Monday, 29 October 2012 11:25

Will a Close Election Put Electoral College on the Chopping Block? (Part 1 of 3)

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On Saturday, October 27, an ABC News article asked, “Would Electoral Win Without Popular Vote be Swan Song for Swing States?”. The piece goes on to offer some scholarly opinions on “the pros and cons of our current Electoral College system.” One of those ivy tower denizens cited in the ABC News article is Alex Keyssar, a professor of history and social policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Keyssar sees the electoral college — particularly the way it functions in modern presidential elections — to be a “deformed version” of what the founders intended.

Professor Keyssar’s remedy for the irreparable damage being done to our nation by the two-party duopoly controlling presidential politics is to scrap the electoral college and award the White House to the candidate winning the majority of the popular vote. "My own view is that a popular vote system would make the institutions in this country keep up with changes that have been going on in the social fabric of the country for 200 years," Keyssar tells ABC News.

Politico offers another seemingly sarcastic solution: “The answer, of course, is for one of the candidates to win a clear Electoral College majority. We should all hope for that outcome, because the alternative could be a nightmare for our political system.” 

ABC appears hopeful for the chaos that an electoral college collapse would cause when it recounts a bit of recent history of the effort to supplant the electoral college with a popular vote count:

There is an effort — Natonal Popular Vote — which has been ratified by eight states, to basically create a legal agreement among states to keep the electoral college, but award the votes proportionally instead of by state.

But it isn't a Constitutional amendment and there are concerns that a broad agreement by some states would violate the Constitution. 

An article published on a Justia blog predicts that a Romney electoral college loss combined with a popular vote win could energize the efforts to neuter the electoral college. 

Because up until now, all of the states that have adopted the NPV bill have been Blue states — states that are generally assumed to lean towards the Democratic, rather than the Republican, candidate for President. And unless a Red state joins soon, it will become increasingly hard to debunk the (wrongheaded) fear that Red state folks have that the National Popular Vote bill is a Democratic scheme, rather than a democratic idea.

Keyssar’s comments and ABC’s commentary that the electoral college is outmoded and not “keep[ing] up with changes” in society, is very similar to a statement from a December 2008 Wall Street Journal op-ed piece written by Jonathan Soros, son of globalist financier George Soros. In the article, Soros insists that the election of the President by the method established by the Constitution of 1787 is “antidemocratic by design.” “The Constitution is no longer in line with our expectations regarding the role of the people in selecting the President,” he said.

Paradoxically — almost certainly unintentionally — Keyssar and Soros are right, but for the wrong reasons. The prevailing spirit of the Constitution is antidemocratic and is so by the very deliberate and express design of the framers thereof.

Witness the response by the Nestor of the Convention, Benjamin Franklin, to an inquiry made by a passerby as he left the State House in Philadelphia. As the story is told, a young woman approached the renowned scientist and diplomat and asked, “Well, Dr. Franklin, what have you done for us?” Franklin responded soberly, “My dear lady, we have given to you a republic — if you can keep it.” Dr. Franklin was speaking the truth. Article IV, Section 4 of the document he helped craft over that hot summer mandates that “the United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.”

As to the preferability of a republic (a government of law) over a democracy, we may turn to the reliable words of the man known to history as the “Father of the Constitution,” James Madison, who preferred a republic. In Federalist Number 10, Madison wrote that a republic is able to “refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice, will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.” But “democracies,” he said, based on his study of history, “have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property; and have, in general, been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

A very vital aspect of the republican frame upon which our federal government is built is the so-called Electoral College. Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution sets forth the manner by which the President is to be chosen: “Each State shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress.”

The remaining instructions for presidential elections given in Article II were altered by the 12th Amendment. In relevant portion, that amendment reads: “The Electors shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President.... The person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed.”

A simple formula: States appoint electors; electors cast votes for president (and vice president); the candidate receiving the most votes wins (provided it be a majority of the total number of votes cast by the electors). Not only that, but the electors would actually deliberate on who the best candidate would be before casting their votes. This is of course a far cry from what the Electoral College has become in practice, where the entire delegation of electors for a particular state is expected to vote as a block for whoever wins the popular vote for president in that state.

Despite the simplicity of the system originally intended by the Founding Fathers, however, there are those, such as Messrs. Soros and Keyssar, who are not impressed, and they do not share the Founders’ fear of the insinuation of democracy into the government of the United States. These opponents of the Electoral College prefer a more democratic method of electing the president. In fact, as mentioned above, the ABC News article reports that eight states have passed bills that would scrap the Electoral College in all but name and convert the election of the president of the United States into a purely democratic process. This legislative effort is known as the National Popular Vote (NPV) compact.

For a more complete analysis of the constitutional issues surrounding a national popular vote, please read the next part in this series. Part 2 will be published Tuesday, October 30; part 3, Wednesday, October 31.

Photo of South Dakota electors voting during the 2004 presidential election: AP Images

Related articles:

National Popular Vote: Progress or Problem? (Part 2 of 3)

Popular Election of President: A Constitutional Consideration (Part 3 of 3)


  • Comment Link Deeply Concerned Australian Tuesday, 30 October 2012 07:46 posted by Deeply Concerned Australian

    The natonal popular vote bill, if enacted, would appear to actually deliver - far more accurately - what we non- American-rest-of the free-world-lovers-of democracy always took it for granted that the USA already had. GOD BLESS AMERICA !

  • Comment Link R Jensen Monday, 29 October 2012 16:30 posted by R Jensen

    "There is an effort — Natonal Popular Vote — which has been ratified by eight states, to basically create a legal agreement among states to keep the electoral college, but award the votes proportionally instead of by state."

    Which is a hare-brained idea if ever there were one. What is New Jersey, for example, going to do if they must award their delegates to the popular vote winner, say Romney, when most of the residents of the state vote for Obama? What if this causes the outcome to change from an Obama win to a Romney win? Then you will really see some rioting.

  • Comment Link toto Monday, 29 October 2012 13:44 posted by toto

    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. At most, 9 states will determine the 2012 election.

    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.

    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. 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.

    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 recent 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: AZ – 67%, CA – 70%, CT – 74%, MA – 73%, MN – 75%, NY – 79%, OR – 76%, and WA – 77%. Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.

    The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers in 21 states. The bill has been enacted by 9 jurisdictions possessing 132 electoral votes - 49% of the 270 necessary to go into effect.


  • Comment Link toto Monday, 29 October 2012 13:40 posted by toto

    The National Popular Vote bill would change existing 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.

    Pure democracy is a form of government in which people vote on policy initiatives directly. With National Popular Vote, the United States would still be a republic, in which citizens continue to elect the President by a majority of Electoral College votes by states, 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 now votes, beyond the one needed to get the most votes in the state, for winning 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 a 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.

    When and where voters matter, then so are the issues they care about most.

  • Comment Link Michael Skaggs Monday, 29 October 2012 13:06 posted by Michael Skaggs

    No. The NPV Plan will not divide up the Electoral Votes by percent. It will just award all of the Electoral Votes to who ever wins the national popular vote. In other words, if a candidate in that state gets 51 percent of the vote and wins, should there be a deadlock in the EC, the state EC votes would then go automatically to whoever gets the most popular votes nationally.

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