Direct Popular Vote v. The Electoral College

Direct Popular Vote v. The Electoral College

I know the elections are awhile away, but with all of this campaign coverage I think it is plausible to discuss a controversy during election time. Remember the Presidential Election of 2000? Yes, the one that led to the Supreme Court Case of Bush v. Gore. I’m talking about the dreaded Electoral College.

According to a Gallup Poll, 62% of Americans would favor Direct Popular Vote over the Electoral College (http://www.gallup.com/poll/150245/americans-swap-electoral-college-popular-vote.aspx). However, our current system of election isn’t all that bad…and it’s a lot better than the alternative. The Electoral College has performed its function for over 200 years and in over 50 presidential elections. It ensures that the President of the United States has both sufficient popular support to govern, and that his popular support is sufficiently distributed throughout the country to enable him to govern effectively.

The election of 1800 has been known as a peaceful revolution where an entire passage of power from one political party to another was accomplished without violence. This, in itself, is a rare event and a major implication that the Electoral College system would endure various strains that were placed upon it. The Electoral College has thrived for over 200 years, and for it to still remain in its place is an obvious sign of success. Proposals to abolish the Electoral College, though frequently put forward, have failed largely because the alternatives to it appear more problematic than the College itself.

In many of today’s political issues, we often look to the writer’s intent of the constitution, and asking ourselves what the Founding Fathers would have wanted. A direct democracy and majoritarianism was not the goal of the United States, rather, our founding fathers wanted to create a democratic republic, where emphasis is on law and rule of the people through elected representatives. The ‘republican principle’ pointed to by James Madison in Federalist 10 was not abstract majoritarianism, but consent as he made abundantly clear in that essay, and throughout his contributions to The Federalist and in the Declaration of Independence.

The E.C.’s refusal to follow simple majoritarianism reminds us that popular consent is not the end of government, but simply a means to assure that government respects the liberties of life and property that make us a free and prosperous people.

A direct popular vote system has serious potential problems. If there is a close popular election, we face a national recount, which is potentially more destabilizing than the local unpleasantness of 2000. One can look to Florida 2000; the Electoral College has the great merit of confining such election conflicts to one state. A close race in a single state is more likely than a close vote in a national popular election because of the smaller number of total votes.

Any difference in probability arguments is outweighed by the far more catastrophic effects that would occur if we were confronted by a Florida-type conflict in which the whole country was in need of a recount. A national recount would be extremely difficult to conduct, it would provide for an even greater fraudulent opportunity, and would be very costly and highly chaotic. The Electoral College system is better suited to handle recounts simply because it happens at a state level.

It is imperative to look at states’ rights, and the likely effects of direct popular election of the president. We would probably see elections dominated by the most populous regions of the country or by several large metropolitan areas. In the 2000 election, for example, Vice President Gore could have won by simply putting together a plurality in the Northeast, parts of the Midwest, and California. The victims in such elections would be those regions too sparsely populated to merit the attention of presidential candidates.

In the 2004 election, George Bush succeeded in the swing state of Ohio because of the support from not just metropolitan areas, but rural towns, as well. The Electoral College is a good antidote to the poison of regionalism because it forces presidential candidates to seek support throughout the nation. By making sure no state will be left behind, it provides a measure of coherence to our nation.

This issue has been reached Congress in the past, and has been struck down every time... for good reason. Not only is a Direct Popular Voting system unjust and shaky, the Electoral College has engrained itself into our political system for the preservation of our core democratic values.

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  • 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 the 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 been warranted in any of the nation’s 56 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 approach, 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 reply to toto:

    So if national recounts are so unlikely, then how did the election of 2000 (and the 3 other vote v. e.c. elections) get so close on the total vote scale? Even so, the impact of a national recount is one not to be toyed with. Looking to what happens under France's direct popular vote (nationwide riots), we are much better off not having to deal with the possibility of national fraud.

  • In reply to Kevin Massimilian:

    A margin of 537,179 popular votes, nationally, in 2000 was not close. A 537 vote margin in a state that awards electors by winner-take-all, is close.

    The average change in the 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 been warranted in any of the nation’s 56 previous presidential elections if the outcome had been based on the nationwide count.

    The current state-by-state winner-take-all system has been a constant source of “chaos, litigation and confusion.” In the current system, there are 51 separate opportunities for recounts in every presidential election. Recounts would be far less likely in a National Popular Vote system than in the current system. In the United States' 56 total presidential elections, there have been 5 litigated state counts which were totally unnecessary and an artificial crisis created by the current state-by-state winner-take-all system. Based on U.S. election history, a national popular vote would reduce the probability of a recount to once in 640 years.

