Monday, August 16, 2010

The conservative case for what is called 'National Popular Vote' (in which states agree in advance to cast their electoral votes for the Presidential candidate who wins the most popular votes on Election Day) seems to be that, as a center-right country, there are more of us than them.

There might be... but it still a stupid idea.

Supposedly, it will force candidates to stop ignoring states that are now viewed as either safe Democratic or Republican states (I didn't know people in these states were suffering from an alleged lack of attention). Since 'every vote counts', per the proposal's supporters, candidates will be forced to campaign everywhere hoping to boost their vote counts.

Yes, and no. Candidates now spend their time where they think it will do the most good and that won't change under this proposal. While the individual states they campaign in might change from election to election, there will always be some number of states that are all but ignored... and in a lot of cases, the same states that get attention now will get it in the future and the states that get ignored will continue to get ignored.

As things stand now, GOP candidates don't campaign in reliably red states and Democratic candidates don't campaign in reliably blue states for the simple reason that they have little to gain from the extra time; having locked up those electoral votes, they go to states where they have a chance of pulling into their column.

Well... under this proposal, candidates will continue to ignore states where they think they have little to gain. And what states will fall into this category?

Let's start with states in which the candidate already is getting a pretty high percentage of the vote. If, for example, a Democratic candidate is polling in the high 60s in Massachusetts, spending time there trying to pull another 100,000 votes out a increasingly small pool of undecided voters and non-voters is going to be harder than pulling the same number of votes from a much larger pool of possible votes (non-voters and voters who are leaning towards one's opponent).

And states that don't have much in the way of voters to begin with will also be ignored, and for the same reasons as above. For example, the marginal value of a GOP candidate going to Montana is going to be far lower than the marginal value of another trip to Florida, where there are many more voters in the pot.

And isn't that the way things stand now, candidates don't spend time going to states that are either reliable or too small to warrant a trip?

But the biggest reason to be against the proposal is because it is a figurative middle finger to the voters in states that participate in this compact.

Let's look at the four scenarios: voters in a given state vote for (1) the candidate who wins both the national popular vote and a majority of electors under the existing system, or (2) the candidate who wins the national vote but not a majority of electors under the existing system, or (3) the candidate who wins neither the national vote or a majority of electors under the existing system, or (4) the candidate who doesn't win the national popular vote but would have won a majority of electors under the existing system.

Under the first scenario, the compact is unneeded, as the candidate the voters voted for is elected President.

The second scenario is the one driving much of the impetus to adopt this proposal, as supposedly it is a terrible crime against democracy to have a President who didn't receive the most votes from the public. Never mind that it has only happened twice in our nation's history (and the last time, as bad as Bush II was, it did keep Gore out of the White House). And under this scenario, there is no uproar - at least in this state - as the voters in a participating state get the President they wanted even though they wouldn't have under the old system.

Under the third scenario, while the outcome doesn't change as the voters in a participating state don't get the President they voted for, they wouldn't have gotten the result they wanted under the existing scenario. But forcing this state to have its electors vote for the candidate the voters of that state didn't want is a bit like pouring salt in the wound, to some extent voters for the losing candidate ought to be entitled to the 'Don't Blame Us, We Voted For The Other Guy' bumper stickers.

It is the fourth scenario that is going to cause the huge problems, where not only are the electoral votes of a participating state awarded to the candidate who a majority of people in that state DIDN'T WANT, but for this system, they would have gotten the President they wanted! Just how well is that going to go over in any state falling into this category? Yes, the candidate they wanted didn't get a majority of the votes nationally, but so what, the voters in this state could have had the President they wanted! Can you imagine the public uproar? Where are the governor and the state legislators going to hide when the voters come demanding to know just who was responsible for such an abomination? Imagine the constitutional crisis when states in this position move to withdraw from the compact or otherwise order their electors to vote for the candidate receiving the most votes in that state.