This letter is in response to a previous Letter to the Editor, , submitted by Rep. Raymond Gallison.
“This is unconstitutional”
“This is the wrong way. We should have a Constitutional amendment”
“This hurts small states”
“Elections would be controlled by big cities”
“The current system forces candidates reach out to all states”
“It is rare that the popular vote winner loses”
“The winner could win with a tiny percentage of the vote”
“This encourages extremist candidates”
“’Faithless electors’ will be a problem”
“This undermines federalism.”
“Campaign spending will skyrocket”
“We are republic not a democracy”
“This will result in mob rule”
“This would produce a recount nightmare”
“All interstate compacts require congressional consent”
1) “This is unconstitutional”
Article II, section 1 of the Constitution makes it clear this is a decision for the states to make. Exact words: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors…”
The winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes is not in the U.S. Constitution and, in fact, was used by only three states in the nation’s first presidential election in 1789.
Maine and Nebraska currently award electoral votes by congressional district—a reminder that awarding electors is a matter of state law.
Winner-take-all statutes may be repealed in the same way they were enacted—namely, through state law.
The Founding Fathers wanted this state power to be “check and balance” on a sitting President who, with a compliant Congress, might be inclined to manipulate election rules to perpetuate himself in office.
2) “This is the wrong way. We should have a Constitutional amendment”
Why change the Constitution if we don’t have to? Article II, section 1 makes it clear this is a responsibility of the state legislature.
Nearly all the major reforms in the method of conducting presidential elections have been initiated at the state level—not by federal action (women’s suffrage, ending wealth requirements, etc.)
None of the most politically important characteristics of our nation’s current system of electing the President (namely, voting by the people for President, expecting presidential electors to support their political party’s nominees faithfully, and the winner-take-all method) was established by federal constitutional amendment.
This is a state’s rights issue. The Founding Fathers did not want the federal government dictating to the states how they should award their electors.
3) “This hurts small states”
Just the opposite. Small states are currently the most disadvantaged group of states. The only small state that gets any attention is NH.
The small states are not ignored because of their low population, but because they are not closely divided battleground states.
Under the current winner-take-all method for awarding electoral votes, a vote for President in Rhode Island is equal to a vote in Texas or California—each is politically worthless.
Serious candidates for office work for every vote that matters. Every vote in every state will matter in every presidential election under the National Popular Vote plan.
Of the six swing states that got two-thirds of all attention from both Democrats and Republicans in 2008, most of them were big states – Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, etc.
The 13 smallest states together have approximately the same population as Pennsylvania, and no one would suggest that Pennsylvania’s 12 million people would be ignored in a national popular vote for President.
It is cheaper to campaign in small states. In most cases, small states offer candidates the attraction of low media costs.
As on February 2011, what states have passed the National Popular Vote plan? Mostly small states.
In a 1966 Supreme Court lawsuit, the state of Delaware and a group of 12 predominantly low-population states argued that the winner-take-all rule “debases the national voting rights and political status of Plaintiff’s citizens and those of other small states.”
4) “Elections would be controlled by big cities”
Cities can’t even control the result of the elections within their states. How could they control the result of the election across the whole country?
(Example: Scott Brown wins Massachusetts without carrying Boston. Arnold Schwarzenegger carries California without winning Los Angeles or San Francisco.)
The math is wrong. You simply can’t win even a national election by concentrating on big cities, even if you won 100% of the big city vote (which is impossible).
81% of the country lives in places with a population of less than the population of the nation’s 50th biggest city (Arlington, TX.)
The five biggest cities in the country only account for 6% of the country’s population.
5) “The current system forces candidates reach out to all states”
Far from it. The current winner-take-all statutes regularly result in two-thirds of the states being ignored in the general election campaign.
In the 2008 post-convention general election campaign, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their campaign events and ad money in just six states, and 98% in just 15 states.
6) “It is rare that the popular vote winner loses”
Far from being rare, there have been four elections out of the nation’s 56 presidential election in which a candidate has won the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide—a failure rate of 1 in 14.
The failure rate is 1 in 7 among non-landslide presidential elections (i.e., elections where the margin is less than 10%).
