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OP-ED | The “National Popular Vote” Interstate Compact Is a Bad Idea

by Bill Cibes | Jan 29, 2012 11:21pm
(5) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Opinion

Connecticut should not join the proposed Interstate Compact to substitute the outcome of the National Popular Vote (NPV) for the current Electoral College procedure for electing the President.  In addition to the reasons recently outlined on this site by Representative John Hetherington, this Compact should be opposed because:

· The Compact would substitute the will of outsiders for the determination of Connecticut citizens. It would require that Connecticut’s 7 electoral votes for president be cast for the winner of the national popular vote, regardless of whom the voters of Connecticut voted for. For example, in 2004, if the compact had been in effect, Connecticut’s electoral votes would have gone NOT to John Kerry, who won 54% of Connecticut’s popular vote, but to George W. Bush.  Overturning the will of Connecticut voters flagrantly renounces their clear choice.

· It actually diminishes Connecticut’s voting power in the contest for president.

This fact is obscured by the deceptive ads of the NPV proponents, who assert that “A voter in Connecticut should matter as much as anywhere else.” In reality, under the current Electoral College system, a voter in Connecticut matters MORE than he or she would under the NPV scheme, because of two factors:

a) The number of electoral votes allotted to each state, as a result of a compromise authored by Roger Sherman and his Connecticut colleagues at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, is computed by adding the number of Senators to the number of Congressmen. For Connecticut, that means a total of 7 (2 U.S. Senators plus 5 U.S. Congressmen). The allocation is designed to favor small states, like Connecticut, because small states have more electoral votes per voter.  “It’s not a huge effect,” notes Andrew Gelman of Columbia University.  “It’s trivial compared to the small-state bias of the U.S. Senate, but it’s there.” 

b) The minimal advantage enjoyed by small states is augmented greatly by the “winner-take-all” provision currently in effect. The voting power of the majority in Connecticut is enhanced because all of the state’s 7 electoral votes are cast for the candidate receiving the most votes in the state. The 979,316 votes received by Barack Obama in Connecticut in 2008 were 1.56% of the 62,612,951 (50% plus 1) of the votes he would have needed to win the national popular vote.  But his 7 Connecticut electoral votes were 2.59% of the 270 electoral votes he needed to win in the Electoral College. This enhanced voting “clout” of the majority of Connecticut voters under the current system – 66% higher than their voting power in a national popular vote system – would be obliterated by the NPV proposal.

· Deferring to the outcome of the national popular vote would decrease the likelihood that any candidate would pay attention to Connecticut. 

This result is more than a little ironic, since proponents of the National Popular Vote weakly defend the evisceration of the state’s voting power noted above by arguing that, under the current system, Connecticut “gets no attention” by candidates for president:  “a candidate who is sure to carry Connecticut will always take us for granted, and a candidate who is sure to lose will write us off.”

But being the object of attention doesn’t make up for the loss of real voting power.  Increasing the number of “campaign visits” does not maximize my clout. Running additional “ads on the radio and TV” doesn’t increase my influence.  Conducting additional polls of Connecticut voters makes not a whit of difference in the poll that counts, on Election Day in November. 

Much more probable is that candidates would, like Willie Sutton (who robbed banks because that’s where the money was), focus on geographic areas with large concentrations of voters. The relatively small size of Connecticut would certainly not attract as much interest as metropolitan areas like New York or Chicago or Los Angeles or Houston. 

· The NPV Compact would greatly enhance the influence of those who can afford to buy national advertising to cynically manipulate the passions of a nationwide electorate. Rich individuals, corporations and businesses, under the Citizens United decision, can now fund ideological propaganda that can sway the national popular vote.  James Madison, in The Federalist, warned of “specious declamations” by “adversaries to liberty” who introduce “instability, injustice and confusion” into government. The contemporary capacity of millionaires to use electronic media to persuade voters to pursue faddish but foolish ideas would not have diminished Madison’s concerns. 

· Such a radical change in the method of electing the President should occur by constitutional amendment, not by a backdoor mechanism which would circumvent the extraordinary majority requirement demanded by the Framers. They set out, in Article V of the Constitution, procedures which were meant to ensure that any alterations to the framework they established would only occur after a full national review of the implications of the proposed revision.

For all these reasons, close scrutiny of the NPV scheme should result in its rejection.

Bill Cibes is a former professor of government at Connecticut College and former chancellor of the Connecticut State University System. He formerly served as Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management in the administration of Governor Lowell P. Weicker.