  • About 76% of the country is "left behind" with the current system.

    The current state-by-state winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but since enacted by 48 states), ensures that the candidates, after the primaries, will not reach out to about 76% of the states and their voters. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or care about the voter concerns in the dozens of states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind.

    Presidential candidates concentrate their attention on only the current handful of closely divided "battleground" states and their voters. There is no incentive for them to bother to care about the majority of states where they are hopelessly behind or safely ahead to win. 9 of the original 13 states are considered “fly-over” now. In the 2012 election, pundits and campaign operatives agree already, that, at most, only 12 states and their voters will matter. They will decide the election. None of the 10 most rural states will matter, as usual. About 76% of the country will be ignored --including 19 of the 22 lowest population and medium-small states, and 17 medium and big states like CA, GA, NY, and TX. This will be more obscene than the 2008 campaign, when candidates concentrated over 2/3rds of their campaign events and ad money in just 6 states, and 98% in just 15 states (CO, FL, IN, IA, MI, MN, MO, NV, NH, NM, NC, OH, PA, VA, and WI). Over half (57%) of the events were in just 4 states (OH, FL, PA, and VA). In 2004, candidates concentrated over 2/3rds of their money and campaign visits in 5 states; over 80% in 9 states; and over 99% of their money in 16 states.

    More than 2/3rds of the states and people have been merely spectators to presidential elections. They have no influence. That's more than 85 million voters ignored. When and where voters are ignored, then so are the issues they care about most.
    Policies important to the citizens of ‘flyover’ states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.

    The number and population of battleground states is shrinking as the U.S. population grows.

    Because of the state-by-state winner-take-all electoral votes laws in 48 states, a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide. This has occurred in 4 of the nation's 56 (1 in 14 = 7%) presidential elections. The precariousness of the current state-by-state winner-take-all system is highlighted by the fact that a shift of a few thousand voters in one or two states would have elected the second-place candidate in 4 of the 13 presidential elections since World War II. Near misses are now frequently common. There have been 6 consecutive non-landslide presidential elections (1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008). 537 popular votes won Florida and the White House for Bush in 2000 despite Gore's lead of 537,179 (1,000 times more) popular votes nationwide. A shift of 60,000 voters in Ohio in 2004 would have defeated President Bush despite his nationwide lead of over 3 million votes.

  • The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC), without needing to amend the Constitution.

    The National Popular Vote bill preserves the constitutionally mandated Electoral College and state control of elections. It changes the way electoral votes are awarded by states in the Electoral College, instead of the current 48 state-by-state winner-take-all system (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but since enacted by 48 states). It assures 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.

    National Popular Vote has nothing to do with direct democracy.
    With National Popular Vote, citizens would not rule directly but, instead, continue to elect the President by a majority of Electoral College votes, to represent us and conduct the business of government in the periods between elections.

    National Popular Vote would give a voice to the minority party voters in each state. Now their votes are counted only for the candidate they did not vote for. Now they don't matter to their candidate.

    And votes, beyond the one needed to get the most votes in the state, for winning candidates in a state are wasted and don't matter to candidates. Utah (5 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 385,000 "wasted" votes for Bush in 2004. 8 small western states, with less than a third of California’s population, provided Bush with a bigger margin (1,283,076) than California provided Kerry (1,235,659).

    With National Popular Vote, every vote, everywhere would be counted equally for, and directly assist, the candidate for whom it was cast.

    Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in the current handful of swing states. The political reality would be that when every vote is equal, the campaign must be run in every part of the country.

    The presidential election system that we have today was not designed, anticipated, or favored by the Founding Fathers but, instead, is the product of decades of evolutionary change precipitated by the emergence of political parties and enactment by 48 states of winner-take-all laws, not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution.

    States have the responsibility and power to make their voters relevant in every presidential election. The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for president. It does not abolish the Electoral College, which would need a constitutional amendment, and could be stopped by states with as little as 3% of the U.S. population. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

    Unable to agree on any particular method for selecting presidential electors, the Founding Fathers left the choice of method exclusively to the states in section 1 of Article II of the U.S. Constitution-- "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors . . ." The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the state legislatures over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as "plenary" and "exclusive."

    The constitution does not prohibit any of the methods that were debated and rejected.

  • With the current state-by-state winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes, it could only take winning a bare plurality of popular votes in the 11 most populous states, containing 56% of the population of the United States, for a candidate to win the Presidency -- that is, a mere 26% of the nation's votes.

    With National Popular Vote, big cities would not get all of candidates’ attention, much less control the outcome.

