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2:20 pm CST - January 05, 2011

Posted under The Scoop

The Surprise Awaiting State Legislators


By Tara Ross

Texas Insider Report: AUSTIN, Texas – Newly elected legislators may be in for a surprise when state legislative sessions begin this month.  They doubtless anticipate a focus on the economy, health care, budget deficits, and taxes — all issues that drove voters to the polls in droves last November.  But state officials will also be asked to address another problem that few were thinking about.  

Unexpected as it may be, the stability of the Electoral College was directly impacted by November’s elections. In some ways, the institution was helped. But it also took a few blows.

In recent years, a California group has been waging a behind-the-scenes effort against the Electoral College. This National Popular Vote (NPV) group is asking state legislatures to change the way that they allocate presidential electors.

Instead of awarding a state’s electors to the winner of the state popular vote, NPV wants legislatures to award these electors to the winner of the national popular vote, and it asks states to join an interstate compact to that effect.

The compact becomes operable when states holding a majority of electors (270) have signed it.

Because a majority of electors can always dictate the outcome of a presidential election, the compact will ensure that the winner of the national popular vote always obtains the presidency. The Electoral College will have been essentially abolished, without the bother of a constitutional amendment.

To date, six states plus the District of Columbia have joined the effort. These jurisdictions currently hold 74 electoral votes among them.

Unfortunately, the mid-term elections on November 2 made it almost certain that at least 55 more electoral votes from California will be committed to NPV in the near future.

The California legislature has long tried to join NPV’s interstate compact. It has twice voted to approve the proposal. Both times—in 2006 and 2008—Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed the measure. With Scharzenegger out of office, the third time may be the charm for NPV. It can surely push the legislation through California’s legislature again, and odds are that, this time, the newly elected Jerry Brown will sign the bill.

Adding California’s 55 electoral votes to the 74 already participating brings the total number of committed votes to 129—nearly halfway to NPV’s goal of 270 electoral votes.

There are many silver linings for Electoral College supporters, however.

NPV probably lost ground in many other states because of the large Republican gains made in the state houses and senates: States such as Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin have been targeted by NPV in the past. But the GOP regained control of one or both houses of each of these legislatures earlier this month.

Similarly, Republicans regained control of the House in Colorado, and they made gains in Nevada. Both states have come close to approving NPV in the past.

Unfortunately, the impact of the elections in a few other states is a bit more uncertain: Democrats retain significant majorities in Connecticut and made gains in Delaware. The legislation was approved by one chamber in each of these latter two states during the 2009-10 legislative sessions.

This analysis admittedly makes it sound as if support for the Electoral College is (or should be) a partisan matter. It most emphatically should not be. But this author is realistic enough to know that many politicians — however erroneously — view it as such. Thus, Republican gains should work to the benefit of the Electoral College, while Democratic gains will continue to work to its detriment.

There are, of course, exceptions to this stereotype, as some Democrats support the Electoral College and some Republicans do not.

This author continues to hope that politicians on both sides of the political aisle will cease to view the Electoral College through the lens of the 2000 election. The institution should be evaluated on its own merits. It has long served our country and will continue to do so if we let it.

As this author has argued elsewhere, the system ensures that presidential candidates must build broad coalitions of support (rather than relying on a handful of states, regions or special interest groups).

It promotes moderation and compromise in our political system, and it discourages fraud and promotes stable election outcomes.

Newly elected state legislators have many important economic and other issues on their plates next spring, and they may be surprised to discover that the Electoral College is also on their legislative calendars. They would do well to spend time learning about the institution’s successful history before too casually voting against it.

Tara Ross is the author of Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College. Ross is former Editor-in-Chief of the Texas Review of Law & Politics and a former associate of Fulbright & Jaworski, L.L.P.

20 Comments

Richard Winger
3:01 pm CST
January 05, 2011


The Electoral College system is a ridiculous way to choose the president. No other nation in the world lets 535 anonymous people make the formal decision to choose our president. The 2004 election should serve as a warning. In December 2004, in Minnesota, one of the presidential electors voted for John Edwards for president, instead of doing what he or she was expected to do, vote for John Kerry. To this day, no one knows which elector did that. Yet it counted as one electoral vote for John Edwards. Congress dutifully recorded that vote.

