June 14, 2011

Dopey News Journal Letter of the Week

Joseph Bianchini of Dover thinks the effort by several states, including Delaware, to grant their states' electoral votes to the national popular vote winner of the presidency ... benefits smaller states:

I hope that our state Senate recognizes that this bipartisan supported common-sense legislation will level the playing field for small states like ours to have a greater role in choosing our country's future presidents.

Despite potential questionable constitutionality (although, based on my non-lawyerly reading of Article II Section 1, I don't see much of a hassle), how precisely do these state measures "benefit" small states? On the contrary, that's what the [traditional] Electoral College does -- it makes candidates have to pay attention to states like Delaware, especially in potentially close elections. Under the plan Bianchini likes, exactly what incentive would candidates have to even visit Delaware?

Understand: the plan Bianchini advocates means Delaware would automatically give its three electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, not the winner of Delaware's popular vote. Thus, candidates could concentrate on large metropolitan areas during a campaign even more than they do now. Delaware's entire state population doesn't even get close to that of many large cities across the US. It's one thing to advocate moving to a more popular vote-oriented scheme, but don't blow smoke up our butts saying this will "level the playing field for small states."


Posted by Hube at June 14, 2011 12:31 PM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

Besides simple math disproves his point as well.

Under the popular vote, Delaware's population is 0.29% of the total population. (I'm having a little trouble finding a national total for registered voters, so I'll use population as a rough stand-in.)

Delaware's 3 electoral votes (out of 538 total) give it 0.56% of the total possible votes in the current system.

So a popular vote system would cut Delaware's influence roughly in half.

Posted by: Paul Smith at June 14, 2011 01:53 PM

It is clearly Constitutional to allocate electoral votes this way -- though dumb. Indeed, you state legislature could make it state law that it convene the day after election day and vote to award the state's electoral votes as it sees fit -- no matter how the people of the state voted. After all, the legislature shall determine the allocation of those electoral votes under the Constitution.

Posted by: Rhymes With Right at June 14, 2011 03:38 PM

The current system of electing the president ensures that the candidates, after the primaries, do not reach out to all of the states and their voters. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or care about the voter concerns in the dozens of states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind, like Delaware. The reason for this is the state-by-state winner-take-all method (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but since enacted by 48 states), under which all of a state's electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state.

Presidential candidates concentrate their attention on only a handful of closely divided "battleground" states and their voters. In the 2012 election, pundits and campaign operatives agree already, that, at most, only 14 states and their voters will matter. Delaware, as usual, will not. Almost 75% of the country will be ignored --including 19 of the 22 lowest population and medium-small states, and 17 medium and big states like CA, GA, NY, and TX. This will be more obscene than the 2008 campaign,, when candidates concentrated over 2/3rds of their campaign events and ad money in just 6 states, and 98% in just 15 states (CO, FL, IN, IA, MI, MN, MO, NV, NH, NM, NC, OH, PA, VA, and WI). Over half (57%) of the events were in just 4 states (OH, FL, PA, and VA). In 2004, candidates concentrated over 2/3rds of their money and campaign visits in 5 states; over 80% in 9 states; and over 99% of their money in 16 states.

2/3rds of the states and people, like in Delaware, have been merely spectators to the presidential elections.

Posted by: oldgulph at June 15, 2011 07:07 PM

A survey of 800 Delaware voters conducted on December 21-22, 2008 showed 75% overall support for a national popular vote for President.
Support was 79% among Democrats, 69% among Republicans, and 76% among independents.
By age, support was 71% among 18-29 year olds, 70% among 30-45 year olds, 77% among 46-65 year olds, and 77% for those older than 65.
By gender, support was 81% among women and 69% among men.

In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). The recent Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University poll shows 72% support for direct nationwide election of the President. Support is strong among Republican voters, Democratic voters, and independent voters, as well as every demographic group surveyed in virtually every state surveyed in recent polls. Support in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): Alaska -- 70%, DC -- 76%, Delaware --75%, Idaho – 77%, Maine -- 77%, Montana – 72%, Nebraska -- 74%, New Hampshire --69%, Nevada -- 72%, New Mexico -- 76%, Oklahoma – 81%, Rhode Island -- 74%, South Dakota – 71%, Utah - 70%, Vermont -- 75%, and West Virginia – 81%, and Wyoming – 69%;

In the 13 lowest population states, the National Popular Vote bill already has been approved by nine state legislative chambers, including one house in, Delaware, the District of Columbia, and Maine and both houses in Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermont. It has been enacted by the District of Columbia, Hawaii, and Vermont.

