The Lonely Centrist

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Monday, June 05, 2006

Here's a dumb idea

The Los Angeles Times has an editorial today pumping the National Popular Vote Campaign, which the times admits is an effort to "undermine the Constitution[]."

Basically, the scheme is thus: a bunch of states (ideally, for the supporters, all the states) will pass laws agreeing to appoint only presidential electors who will support the winner of the national popular vote, thus doing an end run around the electoral college.

Now, I think the electoral college has worked pretty well. I mean, we're right up there with the longest running democracies, we're pretty wealthy, pretty stable, all that. The electoral college usually chooses the national popular vote winner (I think there would be an obvious problem if it routinely chose someone else), but occasionally chooses someone else - and why have it if it never deviated from the popular vote? Of course, that is the point for these guys - they don't want it.

One thing that the electoral college does is help build national unity by demanding that a president try for broad appeal. If we look at the 3 post-civil war elections that have gone against the national popular vote, in all three cases the loser of that popular vote was probably the more genuinely national candidate. In 1876 and 1888, the Democratic nominees (Sam Tilden and Grover Cleveland) won the popular vote by piling up huge margins in the deep south, where, remember, many blacks who almost certainly would have voted Republican were improperly prohibited or intimidated from voting. There is no denying a deep regional separation in the country at the time, but even considering that, the Republican candidates were more truly national candidates.

Then we jump forward to 2000. Many of you will have seen the map of county votes - Bush won the overwhelming majority of the nation's counties, with Gore piling up large margins on the coasts and a few large cities. Of course, goes the cry, each vote should be worth the same. But the fact is, representatives do represent trees and acres - or at least people who live amidst certain trees and on certain acres. It seems to me that it would be very bad for democracy when one could literally drive coast to coast and virtually anywhere in the interior without leaving a county that voted for Bush, yet not have Bush be president. The big cities already dominate the nation's culture and financial markets. It is not healthy that they should essentially rule over an agricultural hinterland. Remember what I said earlier - it wouldn't be healthy to have the opposite result all the time, either. But I think it's probably good for the nation that a candidate with broad geographic appeal, such as Bush, can win over Gore, with a narrowly packed electorate.

Anyway, let's disect the Times:
States join forces against electoral college
A piecemeal approach may be the only way to kill the anachronistic institution.
June 5, 2006
A PROPOSED EXPERIMENT with majority rule has generated plenty of naysayers who
apparently think that some nations are simply too immature to let people
directly choose their own leaders
Is that really what opponents think? Not creating any straw men here, are we?
But we say the United States is ready
for real democracy

Because the current system is so undemocratic, and has been such an obvious failure, I guess.
The experiment is the National Popular Vote campaign, which intends to undermine
the Constitution's anachronistic Electoral College
I applaud the Times honest language - "undermine the Constitution."
If the campaign succeeds, future presidents will take office only if they win
the popular vote nationwide.
The ingenious scheme was developed by John R.
Koza, a Stanford professor who also invented the scratch-off lottery ticket.
Well, if inventing the scratch off lottery ticket doesn't make you an expert on democracy and government, I don't know what does.

Here we snip a bit. So as not to violate copyright, I think.
The beauty of this approach is that each state is constitutionally allowed to allot its electoral votes as it sees fit.

But what will the voters of California think if, in 2008, the Republican wins the national popular vote by 49-48.5, but loses the electoral college vote; and California, having voted Democratic by say, 61-39, has to switch its electoral college votes to make sure the Republican is elected?

Another snip.

The Electoral College doesn't skew just election results; it skews elections.

Or better put, it decides elections. That's what it is supposed to do, you dummies.

Candidates know they don't have to campaign in states that either clearly favor
them or clearly don't; they have to focus only on swing states. In the 2004
campaign, Bush and Kerry spent a great deal of time brushing up on agricultural
policy and other issues of vital concern in Iowa, while ignoring matters
important to people in states such as California, Texas and New York.

Is there really any evidence of this? Clearly issues of importance to Iowa got discussed, but is there really reason to believe that issues Californians care about were ignored? What do they care about? The War on Terror and in Iraq? I think that got discussed. Government spending and taxes? I seem to recall the candidates talking about that. The economy? Global warming, drilling off the coasts, or in ANWR? I think those were issues. Now it's true they didn't talk much about "undermining" the Constitution by end-running the electoral college, and I guess that's a big issue out in California, but other than that... .

Frankly, I don't understand this desire to tinker with the electoral college. I don't think the Times really believes that the majority must always win, every time. They're not demanding an end to plurality based, winner take all elections. They're not demanding the Bill of Rights be abolished. All of us are aware of many instances where people represent units of unequal size, such as the U.S. Senate, for one. Seems to me it has worked pretty well.

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