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The Post-Election Project: Should America Have a National Popular Vote?

Now that the election’s over, this is a great time to forget about ideas for reforming the electoral system.

Er, that’s a joke. Obviously, this is exactly the right moment to have a serious discussion—and concrete action—on making the system work better.

That’s highly unlikely to happen unless citizens of all stripes—the ones who make almost everything meaningful happen, when they can muster the interest and energy—take the lead.

One person who is doing just that is a fellow in Silicon Valley by the name of John Koza.

I met him shortly after I had written an article about ways of invigorating our elections process, and was intrigued and impressed.

Koza is the father of the movement for a National Popular Vote. It would replace the current system, in which the presidential candidate with the most votes can still lose, based on the complex formula of the Electoral College, and its tendency to winner-take-all on a state by state basis. National Popular Vote is a simple concept: whoever gets the most total votes of all cast throughout the United States—wins.

Now, you might assume that this will never come to pass, in part because it is so hard to amend the constitution and get rid of the Electoral College.

In fact, it turns out to be surprisingly easy. The kind of thing that would occur to a Silicon Valley pioneer—the computer scientist who among other inventions is credited with conceiving the scratch-off card (for lotteries and other contests).

Koza and his cohorts have come up with a brilliant solution to the disenfranchisement that the Electoral College represents. It doesn’t even require a constitutional amendment. Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution gives each state legislature the right to decide how to appoint the state’s electors. So all it would take is for the legislatures of states representing a majority of electoral votes to pass laws binding their states to abide by the results of the national popular vote. That is, the candidate with the most popular votes nationwide would automatically be awarded all of the electoral votes from the consenting states. Once enough states–which, combined, control 270 electoral votes–sign on to this agreement, the Electoral College would, de facto, be overridden.

Those consenting states don’t need some kind of centralized authority to do this—each legislature can make the decision on its own. And nine states have already signed on to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). (At that link, you can read about all sorts of issues that come up, such as whether states can legally make such compacts—Answer: probably)

In order of adoption date, Maryland, New Jersey, Illinois, Hawaii, Washington, Massachusetts, District of Columbia, Vermont, and California have joined NPVIC. Together, they represent 132 electoral votes, or a little less than half of the 270 needed to make the compact the final word in elections. A chart shows other states which have gone partway, with a Compact bill passing at least one house of the legislature.

Now, it is true that the person with the most popular votes actually has garnered the most electoral votes and been installed in the White House in 51 out of 55 elections. But even assuming those four exceptions don’t trouble you, it’s worth considering another issue: How the current Electoral College makeup distorts the campaigns themselves.

If every vote were to count equally, presidential candidates would no longer ignore huge Blue states like California and New York (as anything other than campaign-donor hunting grounds); the change would also benefit hard-Red states whose Presidential returns are also foregone conclusions, like Mississippi and Wyoming. So it’s not a matter of small states getting ignored. It just shifts the attention of political parties and the media from a handful of swing states to an appeal to all Americans. Suddenly, issues like public transportation, which matter most in major urban areas, gain the spotlight. Ditto with rural internet, which is a lifeline in sparsely-populated areas whose numbers are more substantial when nationally represented.

No one can predict with certainty how future legislative agendas might change under NPVIC. But we know how the current Electoral College works, and it’s a far cry from the presumed democratic ideal of “one person, one vote” — which NPVIC would surely advance.

Hard to see how that isn’t a good idea. The fact that Koza, a Democrat, has mostly Republicans on his committee demonstrates that this isn’t—and needn’t be—a partisan issue.

You can find more info at National Popular Vote’s website.

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  • nveric

    NO!
    We need a return to lawful government.
    We need to return to the Republic model.
    We need our proper number of representatives in the House, and it’s around 6,000 to 11,000 not the scrawny 435.

    See http://www.thirty-thousand.org for details.

    Barring the above, the People must write a new Constitution, after removing the current degenerate federal system.

  • JoeD

    Imagine if it was a close election and having to recount every ballot in every state.