Mark Erickson
4:49 pm CST
January 05, 2011


I understand you need to defend (plug) your book. But stick to the facts, please.

“a California group has been waging a behind-the-scenes effort” I realize California is a slur in Texas, but it is absolutely irrelevant where the group has it’s mailbox. They have a website, they issue press releases and try to get media exposure. That’s not behind-the-scenes. And the least you could do is link to it: http://www.nationalpopularvote.com/

“Republican gains should work to the benefit of the Electoral College, while Democratic gains will continue to work to its detriment.” Do you have any evidence for that? New York Senate is typical of the bi-partisan support NPV gets: “The vote was 22-5 among Senate Republicans (with 3 not voting) and 30-2 among Senate Democrats.” Polls show that Democratic support is about 10-15% higher than Republican, but the overall national average is about 75% in support, so we’re talking about 82% D to 68% GOP. That’s not a partisan issue. Rather than the exception, bi-partisan support is the rule. California is the exception.

EC “ensures that presidential candidates must build broad coalitions of support (rather than relying on a handful of states, regions or special interest groups).” Are you kidding? EC ensures that a handful of states will decide the presidency and thus makes it much easier for special interest groups to swing the election. And what could be a broader coalition of support than a majority of all Americans? (or at least a plurality for now – IRV is next!)

“It promotes moderation and compromise in our political system, and it discourages fraud and promotes stable election outcomes.” I guess I’ll have to read your book, but I can’t imagine how it does these things. And what is a stable election outcome?

Christian Archer
5:40 pm CST
January 05, 2011


Mark, you skipped over this paragraph. “Instead of awarding a state’s electors to the winner of the state popular vote, NPV wants legislatures to award these electors to the winner of the national popular vote, and it asks states to join an interstate compact to that effect.”

Mark, do you think a state should award it’s electors to the winner of the national vote or to the winner of the state vote?

CWJensen
6:04 pm CST
January 05, 2011


A point everyone fails to UNDERSTAND is the founding fathers provided what is a Balance of Power if the CONSTITUTION of THE UNITED STATES of AMERICA is actually followed.
The POTUS serving now is ABOUT as far removed from what our founders envisioned for what powers a president is suppose to have.
The Senate and Supreme Court were intended to eliminate the states with large populations from having to MUCH power.
TO BE VERY HONEST I am considerably more worried about a president that will NOT allow complete and total openness about his past.

David Adrian Smith
9:58 pm CST
January 05, 2011


You guys miss the point. Once again, the Left is attempting to subvert (avoid?) the Constitution of the United States. Often passing STATUTORY laws in place of Constitutional Amendments…or simply passing the buck across the street to SCOTUS to do their dirty work…now they are actually hoping the STATES will do their dirty work for them. And if 270+ Electoral College votes can be mustered to win any particular Presidential election, they can certainly be mustered in passing this trash in enough States to supposedly enact the new law.

Unfortunately…there is still this little piece of paper in Washington, D.C. called the Constitution of the United States. And the point was not to enable 6 States to select the President…bad move all the way around. Passing this trash legislation would effectively alter the Constitution without more than 6-10 States having their way with the rest. CA, MA, NY, IL, MI, OH…not too many more are needed and the rest of us are stuck with Democrats campaigning near the coasts and the Great Lakes and ignoring the rest of us forever.

People don’t UNDERSTAND the Electoral College. The nation simply isn’t “one” in this one vote. If we truly understood the nature of the document, maybe we wouldn’t oppose its continuance.

Actually, I would like to see a little piece of TEXAS enacted in Washington. Imagine an Executive Branch where the President literally has NO power whatsoever. WE elect the AG, VP and Commissioners / Secretaries heading every major agency or department of government. Too much power is centralized in one person’s control…the solution to that is not eliminating the EC…but EXPANDING it–let’s elect about TEN individuals through it and spread the power out.

Wish somebody would jump on board with that instead of this unconstitutional, trash legislation being pushed in blue States. (!)

