But, something good did come out of my being hoodwinked. In preparing my response to the spammer, I carefully looked at all of “his” arguments, read or reread several of the Federalist essays on the topic, reviewed the relevant sections in the Constitution (article 2 section 1, 12th Amendment), and discovered a plethora of information available from the American Legislative Exchange Council – ALEC.
After composing my answer, I went to bed to sleep on it before posting it. That’s when it hit me. I’d been had! So, first thing this morning I got up and did a little search. Sure enough, this same set of comments has been posted practically everywhere there is an argument opposed to NPV. Duh!
You seem to imply that because “in virtually every other election in the country” elections are determined by popular vote, the same should be true of the presidential election.
I submit that this was not the intention of the Founders. The mode of electing the president is clearly specified in Article 2 Section 1 of the Constitution and later slightly modified by the 12th Amendment. Direct election of the president by popular vote was expressly avoided by the Founders.
Hamilton, a participant in the Constitutional Convention, explained the arguments that prevailed in Federalist 68. The form of government given to us by the Founders is a republic not a democracy. Hamilton leaves little doubt as to the intention behind the Electoral College when he says that choosing electors “to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of one who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes.” The election of the President was never intended to be a popularity contest.
The office of the President is the concentrated force of the executive branch. The Founders made special provisions to ensure that the election of the president was conducted differently. Until the 17th Amendment, United States Senators were also elected differently. Like the President, they were selected via intermediates not through direct election. The Founders clearly intended for the president to be chosen in the way they specified.
The argument that a National Popular Vote “gives voice to the minority party in those states where elections are seen as foregone conclusions” is inconsistent and illogical. According to the National Popular vote website (which are the words you posted):
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).
If you consider this on its face, states that pass this bill will commit their presidential electors to the winner of the national popular vote, rather than the state popular vote. This will guarantee that the winner of the national popular vote gets a majority in the Electoral College. Only those states that together make up 270 electoral votes will decide the issue, leaving smaller states with no voice whatsoever.
How does this “give voice” to small states?
In another comment you point out that the winner takes all rule is not stipulated in the Constitution. You’re correct, it is not. However, the Electoral College is specified and the states may choose their electors as they determine. Most states decided to go with the “winner takes all” method, but not all. The states are free to decide how to select their electors.
Under the current system, each state’s electoral votes are given to the candidate based on how the majority of that state’s citizens voted. Under the NPV plan, a state’s electoral votes could easily be awarded to a candidate that the majority of that state’s population did not vote for. In 2004, Californians went for John Kerry by a popular margin of over a million votes. Had the NPV plan been in effect, California’s electoral votes would have been awarded to President Bush.
Finally, this is a sneaky and probably unconstitutional movement. Our Founding Fathers knew that, in spite of their best efforts, they were not going to be able to foresee every circumstance. Because of this, they put in mechanisms for amending the Constitution. They wanted to ensure that this wasn’t done lightly or subject to the winds of passing popular sentiment. It takes a lot to amend the Constitution. NPV’s provision makes an end run around this process.
If it is so essential to change Constitution to provide for the popular election of the President, then it should be done through legitimate means. Even those advocating for this modification admit:
This kind of end run is necessary because the only way to get rid of the Electoral College entirely is via a constitutional amendment, which would be nearly impossible to pass. Enough small states benefit from the current system to block an amendment. La Times Editorial August 18, 2008.
Anything that requires making “end runs” around the Constitution should be given intense scrutiny. The Founders got it right when they made it difficult to do. It’s not impossible. The Constitution has been amended via legitimate means 27 times.
Finally, by appealing to popular sentiment and taking advantage of the public’s confusion about the electoral system to make this “end run,” there are other consequences as well. Specifically, under the current system, each state is responsible for its votes. When recounts are required, each state bears responsibility for verification. Under the NPV, because it is not Constitutional, there is no provision for a national recount. Hence your opening statement asserting that the result would not be nationalization of the central government, is shown to be false. The result would be a nationalization of the central government. The multi-state compact, cobbled together by the NPV, can’t specify mechanisms for handling recounts, since that would require adding language to the Constitution. Doing a national recount, therefore, would be difficult and costly, if not impossible. It’s easy to see that the states would no longer be in control of their elections.
