The Popular Vote

I would like people to start supporting the idea that the president should be elected not by the electoral college but by a national popular vote. For the following reasons:

  1. There’s no real fair reason why an individual who lives in a less populous state should have more influence than an individual in a more populous state, or put another way, that any individual should have MORE VOTES than another individual, which is what happens for residents of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Vermont. Those states have 3 electorates which means that they have a big enough population for the minimum 1 house representative. California, with 55 delegates, has a big enough population for 53 house representatives, which means there are at least 53 times more people in the bigger state (I say at least because every state gets at least one house representative even if their population is below the amount that 1 usually represents). Yet if you take 55 and divide it by 3 you find they only have 18 1/3 more delegates. 53 times the population and less than 19 times the votes.  This means that voters in those less populous states get almost 3 votes to every 1 vote that residents of CA get.
  2. A friend of mine on the other side of this issue argues that the concerns and perspectives of rural residents would be neglected for the interests of the urban if the president was elected by popular vote. But in fact there are democrats and republicans in rural and urban areas. If NY were to go 60% Democrat, and Ohio, say, goes 51% Republican, it does not leave residents of Ohio underrepresented. 49% of them will still have voted for the winner, by allying themselves with New Yorkers, and if this gets a majority overall, then that seems to me to be perfectly fair. The opposite does not. It shortchanges a still significant percentage of Ohio residents that voted with the majority. In fact, it is the representatives of states who are typically either reliably red or blue that are neglected and for whose concerns there is no incentive for a candidate to address. NY is one of the States with the highest population but was the one in which candidates spent the least money in this latest presidential race. Democrats take them for granted, and Republicans write them off. If there was a popular vote for president, every vote can contribute to the potential result. Every vote in every state will matter to the candidates. Candidates might try to reduce the margin of their opponent, in a state they know they will lose.
  3. It would increase participation. Right now the only votes that count are the votes in swing states. The citizens of all other states, both red and blue, feel like their votes don’t matter, because once you acknowledge the foregone conclusion, an extra vote on either side means nothing. It discourages participation.
  4. It may encourage moderate candidates. The incentive to cater to voters in areas that are typically  not your base can lead to less polarization by region and an interest in pleasing a wider demographic. It might favor more moderate candidates, more holistic policy, rather than the extremes of both parties that typically play better only to limited audiences.
  5. Fraud will be harder to execute. There has been quite a bit of evidence of election tampering in the last few elections, around the vulnerability of electronic voting machines, around the withholding of machines in certain districts to make it harder to vote, around the purging of voting rolls under the pretense of fraud in an attempt to actually deny legitimate voters their rights and around the counting of provisional ballots or absentee ballots (or not) to name a few. Whether you are willing to entertain these facts, or whether you dismiss them as conspiracy theory, the fact is that the electoral college makes it easier to affect a lot of delegates by manipulating the totals of relatively small amount in swing states, Fraud would have to occur on a much wider scale to affect the popular vote, and should therefore be less profitable to even try, or more easily detectable except when the election is very close on a national scale. It would provide an added level of protection against the effectiveness of any real or potential election tampering.

Changing how the president is elected does not change the senate. There is still disproportionate representation in the senate which would give voice to rural interests, and I’m not proposing that we change that.

This  may seem to be an almost impossible thing to change, given that a constitutional amendment would require ¾ of all states to ratify it, and so many states of lower population benefit from the electoral college. But interestingly, ten states have already entered into a compact to pledge their delegates to the candidate that wins the popular vote over all, set to go into effect only when enough states have signed on as to guarantee a majority. This would negate the need for a constitutional amendment, because states are allowed to pledge their delegates by whatever means they choose.

This compact would be in the interest of all states that are reliably either red or blue, in that it would force candidates to pay attention to them. Some states might see it as a risk that democrats are more likely to be the beneficiaries, but in 2004 Kerry was very close to winning Ohio, which would have given him the victory, and there is now good evidence that election tampering affected the outcome and Ohio should have gone to Kerry. However, Bush won the popular vote that year, and so assuming the tampering wasn’t significant enough to affect millions of votes, the rule would have benefited the Republican party. I also think this rule would benefit moderate republicans, those fiscal conservatives who aren’t tea partiers, racist or evangelical, because as argued above, moderate republicans would have a better chance at appealing to Republican and Democrat alike from places where the majority is historically skeptical of their views, and less aware of their perspectives.

My only concern with this is that the first time NY has to pledge its delegates to the candidate that they don’t want, they might question their principles and they only need a majority to leave the compact. It could all collapse a little bit too easily. But it is a step in the right direction and maybe if the compact survives long enough, a constitutional amendment could be achieved, just to make official what will have already been established in practice.