepening the crisis of confidence in our democracy." The outcome, in the eyes of the Senators, is nothing short of disenfranchisement by a different name: "From our vantage point, we see wasted votes and silenced voices. We see hidden power. And we see a correctable problem.”

Senators McCain and Whitehouse were not alone in crossing party lines to oppose the Wisconsin’s map. Former Wisconsin state senators, Democrat Tim Cullen and Republican Dale Schulz, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed last year, “Fighting gerrymandering is about fighting abuse of power, no matter who does it.” 

Ending partisan redistricting remains an uphill challenge. Last week the Supreme Court declined to rule on the challenge by Maryland Republicans to the 6th district’s map, unanimously sent the Wisconsin case back to a lower court for reargument, and earlier this week voted 5-4 that Texas’s district map, which overwhelmingly favors Republicans, was not a violation of the Voting Rights Act. In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor spoke of those affected by the decision, “Those voters must return to the polls in 2018 and 2020 with the knowledge that their ability to exercise meaningfully their right to vote has been burdened by the manipulation of district lines specifically designed to target their communities and minimize their political will.”

So is gerrymandering a problem to fix or a reality its critics will have to accept? Ballot and legislative measures have already begun in several states to end the practice.  If the hope is to set a fairer playing field, voters might also consider voting more. Higher turnout would make seats designed to be 'safe' more competitive, and when it comes to participation, Americans have nowhere to go but up because we currently lag behind most development countries.  The most far-reaching reform would be changing the way we elect the President. If voters knew that the winner of the popular vote would always win the Presidency, turnout would increase in all states on a quadrennial basis because every voter would know that his or her vote counted toward determining the outcome of the presidential election. Right now, only a handful of states are considered competitive in any given cycle, and they alone receive attention and policy promises from candidates running for president. National turnout suffers as a result, but a change to our current system is closer than you might think.

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Reed E. Hundt
A Path Towards Democracy
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Connecticut becomes 11th state to join multi-state compact to ensure winner of popular vote becomes president 

In every election in the United States, the winner of the election is the person who wins the most votes. Every election except one: the choice of the president and the vice president.

For that election, voters mark who they want on the ballot but they are not really choosing the nominees. Instead they are choosing a slate of electors who have been nominated by the party that also nominated the candidates for the two highest executive offices whose names are on the ballot.

In many states the electors' names are not even on the ballot. In no state can a voter pick and choose among electors. A bare plurality selects an entire slate (in all but two states, more on them later). The winner-take-all system causes all the voters for the loser in a state to get no representation in the Electoral College. That, by the way, is not in the Constitution. States (except for two) have chosen this system, and the reasons are not so appealing. More on that later too.

One person = one vote

Everyone agrees that in a truly democratic system every vote honestly cast by every eligible voter anywhere in the country would be added together. Every vote in every state would have equal weight. One person = one vote.

The candidate with the most votes would become president.

Twice in the current century the person who won the national popular vote plurality was not chosen president by the Electoral College. As it happens I went to high school with one of those National Popular Vote winners/Electoral College losers and to law school with the other. So I remember the events on a personal level.

But we do not know who would have won the most votes in the country in either of these elections -- or for that matter in any election at all -- because with the current system the candidates do not run to win the most votes in the country.

Of course the rules of a game determine how it is played. The rules of the Electoral College game dictate that the candidates must win not the most support from the American people but instead 270 electors. Neither the Republican nor Democratic candidates even try to get most Americans to vote for them.

In the 20th century, the two major party candidates, however, did tend to campaign in many states. That is because they had a reasonable chance of winning many states in many regions as a path to winning the Electoral College. New York was a swing state in the 1970s and for most of the 1980s. California went Republican in the 1980s. Texas voted for Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Democrats Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton carried southern states. Even though the system was not truly democratic it did at least approximate a democratic method.

But in the 21st century, increased urbanization and increased polarization has caused both campaigns to realize that as many as 40 states are not contestable (more about this in a future blog post). The 40 are going to go Democratic or Republican pretty much regardless of who either party nominates. The number of contestable states has shrunk really to less than 10: only six states had popular vote margins less than 2 percent in the 2016 election.

As a result, both parties can and do ignore the wishes of most Americans when they shape their campaign messages. Why pay attention to voters who cannot amount to a plurality or to voters whose preferences can be taken for granted?

The candidates nowadays do not even try to get most people to vote. The Republican nominees do not try to get Republican-leaning voters to vote in California and the Democratic nominees do not try to get their potential voters to vote in Texas.

People are ignored, turnout drops, and citizens increasingly see that the game of politics drifts away from what they want.

In the all-important presidential contest, most of us become mere spectators to the sport of politics. This might be decent television fare, but it ain't democracy.

As a result, most Americans would like to see the electoral system changed, including the man who most recently benefited from it.   

“Well, it's an election based on the Electoral College. I would rather have a popular election, but it's a totally different campaign.”
President Donald J. Trump on Fox & Friends, April 26, 2018

Out of concern that their voters' votes do not currently matter, states have been joining an interstate compact, in which they agree to allocate all of their electoral votes in the coming presidential elections to the winner of the popular vote. The compact will take effect once states that joined aggregate 270 electoral votes. 

On May 24th, Governor Malloy of Connecticut signed House Bill 5421, entering his state as the 12th jurisdiction to join the National Popular Vote Compact, which now has a collective total of 172 electoral votes. Many years went into reaching this victory, years of tireless efforts by grassroots activists and political pressure in Hartford to convince the General Assembly. Success required bipartisan cooperation, especially in the Connecticut Senate, which is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. And no less important, when the law was presented on the House and Senate floor, legislators knew beyond a doubt that Connecticut voters were clamoring for the state to join the Compact. Polls commissioned by Making Every Vote Count had made it abundantly clear to legislators that it was not only a popular policy locally but also important to their standing with constituents. As House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz summed it up, “I would not want to explain as I’m standing at the polling center on Nov 8th this year that ‘Oh, by the way, I didn't support that when 80 percent of my constituents do.’”

Along with some new and old friends, I incorporated Making Every Vote Count, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization aiming to educate and inform about the effect on our democracy of the current presidential selection system. The purpose of the next 100 or so segments on this blog (which will also appear in excerpts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) will be to illuminate the issues and discuss different ways to go forward to the sunny uplands of a truly democratic system for electing the president and the vice president.

We can all agree that the United States should again be the city on a hill, a beacon for democracy that shines for all its people and all the people of the world. That's the founding principle of our non-profit. Please follow our blog and sign up as a supporter to find out how you can help rebuild our democracy.  

Reed