    The population of the top five cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia) is only 6% of the population of the United States and the population of the top 50 cities (going as far down as Arlington, TX) is only 19% of the population of the United States. Suburbs and exurbs often vote Republican.

    If big cities controlled the outcome of elections, the governors and U.S. Senators would be Democratic in virtually every state with a significant city.

    A nationwide presidential campaign, with every vote equal, would be run the way presidential candidates campaign to win the electoral votes of closely divided battleground states, such as Ohio and Florida, under the state-by-state winner-take-all methods. The big cities in those battleground states do not receive all the attention, much less control the outcome. Cleveland and Miami do not receive all the attention or control the outcome in Ohio and Florida.

    The itineraries of presidential candidates in battleground states (and their allocation of other campaign resources in battleground states) reflect the political reality that every gubernatorial or senatorial candidate knows. When and where every vote is equal, a campaign must be run everywhere.

    When every vote is equal, everywhere, it makes sense to try and elevate your share where you aren’t so well liked. But, under the state-by-state winner-take-all laws, it makes no sense for a Democrat to try and do that in Texas, or for a Republican to try it in California.

    Even in California state-wide elections, candidates for governor or U.S. Senate don’t campaign just in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and those places don’t control the outcome (otherwise California wouldn’t have recently had Republican governors Reagan, Dukemejian, Wilson, and Schwarzenegger). A vote in rural Alpine county is just an important as a vote in Los Angeles. If Los Angeles cannot control statewide elections in California, it can hardly control a nationwide election.

    In fact, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland together cannot control a statewide election in California.

    Similarly, Republicans dominate Texas politics without carrying big cities such as Dallas and Houston.

    There are numerous other examples of Republicans who won races for governor and U.S. Senator in other states that have big cities (e.g., New York, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts) without ever carrying the big cities of their respective states.

    The National Popular Vote bill would not change the need for candidates to build a winning coalition across demographics. Candidates would have to appeal to a broad range of demographics, and perhaps even more so, because the election wouldn’t be capable of coming down to just one demographic, such as voters in Ohio.

  • In reply to toto:

    So yes, it only takes 11 states to win the Electoral College, but when in history or the future will New York, California, Texas, Florida, Illinois...etc. all vote for the same party?

    Also, while the five largest cities may not seem substantial relative to the country, the percentage of registered voters in metropolitan areas to rural areas is much higher. The population doesn't matter here, it's the population who can VOTE.

    As I've previously stated, Bush won the state of Ohio and practically the election because he DID campaign in rural areas of the state, another justification of the winner-takes-all system.

  • In reply to Kevin Massimilian:

    Supporters of National Popular Vote find it hard to believe the Founding Fathers would endorse an electoral system where more than 2/3rds of the states and voters now are completely politically irrelevant. 9 of the original 13 states are ignored now. Presidential campaigns spend 98% of their resources in just 15 battleground states, where they aren’t hopelessly behind or safely ahead, and can 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. Once the primaries are over, presidential candidates don’t visit or spend resources in 2/3rds 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. More than 85 million voters have been just spectators to the general election.

    States have the responsibility and power to make their voters relevant in every presidential election.

    A nationwide presidential campaign, with every vote equal, would be run the way presidential candidates campaign to win the electoral votes of closely divided battleground states, such as Ohio and Florida, under the state-by-state winner-take-all methods. The big cities in those battleground states do not receive all the attention, much less control the outcome. Cleveland and Miami do not receive all the attention or control the outcome in Ohio and Florida.

    The itineraries of presidential candidates in battleground states (and their allocation of other campaign resources in battleground states) reflect the political reality that every gubernatorial or senatorial candidate knows. When and where every vote is equal, a campaign must be run everywhere.

    When every vote is equal, everywhere, it makes sense to try and elevate your share where you aren’t so well liked. But, under the state-by-state winner-take-all laws, it makes no sense for a Democrat to try and do that in Texas, or for a Republican to try it in California.

    When every vote is equal in the country, as they now are within Ohio, candidates of both parties will seek out voters in small, medium, and large towns throughout the states in order to win. A vote cast in a big city or state will be equal to a vote cast in a small state, town, or rural area.

    The main media at the moment, TV, costs much more per impression in big cities than in smaller towns and rural area. Candidates get more bang for the buck in smaller towns and rural areas.

