National Popular Vote

The national popular vote proposal is an interesting approach to changing the 222 year old way we elect US Presidents.The idea is to have a compact between states totally more than 50% of the electoral college. We would all agree that we would allocate all of our electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. It’s implemented in SB 5599. Bill details here.

There is concern from many people that small states have disproportionate impact on the election of the president, and that some states (the “swing” states) are the only places that are paid attention to. For example a lot of sugar cane is grown in Florida and we consequently have import quotas on sugar cane. This causes us to use a lot of high fructose corn syrup in products in America instead of sugar, because it’s cheaper only due to the quotas.

These are real concerns. The proposal lays out a scheme that I believe would actually work to elect the president by direct popular vote. Nevertheless, I’m really concerned about changing something that has worked for 222 years. Winston Churchill spoke (more generally) about democracy by saying “Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Speech in the House of Commons (1947-11-11)

I think we should be very, very careful about changing a system that, even with occasional hiccups, has done an amazing job of providing a stable government. America is an experiment in self government that worked.

The full experiment of a government democratical, but representative, was and is still reserved for us.” — Thomas Jefferson to Isaac H. Tiffany, 1816

We have to think about the “representative” part. With the electoral college we are representative of small states. This was the great bargain between the small states and the large, the North and the South, the manufacturing and the agricultural. America is a very different place than it was 222 years ago, but I am not voting for this proposal yet. I may be more comfortable with the idea as more people think about it and write deep analysis of it, but for now I’m not comfortable enough to change something this fundamental in the American electoral system.

About Ross

I'm proud to represent Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland, Medina, Clyde Hill, Hunts Point, and Yarrow Point in the Washington State House of Representatives. I am chairman of the Appropriations Committee, responsible for crafting biennial budgets. I also chair the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council.
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5 Responses to National Popular Vote

  1. susan says:

    Changing the way we elect the President is an important topic that deserves careful scrutiny.

    http://nationalpopularvote.com/pages/answers.php
    provides responses to concerns that have been raised during the course of the debate on the National Popular Vote bill.

  2. susan says:

    The small states are the most disadvantaged of all under the current system of electing the President. Political clout comes from being a closely divided battleground state, not the two-vote bonus.

    Small states are almost invariably non-competitive, and ignored, in presidential elections. Only 1 of the 13 smallest states are battleground states (and only 5 of the 25 smallest states are battlegrounds).

    Of the 13 smallest states, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Alaska regularly vote Republican, and Rhode Island, Delaware, Hawaii, Vermont, Maine, and DC regularly vote Democratic. These 12 states together contain 11 million people. Because of the two electoral-vote bonus that each state receives, the 12 non-competitive small states have 40 electoral votes. However, the two-vote bonus is an entirely illusory advantage to the small states. Ohio has 11 million people and has “only” 20 electoral votes. As we all know, the 11 million people in Ohio are the center of attention in presidential campaigns, while the 11 million people in the 12 non-competitive small states are utterly irrelevant. Nationwide election of the President would make each of the voters in the 12 smallest states as important as an Ohio voter.

    The fact that the bonus of two electoral votes is an illusory benefit to the small states has been widely recognized by the small states for some time. In 1966, Delaware led a group of 12 predominantly low-population states (North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Kentucky, Florida, Pennsylvania) in suing New York in the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that New York’s use of winner-take-all effectively disenfranchised voters in their states. The Court declined to hear the case (presumably because of the well-established constitutional provision that the manner of awarding electoral votes is exclusively a state decision). Ironically, defendant New York is no longer a battleground state (as it was in the 1960s) and today suffers the very same disenfranchisement as the 12 non-competitive low-population states. A vote in New York is, today, equal to a vote in Wyoming–both are equally worthless and irrelevant in presidential elections.

    The concept of a national popular vote for President is far from being politically “radioactive”in small states, because the small states recognize they are the most disadvantaged group of states under the current system.

    In small states, the National Popular Vote bill already has been approved by a total of seven state legislative chambers, including one house in Maine and both houses in Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermont. It has been enacted by Hawaii.

  3. susan says:

    77% OF WASHINGTON VOTERS SUPPORT A NATIONAL POPULAR VOTE FOR PRESIDENT IN DECEMBER 2008 POLL

    A survey of 800 Washington state voters conducted on December 2-3, 2008 showed 77% overall support for a national popular vote for President.

    Support was 77% among independents, 85% among Democrats, and 68% among Republicans.

    By age, support was 80% among 18-29 year olds, 76% among 30-45 year olds, 76% among 46-65 year olds, and 78% for those older than 65.

    By gender, support was 84% among women and 69% among men.

    By race, support was 78% among whites (representing 87% of respondents), 57% among African-Americans (representing 4% of respondents), 60% among Hispanics (representing 1% of respondents), and 78% among Others (representing 7% of respondents).

    see http://www.NationalPopularVote.com

  4. susan says:

    The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections.

    The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes–that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    The Constitution gives every state the power to allocate its electoral votes for president, as well as to change state law on how those votes are awarded.

    The bill is currently endorsed by 1,512 state legislators in 48 states.

    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). The recent Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University poll shows 72% support for direct nationwide election of the President. This national result is similar to recent polls in closely divided battleground states: Colorado– 68%, Iowa –75%, Michigan– 73%, Missouri– 70%, New Hampshire– 69%, Nevada– 72%, New Mexico– 76%, North Carolina– 74%, Ohio– 70%, Pennsylvania — 78%, Virginia — 74%, and Wisconsin — 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): Delaware –75%, Maine — 71%, Nebraska — 74%, New Hampshire –69%, Nevada — 72%, New Mexico — 76%, Rhode Island — 74%, and Vermont — 75%; in Southern and border states: Arkansas –80%, Kentucky — 80%, Mississippi –77%, Missouri — 70%, North Carolina — 74%, and Virginia — 74%; and in other states polled: California — 70%, Connecticut — 73% , Massachusetts — 73%, New York — 79%, and Washington — 77%.

    The National Popular Vote bill has passed 25 state legislative chambers, including one house in Arkansas, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington, and both houses in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland. These four states possess 50 electoral votes — 19% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

    See http://www.NationalPopularVote.com

  5. susan says:

    The major shortcoming of the current system of electing the President is that presidential candidates concentrate their attention on a handful of closely divided “battleground” states. 98% of the 2008 campaign events involving a presidential or vice-presidential candidate occurred in just 15 closely divided “battleground” states. 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. Similarly, in 2004, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their money and campaign visits in five states and over 99% of their money in 16 states.
    Two-thirds of the states and people have been merely spectators to the presidential elections. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or worry about the voter concerns in states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. The reason for this is the winner-take-all rule enacted by 48 states, under which all of a state’s electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state.

    Another shortcoming of the current system is that a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide. This has occurred in one of every 14 presidential elections.

    In the past six decades, there have been six presidential elections in which a shift of a relatively small number of votes in one or two states would have elected (and, of course, in 2000, did elect) a presidential candidate who lost the popular vote nationwide.

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