The country has experienced a string of six consecutive non-landslide elections since 1988. Because we appear to be in an era of non-landslide presidential elections, additional “wrong winner” elections can be expected in the near future.
7) “The winner could win with a tiny percentage of the vote”
The two-party system is, in fact, sustained by popular votes.
If an Electoral College type of arrangement were essential for avoiding a proliferation of candidates (and small plurality winners), we should see evidence of this in elections that use a different method, like those for Governor or Senator. But we don’t.
Historical statistics in over 5,000 elections for state chief executive shows no evidence of the conjectured proliferation of candidates or tiny percentage winners.
8) “This encourages extremist candidates”
This is basically a scare tactic that has no evidence behind it.
We are still going to have two main parties in the United States, and the voters are going to choose between them. The only difference is Rhode Islanders are actually going to have a say under a national popular vote.
If an Electoral College type of arrangement were essential for avoiding extremist candidates, we should see more extremist candidates in popular elections like those for Governor or US Senator. But we don’t.
The fact is that extremist candidates are rarely elected in elections in which the winner is the candidate who receives the most votes.
9) “’Faithless electors’ will be a problem”
The National Popular Vote bill DOES NOT FORCE electors to vote for the other party. There are two slates of electors – Republican and Democrat. The ones Rhode Island sends match the party of the winner of the popular vote in all 50 states. (In other words, Democratic electors vote for their candidate, Republican electors vote for theirs.)
Faithless electors can happen now. But there is no practical problem with faithless presidential electors.
To the extent that any state believes that there is a problem, the states already have ample constitutional authority to remedy it.
One of the benefits of the National Popular Vote plan is that it would virtually eliminate the possibility of faithless electors affecting the outcome of a presidential election because it would typically generate an exaggerated margin of victory in the Electoral College.
10) “This undermines federalism.”
The National Popular Vote approach PRESERVES the power of the states to control elections—an important element of federalism.
Federalism concerns the distribution of power between state governments and the national government. This bill does not change that at all.
The powers of state governments will not be increased or decreased relative to the federal government based on whether presidential electors are elected along state boundary lines (as is the case now) or national lines (as would be the case under National Popular Vote).
11) “Campaign spending will skyrocket”
The amount of money spent by presidential campaigns in Rhode Island would certainly increase. Right now the state gets absolutely none!
Candidates already raise as much money as they possible can.
There is a limited supply of donor money in the country.
The total amount of money that a presidential campaign can spend is determined by the amount of money that it can raise. It is controlled by available money—not by the number of opportunities to spend money.
Under a national popular vote, the total amount of money available to a campaign would have to be allocated throughout the country differently than now because every vote in every state would matter.
12) “We are republic not a democracy”
The United States will remain a republic—with or without the National Popular Vote approach to appointing presidential electors.
In a republic, the citizens do not rule directly but, instead, elect officeholders to represent them and conduct the business of government in the periods between elections. That won’t change.
13) “This will result in mob rule”
The people deserve a voice.
The American people currently cast votes for President in 100% of the states, and they have done so in 100% of the states since the 1880 election.
If anyone thinks it is appropriate to characterize the American electorate as a “mob,” it is now long-settled political reality that the “mob” ALREADY rules in American presidential elections.
The Electoral College is not a deliberative body the way the US Senate is.
14) “This would produce a recount nightmare”
If a recount is necessary, states have procedures in place to do it. This is America. We’re not going to suspend an election because we might have to verify the results from time to time.
Recounts would be less likely under a national popular vote. The problem in 2000 was that Florida hung on only 500 votes, so there was a huge amount of litigation even though the national popular vote was not close.
Fraud and other mischief is harder to pull off under a national popular vote because you can no longer swing an entire state with a few hundred votes. You would have to swing hundreds of thousands, which is much, much harder.
15) “All interstate compacts require congressional consent”
Interstate compacts are common.
Under prevailing U.S. Supreme Court rulings, congressional consent is not required for the National Popular Vote compact to become effective.
In any case, states seek congressional consent after a compact is enacted and is in effect, not before.