Steve
10:15 pm CST
January 05, 2011


The MUCH more subtle, but IMO much more important aspect of all of the EC debate is that with the EC in place, the President is elected by the STATES. Abolishing the EC effectively makes the election a NATIONAL one where the President reigns OVER the states. The NPV is the WORST of all scenarios, effectively destoying the States’ role vis-a-vis the 270 pact, yet not a true popular vote either!

Gail Eichler
10:27 pm CST
January 05, 2011


I agree with this author Ms. Ross. It is very scary to think this could easily change. This change would absolutely change our country and who represents the American people in the White House.

garywfbg
11:15 pm CST
January 05, 2011


It seems there is more crap coming out of California than a public Sewer plant. I don’t know if anyone noticed, but most of that escort committee for the Speaker on the Democrat side was from California. It seems they have basically run things in the HOUSE over the last 4 years and have driven the whole country bankrupt as their counterparts in their state have already done.
What was great is the speaker escort on the Republican side, was folks from Texas, Ohio and other conservative states who know how to fix things. I’ve always said Pelosi and her crew have no idea how to fix things or use creative thinking. They just follow some progressive ideology that has been proven to fail wherever it has been tried. I think most of the Democrats are there for the money, for they don’t have a clue and probably couldn’t get a real job in the private world–Pelosi already has money–she just has a real problem in grasping Reality.

Mary
12:12 am CST
January 05, 2011


It is easy to see through this Democratic scheme if you will just think for a moment. California is trying to talk all of the states into doing what is best for the Democratic Party. In the end, a few large cities would literally control the election of our Presideant and Vice Presiudent because that is where most of the population is. As you know, the large cities tend to vote Democratic. If the Electoral College were eliminated, the candidates would not even bother to campaign in states with large rural areas or small states with only a few electoral votes.

The Electoral College is part of the check and balance system. Just as the membership of the House of Representatives is based on population and the states with lots of people get more representation, the Senate gives equal representation to each state. The Electoral college is a little like the Senate in that it gives the small states a little more power. Why would a state give all of its electoral votes to the candidate who won the national election instead of the candidate who won the election in the state? It would be stupid because the people of the state know best what is best for that state.

Eliminating the Electoral College is a step toward turning our country into a pure Democracy rather than a Republic. We need to keep the Electoral College because there would be many unintended consequences if it were eliminated.

Thomas P Milburn
7:12 am CST
January 05, 2011


Eliminating the Electoral College would be tantamount to destroying the Federal System upon which the United States has thrived for over two centuries.

Jack
7:22 am CST
January 05, 2011


The electorial college was created way in the past due to slow and long travel times by horse or wagon. In those days it was difficult to get the popular vote counted, confirmed, and consolidated. Under the old ways it could have taken years to determine who won the Presidential elections. So they created the electorial college system as an attempt to quicken the process and supposedly represent and match the popular vote.

Trouble is the electorial college doesn’t always match the popular vote, as it was intended to do. Many times it has chosen Presidents when the population has chosen another of the candidates. So which is easier to bribe and control, a small handfull or the majority of Americans?

As mentioned there are checks and balances….only 2 Senators per state regardless of its size for instance. In paraphrasing “all humans are created equal”.

Cathie Adams
8:01 am CST
January 05, 2011


Thank you, Tara, for elevating this extremely important issue at this crucial time for Texas legislators. The national popular vote would have given Americans President Al Gore, but the Electoral College gave us fellow Texan President George W. Bush. Since our founding, ALL Americans have profited from the Electoral College that forces candidates to campaign in states with both small and large populations. Without the Electoral College, candidates would only need to campaign in the most populous states.

CWJensen
8:59 am CST
January 05, 2011


If Al Gore had been elected President we never would have had Barrack Obama. Think about it:)

Frances Dorsey
10:24 am CST
January 05, 2011


I think that the better solution is to encourage each state to do what a few states are already doing: Allocating electors from their state on the basis of the percentage of state votes each party received. This would be a “proportional” way to choose electors from each state, and therefore, should also reflect the national majority will. The real plus of this method is that it does not let a small number of more populous states run the show, and so thumb their nose at the other states’ wishes.

