Tuesday, June 14, 2016

United States of America or United People of America?

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As we are progressing through this mess of a campaign I cannot but feel a bit disappointed by the National Popular Vote interstate compact. Those of you who are unfamiliar with it ought to find out about it. The electoral college "safety valve" would become a meaningless appendage, and any "hanging chads" would involve the whole country in a close election, and not just one state. Many of you probably think that the chads of 2000 decided the election, but that is overlooking the facts of the other 49 states.  (Do not crazy over the winning jump shot if the team already had 100 points.)

Please be aware that the NPV movement only needs states with electoral votes totaling 270 to "sign on", and it becomes moot for all the other states. Once the votes are counted, the "270" states electoral votes would be committed, and, as they say, that's the show, folks.

Should the NPV become the standard, a recount would involve all states and in each state it would take place under the laws of that state. A contested result could (actually, it might have to) involve court cases in each state, even in a state that voted hugely in favor of one candidate. Political paralysis would be quite possible.

What this National Popular Vote really attacks is the fact that we are the United States of America. This NPV push basically shoves states aside.  There is not even a national agreement on how to vote (see this). How can we say to the states that they can decide whether to use paper ballots, direct recording, punch cards, etc., and then tell them that their results may not matter anyway? Your state voted for candidate B? Ignore it, cause candidate A got more votes in other states.

In addition, what if a candidate has 270 supposed electoral votes before the west coast polls have closed? Should those voters just "skip it", as clearly the east coast votes are worth more?

New York and its governor signed off on the NPV in 2014.  Could this have been an overreaction stemmed by the fact that NY went Gore but the electoral college went Bush in 2000? I hope not. After all, since popular vote count was tallied  (starting 1824), 16 presidents have been elected while getting less than a majority (see here). In 2000 both Bush and Gore received less than 50%.  Analyzing further, Bush received over 50% of the votes in 26 states, Gore exceeded 50% in 14 states (plus D.C.).

In California and New York, Gore received 2,998,097 more votes than Bush. In the rest of the country Bush was ahead of Gore by 2,545,202. (see here).  Some people left the campaign believing that the Supreme Court stole the election for Bush. People could equally think that Gore almost stole it from Bush thanks to the media capitals of New York and California.

A lesson to be learned is that the electoral college helped limit the mess to Florida thanks to its less than stellar voting procedures. But lets keep in mind that the electoral college ultimately went with the winner in 26 states instead of the winner in 14 states. If NPV had been in effect, Gore might have been the winner, but not until recounts and courts had spoken in many many other states, in addition to Florida.

Interesting to note, in The Federalist Papers #68 (Alexander Hamilton) stated
It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.
This just gives one sense of the body in why the Constitution included an electoral college, and did not  go for a general popular vote.

Interesting note: if deadlocks force the vote into the House of Representatives, the District of Columbia gets no vote, and each state gets one vote. When the electoral college met in March, a deadlock would go to a newly elected Congress. Now the electoral college meets in December. Would the deadlock go to the existing Congress or wait until the new Congress? Stay tuned...

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