  • In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support for a national popular vote is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in virtually every state surveyed in recent polls in closely divided Battleground states: CO – 68%, FL – 78%, IA 75%, MI – 73%, MO – 70%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM– 76%, NC – 74%, OH – 70%, PA – 78%, VA – 74%, and WI – 71%; in Small states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE – 75%, ID – 77%, ME – 77%, MT – 72%, NE 74%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM – 76%, OK – 81%, RI – 74%, SD – 71%, UT – 70%, VT – 75%, WV – 81%, and WY – 69%; in Southern and Border states: AR – 80%,, KY- 80%, MS – 77%, MO – 70%, NC – 74%, OK – 81%, SC – 71%, TN – 83%, VA – 74%, and WV – 81%; and in other states polled: CA – 70%, CT – 74%, MA – 73%, MN – 75%, NY – 79%, OR – 76%, and WA – 77%.

    Most Americans don't care whether their presidential candidate wins or loses in their state. . . they care whether he/she wins the White House. Voters want to know, that even if they were on the losing side, their vote actually was directly and equally counted and mattered to their candidate. Most Americans think it's wrong for the candidate with the most popular votes to lose. We don't allow this in any other election in our representative republic.

    The National Popular Vote bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large states. The bill has been enacted by 9 jurisdictions possessing 132 electoral votes - 49% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

    NationalPopularVote
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  • In reply to toto:

    Thank you for the analysis. The Electoral College was instilled as an opposition to an ochlocracy, or mob rule. The Founding Fathers were aware of the dangers of a large political faction where one huge mass of people could essentially take over the government through multiple ways: 1) Mob rule- An unjust faction could simply bully voters into who they should vote for. This process is avoided in the Electoral College because that faction would have to be widespread in all 50 states (or many of them), and 2) The winner-take-all system actually further prevents an ochlocracy because the intimidating effects of mob rule are basically isolated in populous states.

  • In reply to Kevin Massimilian:

    As you agreed above, with the current state-by-state winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes, it could only take winning a bare plurality of popular votes in the 11 most populous states, containing 56% of the population of the United States, for a candidate to win the Presidency -- that is, a mere 26% of the nation's votes.

    The Founding Fathers did not design nor anticipate—much less favor state winner-take-all statutes (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes within each separate state).

    The Founding Fathers never intended that all of a state’s presidential electors would mindlessly vote, in lockstep, for the candidate nominated at an extra-constitutional meeting (the party’s nominating meeting).

    In the debates of the Constitutional Convention and in the Federalist Papers, there is no mention of the winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes. When the Founding Fathers went back to their states in 1789 to organize the nation’s first presidential election, only three state legislatures chose to employ the winner-take-all method. Each of the three states that used the winner-take-all method in 1789 repealed it by 1800.
    Instead, the Founding Fathers envisioned an Electoral College composed of “wise men” who would act as a deliberative body and exercise independent and detached judgment as to the best person to serve as President.

    The National Popular Vote bill would end the disproportionate attention and influence of the "mob" in the current handful of closely divided battleground states, such as Florida, while the "mobs" of the vast majority of states are ignored. 98% of the 2008 campaign events involving a presidential or vice-presidential candidate occurred in just 15 closely divided "battleground" states. 12 of the 13 lowest population states (3-4 electoral votes), that are non-competitive are ignored, in presidential elections. 9 of the original 13 states are considered “fly-over” now. Over half (57%) of the events were in just four states (Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia). Similarly, 98% of ad spending took place in these 15 "battleground" states.

    The current system does not provide some kind of check on the "mobs." There have been 22,000 electoral votes cast since presidential elections became competitive (in 1796), and only 10 have been cast for someone other than the candidate nominated by the elector's own political party. The electors now are dedicated party activists of the winning party who meet briefly in mid-December to cast their totally predictable rubberstamped votes in accordance with their pre-announced pledges.

    If a Democratic presidential candidate receives the most votes, the state's dedicated Democratic party activists who have been chosen as its slate of electors become the Electoral College voting bloc. If a Republican presidential candidate receives the most votes, the state's dedicated Republican party activists who have been chosen as its slate of electors become the Electoral College voting bloc. The winner of the presidential election is the candidate who collects 270 votes from Electoral College voters from among the winning party's dedicated activists.

  • Everyone considering the NPV should read what constitutional expert, Publius Huldah says about the NPV being a very bad idea.
    http://publiushuldah.wordpress.com/2012/02/09/national-popular-vote-goodbye-sweet-america/

  • Yes, I understand that it could potentially take only 11 states to win the E.C. However, as I also mentioned before, many of these states have consistently voted for opposite ideologies, so it's extremely unlikely that it would ever happen.

    Also, what is the impact of a presidential candidate not campaigning in your town? Are you at some disadvantage of representation while he's in the White House?

  • Toto are you just plagiarizing the same comments everywhere on the internet?

    http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal/2011_12/the_better_electoral_college_r034126.php

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