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(5) Comments

posted by: Jay | January 30, 2012  9:16am

Hate to admit it, but these are good reasons.  However, I do think that a national popular vote should be considered.  The problem for such a vote is monumental. 

First, 98% of all election law is state law.  That means, aside from federal mandates, its the states that set the rules.  Hence there are 51 different sets of election rules (one has to count DC in this total).  So here is the problem.  Imagine a very close election like 2000, you know when all of us political junkies were up to 4 AM and no decision, and a mandatory recount nationwide?  Imagine the nightmare(s) too numerous to challenge. 

If we want to move in that direction we have to FIRST, set down a nationwide standard for ballots for federal offices.  Everyone nationwide must be able to vote on the same type of ballot and the same machine (i prefer the optical scan method due to the need for recounts).  That would mean that in every state a method would have to be in place to ensure the sanctity of the ballot. 

Second, This would mean that a new set of federal election laws would have to be enacted to take the place and supersede current state laws.  In the case of a recount, federal officers would have to oversee the recount process and be able to have the power to verify and ensure the correctness of the ballot.

This is only the beginning.  I remember 2000 and the feeling that most people felt that the popular vote did not count, only in large states.  However, it was the small states that became so important in 2000 due to the closeness of the election.  States like Delaware and CT became important because neither side going into the election had a majority of projected electoral votes.  In fact, the week before the election, it was assumed that Al Gore would have the electoral vote and not a 500,000 vote plurality.

Since 2000, there have been over 93 bills each year introduced in Congress, on average, to end the Electoral College.  The reason that things have not change, cautiousness and politics.  It would take an amendment by the states to change this system and I am not sure that we can get 38 states to agree. 

While I am not so concerned about the sanctity of the Electoral College, I do think that the time has come to consider moving in this direction.  But the stumbling block is how to implement such a program.  For myself, I believe it would require the federal government to step up to the plate and enact federal election laws stronger than those in existence.

posted by: Luther Weeks | January 30, 2012  11:01am

Luther Weeks

In the words of another respected intellectual leader, Daniel Patrick Moynihan:

There would be genuine pressures to fraud and abuse. It would be an election no one understood until the next day or the day after, with recounts that go on forever, and in any event, with no conclusion, and a runoff to come. The drama, the dignity, and decisiveness and finality of the American political system is drained away in an endless sequence of contests, disputed outcomes, and more contests to resolve outcomes already disrupted…

we have before us an amendment designed to abolish the Democratic and Republican Parties and vest their present powers in the President, Vice President, and the directors of the National Broadcasting Corp.

The reign of television will be Orwellian and the Republic would decline. Have we not enough of this?

posted by: mvymvy | January 30, 2012  1:42pm

A survey of Connecticut voters conducted on May 14–15, 2009 showed 74% overall support for the idea that the President of the United States should be the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states. Voters were asked:

“How do you think we should elect the President: Should it be the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states, or the current Electoral College system?”

The results of the first question, by political affiliation, was 80% among Democrats, 67% among Republicans, and 71% among others. By gender, support was 81% among women and 66% among men. By age, support was 82% among 18-29 year olds, 69% among 30-45 year olds, 75% among 46-65 year olds, and 72% for those older than 65.

Then, voters asked a second question that emphasized that Connecticut’s electoral votes would be awarded to the winner of the national popular vote in all 50 states, not Connecticut, vote. In this second question, 68% of Connecticut voters favored a national popular vote.

“Do you think it more important that Connecticut’s electoral votes be cast for the presidential candidate who receives the most popular vote in Connecticut, or is it more important to guarantee that the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states becomes president?”

The results of the second question, by political affiliation, was 74% among Democrats, 62% among Republicans, and 63% among others. By gender, support was 75% among women and 59% among men. By age, support was 75% among 18-29 year olds, 57% among 30-45 year olds, 68% among 46-65 year olds, and 70% for those older than 65.

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%. Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.

The 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.

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posted by: sharewhut | February 2, 2012  4:44pm

@mvymvy-
Were those polled given other options, such as dividing the electoral votes proportionally to state totals?
Always leery of numbers from polls, or in this case a ‘survey’ as issue driven ones tend to be worded (and targeted) to achieve desired results.
Perhaps because neither I nor anyone I know and talk to (of diverse political persuasions) have been surveyed and tend to not agree with results most of the time (by much larger than the 74% here)

posted by: ASTANVET | February 2, 2012  8:39pm

Finally!!  I don’t care how many polls say we should do a popular vote, if you want to do that, get 35 states to agree and hold a constitutional convention - this is not American Idol!  what’s next, be able to text it in and see it live??? did anyone else watch Idiocracy?  great and very sad movie!