    • http://twitter.com/oldgulph s e

      The current presidential election system makes a repeat of 2000 more likely, not less likely. All you need is a thin and contested margin in a single state with enough electoral
      votes to make a difference. It’s much less likely that the national vote will be close enough that voting irregularities in a single area will swing enough net votes to make a difference. If we’d had National Popular Vote in 2000, a
      recount in Florida would not have been an issue.

      The idea that recounts will be likely and messy with National Popular Vote is distracting.

      The 2000 presidential election was an artificial crisis created because of Bush’s lead of 537 popular votes in Florida. Gore’s nationwide lead was 537,179 popular votes (1,000 times larger). Given the miniscule number of votes that are changed by a typical statewide recount (averaging only 274 votes); no one would have requested a recount or disputed the results in 2000 if the national popular vote had controlled the outcome. Indeed, no one (except perhaps almanac writers and trivia buffs) would have cared that one of the candidates happened to have a 537-vote margin in Florida.

      Recounts are far more likely in the current system of state-by-state winner-take-all methods.

      The possibility of recounts should not even be a consideration in debating the merits of a national popular
      vote. No one has ever suggested that the possibility of a recount constitutes a valid reason why state governors or U.S. Senators, for example, should not be elected by a popular vote.

      The question of recounts comes to mind in connection with presidential elections only because the current system so frequently creates artificial crises and unnecessary disputes.

      We do and would vote state by state. Each state manages its own election and is prepared to conduct a recount.

      The state-by-state winner-take-all system is not a firewall, but instead causes unnecessary fires.

      Given that there is a recount only once in about 160 statewide elections, and given there is a presidential
      election once every four years, one would expect a recount about once in 640 years with the National Popular Vote. The actual probability of a close national election would be even less than that because recounts are less likely with larger pools of votes.

      The average change in margin of victory as a result of a statewide recount was a mere 296 votes in a 10-year study of 2,884 elections.

      No recount would have be warranted in any of the nation’s 57 previous presidential elections if the outcome had been based on the nationwide count.

      The common nationwide date for meeting of the Electoral College has been set by federal law as the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December. With both the current system and the National Popular Vote, all counting, recounting, and judicial proceedings must be conducted so as to reach a “final determination” prior to the meeting of the Electoral College. In particular, the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that the states are expected to make their “final determination” six days before the Electoral College meets.

      • http://www.facebook.com/gary.lindsay.oracle Gary Lindsay

        Wrong. The 0.52% difference between Bush-43 and Gore in 2000 would generate an automatic recount in any state.

  • http://www.911Blogger.com/ Orangutan.

    How about going back to hand marked paper ballots first, so corporations like Diebold can’t steal our election with private secret vote counting software.

    • Vaptorious

      Scytl is operation that enables the vote-flipping, as I understand it. Either way—I have doubts we’ll ever vote again in this country. If we do, there’s only one way I’m voting—on paper.

  • Bizarro Kissinger

    Tennis is scored in such a way that the winner of the most points can lose, but that doesn’t make it an unfair or unjust game. Quite the contrary. I have great reluctance second-guessing the brilliance of Madison. Few men have ever moved the world forward in better directions than he.

    • http://twitter.com/oldgulph s e

      If you support the current presidential election system, believing it is what the Founders intended and that it is in the Constitution, then you are mistaken The current presidential election system does not function, at all, the way that the Founders thought that it would.

      Supporters of National Popular Vote find it hard to believe the Founding Fathers would endorse the current electoral system where 80% of the states and voters now are completely politically irrelevant. 10 of the original 13 states are ignored now. In 2008, presidential campaigns spent 98% of their resources in just 15 battleground states, where they were not hopelessly behind or safely ahead, and could win
      the bare plurality of the vote to win all of the state’s electoral votes. Now the majority of Americans, in small, medium-small, average, and large states are ignored. Virtually none of the small states receive any attention. None of the 10 most rural states is a battleground state. 19 of the 22 lowest
      population and medium-small states, and 17 medium and big states like CA, GA, NY, and TX are ignored. That’s over 85 million voters, 200 million Americans. Once the conventions are over, presidential candidates now don’t visit or spend resources in 80% of the states. Candidates know the Republican is going to win in safe red states, and the Democrat will win in safe blue states, so they are ignored. States have the responsibility and power to make their voters relevant in every presidential election.