A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor points out more reasons for, and benefits of the current system.
The Constitution grants power to state legislatures to decide how to select their state’s electors. This allows each state to represent its own political will in the Electoral College system.
Since early in the 19th century, most states have held popular elections. Today, 48 states and the District of Columbia use a “winner-take-all”
Decentralizes elections and nationalizes politics: The process may be complicated, but the benefits are straightforward. The Electoral College decentralizes elections and nationalizes politics.
Because of the Electoral College, the United States has no national election bureaucracy – no presidential appointee in charge of presidential elections.
Instead, every state plus Washington, D.C., establishes and executes its own set of policies. State and local officials act based on a combination of their political culture and their appetite for policy innovation. These are the “laboratories of democracy” in action.
Containing elections within state lines also means containing election problems. The Electoral College turns the states into the equivalent of the watertight compartments on an ocean liner. Fraud or process failures can be isolated in the state where they occur and need not become national crises.
Ironically, by decentralizing presidential elections, the Electoral College nationalizes and moderates our politics. Filtering the elections through the states imposes a kind of geographic distribution requirement to win the presidency.
This also leads to the most common attack on the current system: It can produce a winner who did not receive the most popular votes. This happens when the candidate with the most popular votes has too many of those votes in too few states. This reality shapes the way presidential campaigns are conducted and national political parties are organized.
Because the Electoral College has a geographic distribution requirement, rather than simply taking the plurality winner of the national popular vote, it compels candidates and parties to build and maintain national coalitions.
Lessons from Grover Cleveland: Grover Cleveland learned this lesson the hard way. Running for reelection in 1888, he received the most popular votes, but lost the Electoral College and thus the presidency to Benjamin Harrison. Cleveland won 82 percent in South Carolina, and more than 70 percent in Georgia, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Harrison was nowhere so intensely popular, but he won in the most states, including large population states like New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.
After the 1888 election, Cleveland and the Democratic Party redoubled their efforts to reach into the North and out to the new western states. They succeeded. Cleveland won the popular vote and the Electoral College in 1892, becoming the only person elected to two non-consecutive terms as President.
Without the Electoral College, the Democratic Party of 1888 would have had a successful campaign strategy: intense regional popularity. If National Popular Vote had been the law of the land, the Democrats could have remained the party of the Deep South. The Electoral College forced the Democrats to look north and to rebuild their national coalition, even in the aftermath of the Civil War.
The threat of regional politics is one of the original reasons for the Electoral College. The Framers of the Constitution feared “favorite son” candidates: politicians who might rise to power based on strong support from one large state or region. The geographic distribution required by the Electoral College provides a healthy incentive to keep American politics national.
Dangers of majoritarianism: Reminders of the 2000 election – when George W. Bush lost the national popular vote but won the electoral vote – and pleas for “every vote equal” and “one person, one vote” have won some converts to the cause of the National Popular Vote.
Yet, the argument against the Electoral College is, at its core, the argument for simple majoritarianism. Many observers have noted that the rationale of the National Popular Vote movement would mean the end of the US Senate, where states are represented equally regardless of the size of their population.
Majoritarianism – the idea that nothing should stand in the way of the power of a majority – flies in the face of the Bill of Rights. After all, every check and balance and especially every protection of rights operates to restrain the power of a momentary majority.
Opponents of the Electoral College would do well to remember that freedom and prosperity rely on social and political stability. This is the thesis of the United States Constitution, which establishes durable political institutions together with processes that incentivize coalition building and moderation. The Electoral College serves these ends, and by doing so, strengthens our political system and supports our freedom.
Making certain that every state “counts” is fundamental to federalism and thus to the Constitution. By filtering the popular will through the Electoral College the Founders erected a bulwark against the excesses of democracies and a support for the constitutional republic they designed.