Mark Erickson
10:45 am CST
January 05, 2011


Christian – the winner of the national vote as soon as 270 electoral college votes are compacted under state law to do the same. NPV does not abolish the Electoral College.

garywfbg – Here’s my version: “They just follow some conservative ideology that has been proven to fail wherever it has been tried.” And don’t hold your breath until the GOP finds a way to balance the budget (I can’t stop laughing over the fact that anyone believes they are serious about this). It will never happen, even if they regain the Presidency, Senate and the House.

Mary – “a few large cities would literally control the election of our Presideant [sic] and Vice Presiudent [sic] because that is where most of the population is. As you know, the large cities tend to vote Democratic. If the Electoral College were eliminated, the candidates would not even bother to campaign in states with large rural areas or small states with only a few electoral votes.” It really is amazing that someone could get the facts so backward. The largest 10 cities in the country have 25 million people in them, 8% of the total. BTW, those cities include Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. America’s 100 largest cities contain only 20% of the nation’s population. The largest cities’ majorities tend to vote Democratic, but that means in the 75% – 25% range at the most Democratic. I can’t find city data, but for TX counties, this is the Obama vs. McCain percentages: Travis – 64 to 35, Dallas – 58 to 42, Bexar 52 to 47, Harris – 51 to 49. The NPV doesn’t eliminate the Electoral College. Candidates don’t bother to campaign in small states with only a few electoral votes right now. In addition, all but a handful of states are virtually ignored now as well. That would change for the better under NPV.

Also from Mary – “The Electoral college is a little like the Senate in that it gives the small states a little more power.” The EC is exactly like the Senate in that it tremendously over-represents voters in small states. The core principal of democracy is one person, one vote. The Senate and EC are the worst violators of this standard in the world of democracies. One voter in Wyoming is worth 70 voters in California. Is that fair?

Mary, again – “Eliminating the Electoral College is a step toward turning our country into a pure Democracy rather than a Republic.” That’s hogwash. Again, EC is not being eliminated. Second, NPV does not change how we elect Representatives and Senators, the heart of our republican system. The Congress would have to be abolished for pure democracy to be enacted.

Caliche Kid
11:45 am CST
January 05, 2011


I am not a large fan of the electoral college. However, I am a fan of the Constitution and if my high school civics is still the way I remember; the Constitution of the United States cannot be randomly changed by some interstate compact. If I am not mistaken, it still takes ratification by 2/3 of the states to change the document.

Christian Archer
11:49 am CST
January 05, 2011


Eric you’re saying that the states should give their electorial votes to the winner of the national election rather than who won their state. I totally disagree with that.

I like what Francis Dorsey said that a few states are doing. ” Allocating electors from their state on the basis of the percentage of state votes each party received.” And when a person is cut in half due to math and percentages, that person should vote with the majority.

Mary, I’ve really been enjoying your postings. I like what you said about the balance of power between the branches of government. It’s true that the U.S. congress should weild the most power of the branches because the are SUPPOSED to be the ones closest to the people. The congress have always been the ones who hold the purse strings and fund all programs. All the programs and agencies imaginable can be form by congressmen and senators, but if they are not funded then the programs and agencies are empty shells.

Richard Winger
12:49 pm CST
January 05, 2011


The National Popular Vote idea is completely consistent with the US Constitution. The US Constitution says the states can choose the presidential electors any way they wish. The National Popular Vote Idea is consistent with that. The participating states are exercising their freedom, granted by the Constitution. Those states are saying they will choose presidential electors who are pledged to whomever got the most popular votes. That is their right. States also have the right to abolish a popular vote to choose their electors, and in many states before the Civil War, the state legislatures chose the electors. South Carolina voters never voted for presidential electors until 1872.

Kachonka
1:36 am CST
January 05, 2011


Ahhh, ignore it all and just get the revolution over with!

alicia
5:07 am CST
January 05, 2011


Mark ~ LOL…Since you mentioned it, I think I *do* think 1 Wyoming vote equals 70 CA votes; maybe more. Seems fair to me! *L*

I don’t understand those of you who argue that a state’s votes should reflect national sentiment. Whaaat???

Leave the Electoral College (and the Constitution) alone!

Btw, I’m immediately suspicious of any outfit whose “mailbox” resides in CA.

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