      With National Popular Vote, with every vote equal, candidates will truly have to care about the issues and
      voters in all 50 states and DC. A vote in any state will be as sought after as a vote in Florida. Part of the genius of the Founding Fathers was allowing for change as needed. When they wrote the Constitution, they didn’t give us the right to vote, or establish state-by-state winner-take-all laws for awarding electoral votes, or establish any method, for how states should award electoral votes. Fortunately, the Constitution allowed state legislatures to enact laws allowing people to vote and how to award electoral votes.

      The National Popular Vote bill would change current state winner-take-all laws that award all of a state’s electoral votes
      to the candidate who get the most popular votes in each separate state (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but since enacted by 48 states), to a system guaranteeing the majority of Electoral College votes for, and the Presidency to, the candidate getting the most popular votes in the entire
      United States.

      The bill preserves the constitutionally mandated Electoral College and state control of elections. It ensures that every vote is equal, every voter will matter, in every state, in every presidential election, and the candidate with the most votes wins, as in virtually every other election in the country.

      Under National Popular Vote, every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election. Every vote would be included in the state counts and national count. The candidate with the most popular
      votes in all 50 states and DC would get the 270+ electoral votes from the enacting states. That majority of electoral votes guarantees the candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC wins the presidency.

    • d b

      The original elector system in the Constitution had no popular vote for President at all. The states simply selected a group of prominent men to be “electors.” We abandoned that system long ago. We should now abandon this half-way elector system as well.

    • LutherW

      Bizarro, you bring up a good point. It is not only Tennis that functions a bit like the Electoral College. The World Series is not determined by most runs, it is the most games. Similarly who gets into the World Series, the Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, and probably most sports. The only point here is that we accept similar systems in other areas, so the EC is not as unique as it is portrayed.

  • ORAXX

    The electoral college is an eighteenth century anachronism that has long out lived any usefulness it ever had. Without the E.C., there would have been no Bush II presidency, and no invasion of Iraq.

    • George Baumann

      The war in Iraq was approved by Congress and the Senate, remember???

      • ORAXX

        They were, foolishly, willing to believe the president of the United States wasn’t lying.

  • rcb

    I should do this research myself. Have you looked into what kind of presidents we gained when the Electoral College voted above the popular vote? That might provide a good look into which is best… I know of one recent president that was put in office that way..and we know the results of that one..but it would be good to study the others

    • Russ Baker

      Not sure a system should be based on whether one personally approves of the results, from a subjective standpoint.

      • russwnyc

        The electoral college is an eighteenth century anachronism that has long out lived any usefulness it ever had. Without the E.C., there would have been no Bush II presidency, and no invasion of Iraq.

    • ORAXX

       The electoral college is an eighteenth century anachronism that has long out lived any usefulness it ever had. Without the E.C., there would have been no Bush II presidency, and no invasion of Iraq.

  • Chuck Rogers

    The electoral college needs to go out to pasture along with the horse and buggy, because it’s obsolete.

  • cryingoutloud

    Just heard on Coast. Popular vote is always best. And yes, paper ballots are the way to go. I can wait a week or so to find out who won.

  • George Baumann

    The popular vote is NOT what should determine the presidency. The president presides over states, not individuals, and smaller states deserve the same voice as larger states. Large urban centers should not be determining our president, as happened in 2012. A disaster! I suggest that there need to be less electors from the most populous states.

    • gogetem1

      “smaller states deserve the same voice as larger states”. Um, isn’t that is what the Senate is for?

  • http://www.facebook.com/richard.barber.3133 Richard Barber

    The Electorial Voting system should have never been established. It was never representitive of the actual popular vote. But this is just one of our country’s problems. We’d better reclaim our Republic very soon because the sucking sound everyone hears is our beloved country slipping further down the preverbial drain. We are being undermined on so many different levels, that it is getting harder and harder to keep track of all of what the globalists are doing. May GOD BLESS and protect The United States of America, and what we origionally stood for. Nuff said!

  • sheilanLA

    I would love to see the electoral vote process hit the dumpster, but they’d better fix the many flaws in the voting machines first. It’s so rigged it isn’t funny.

  • d b

    I’m not totally sold on this proposal, but one aspect of it is critical – this system cannot go into effect for any one state until enough states are on board to total 270 electoral votes. Then they all start up at once.

  • LutherW

    Unfortunately, like DDT and Nuclear power the National Popular Vote Agreement has attractive benefits, but many risks that are largely ignored. Cobbling the National Popular Vote on an already flawed system adds to the risks and increases the chances of close elections ending in the Supreme Court or in Congress, Consider:
    – There is no official national popular vote number available in time for when electors must be designated. Electors are chosen before states are required to send in their Certificates of Attainment
    – There is no national audit or recount law. About half of states have audits and about half recount, but recounts are based on close vote counts in each state, there is no law or body to call for a national recount.
    – Given the state by state election system, unlike today, fraud or error in each state can change the national result
    – If the Compact approach is taken the flawed system will remain, with worse effects.There are many reasons candidates and citizens could sue and delay results past required dates based on officials using incorrect, unverified, or different sets of numbers.
    – Finally unlike other democracies that have a popular vote, all votes are not equal, state to state. The franchise is different, the
    ease of voting is different, and there is voter suppression.
    To do the NPV with integrity, as a prerequisite, we need a system where every vote and voter is equal, is counted in a way we can trust, with national audits and recounts etc.

  • ORAXX

    Free thinking, iconoclastic,curmudgeonly, free lance philosopher and gentleman unicorn rancher.
    Comment removed.

    • George

      The war in Iraq was approved by Congress and the Senate, remember??

      • ORAXX

        They were, foolishly, willing to believe the president of the United States wasn’t lying.

      • prinze

        The Senate is one part of Congress. The House is the other part.

  • Winston Smith

    Eliminating the Electoral vote would be a big mistake, just as when we turned the election of U.S. Senators over to popular vote.  Those Senators don’t work for their States anymore, they work for the powers in the shadows of D.C.  

    Instead of concentrating more power in D.C., we should be trying to restore power back to the States.  We will never be able to change things in this country through our votes for Federal offices.  The only way to change things is through the Constitutional powers invested in the States.  Your attention should be on your State government, and electing people to it that will assert their State’s rights and take power back from D.C.  To that end, we need to return to the original Electoral system for all Federal offices so as to maximize the power of our State legislatures.  We are supposed to be a representative Republic not a popular Democracy.Russ Baker is wrong if he thinks eliminating the Electoral vote will enfranchise rural citizens.  Just the opposite will happen.  Candidates will get the biggest bang for their buck in the large metropolitan areas and areas with the highest concentration of wealth.  Rural communities and sparsely populated states will be ignored by Presidential candidates.How are California and New York being ignored?  They aren’t getting their fair share of Federal graft?  WTF, New York City runs the D.C. crime syndicate.  Oh yeah, we need to make sure California and New York don’t get ignored because they are such models of American ideals.If this is the way you feel Russ, why not just cut to the chase and eliminate the States altogether, and turn over all the power to Big Brother in D.C.  If you’re going to strip away all the States’ powers over their alleged sovereignty, what is the point of keeping them?  This idea will play right into the hands of the Deep State/Shadow government. 

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  • http://www.facebook.com/gary.lindsay.oracle Gary Lindsay

    Attempts to end or do an end run around the electoral college are both dangerous and misguided.

    First, the electoral college is not anti-(small-D)-democratic. We elect the President of the United States, not the President of 300 Million Americans. It is absolutely valid to elect by states.

    Second, a national popular vote or the NPVIC makes the process riskier. Under a state by state election, you never have more then 3 or 4 races where there is any doubt. We have quick resolution on election night, even if Florida or Ohio are unable to find a winner. In a national vote, you have to do a national recount if something is close.

    Finally, the system works, in spite of the theoretical flaws the opponents of the Electoral College cite. It’s not broken, why fix it?

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