Senator Robert E. Dole of Kansas, the Republican nominee for President in 1996 and Republican nominee for Vice President in 1976, stated in a 1979 floor speech:
“Many persons have the impression that the electoral college benefits those persons living in small states. I feel that this is somewhat of a misconception. Through my experience with the Republican National Committee and as a Vice Presidential candidate in 1976, it became very clear that the populous states with their large blocks of electoral votes were the crucial states. It was in these states that we focused our efforts.
“Were we to switch to a system of direct election, I think we would see a resulting change in the nature of campaigning. While urban areas will still be important campaigning centers, there will be a new emphasis given to smaller states. Candidates will soon realize that all votes are important, and votes from small states carry the same import as votes from large states. That to me is one of the major attractions of direct election. Each vote carries equal importance.
“Direct election would give candidates incentive to campaign in States that are perceived to be single party states.

Posted by: oldgulph at June 15, 2011 07:11 PM

oldgulph: a national popular vote is not what Mr. Bianchini was advocating, so your points are actually moot. Nevertheless, one, look at what Paul noted in the first comment about a pure popular vote. Pure mathematics demonstrates that smaller states have an advantage in the current system. And two, I personally doubt a pure popular vote would make candidates spend more time and effort in smaller states. The same tactics we see today would essentially be in play albeit slightly modified.

Lastly, if a popular vote movement is as popular as you claim, why is there no constitutional amendment afoot to do away with the Electoral College?

Posted by: Hube at June 15, 2011 08:11 PM

"Joseph Bianchini of Dover thinks the effort by several states, including Delaware, to grant their states' electoral votes to the national popular vote winner of the presidency"

Forget the grade school "math." The political reality is clear to presidential candidates, pundits, campaign managers, etc. etc. etc.

You don't accept what Senator Robert E. Dole of Kansas, the Republican nominee for President in 1996 and Republican nominee for Vice President in 1976, stated in a 1979 floor speech?

How about this:

In a 1979 Senate speech, Senator Henry Bellmon (R–Oklahoma) described how his views on the Electoral College had changed as a result of serving as national campaign director for Richard Nixon and a member of the American Bar Association’s commission studying electoral reform.
“While the consideration of the electoral college began—and I am a little embarrassed to admit this—I was convinced, as are many residents of smaller States, that the present system is a considerable advantage to less populous States such as Oklahoma. … As the deliberations of the American Bar Association Commission proceeded and as more facts became known, I came to the realization that the present electoral system does not give an advantage to the voters from the less populous States. Rather, it works to the disadvantage of small State voters who are largely ignored in the general election for President.

And the fact that none of the 10 most rural states (VT, ME, WV, MS, SD, AR, MT, ND, AL, and KY) is a battleground state.
The current state-by-state winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes does not enhance the influence of rural states, because the most rural states are not battleground states.

12 of the 13 lowest population states (3-4 electoral votes) are almost invariably non-competitive, and ignored, in presidential elections. Six regularly vote Republican (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota), and six regularly vote Democratic (Rhode Island, Delaware, Hawaii, Vermont, Maine, and DC) in presidential elections Despite the fact that these 12 lowest population states together possess 40 electoral votes, because they are not closely divided battleground states, none of these 12 states get visits, advertising or polling or policy considerations by presidential candidates.

These 12 states together contain 11 million people. Because of the two electoral-vote bonus that each state receives, the 12 non-competitive small states have 40 electoral votes. However, the two-vote bonus is an entirely illusory advantage to the small states. Ohio has 11 million people and has "only" 20 electoral votes. As we all know, the 11 million people in Ohio are the center of attention in presidential campaigns, while the 11 million people in the 12 non-competitive small states are utterly irrelevant. Nationwide election of the President would make each of the voters in the 12 lowest population states as important as an Ohio voter.

In 2004, Bush’s cumulative vote lead of 650,421 in the 6 then reliably Republican states only got him 19 electoral votes, while Kerry’s cumulative vote lead of 444,115 in the 6 then reliably Democratic states, got him 21 electoral votes.

The fact that the bonus of two electoral votes is an illusory benefit to the small states has been widely recognized by the small states for some time. In 1966, Delaware led a group of 12 predominantly low-population states (North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Kentucky, Florida, Pennsylvania) in suing New York in the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that New York's use of winner-take-all effectively disenfranchised voters in their states. The Court declined to hear the case (presumably because of the well-established constitutional provision that the manner of awarding electoral votes is exclusively a state decision). Ironically, defendant New York is no longer a battleground state (as it was in the 1960s) and today suffers the very same disenfranchisement as the 12 non-competitive low-population states.

And you're pleased that under the current system the 11 most populous states contain 56% of the population of the United States, but could win the Presidency by winning a mere 51% of the vote in just these 11 biggest states -- that is, a mere 26% of the nation's votes.

Posted by: oldgulph at June 15, 2011 10:56 PM

The presidential election system we have today is NOT in the Constitution, and enacting National Popular Vote would NOT need an amendment. State-by-state winner-take-all laws to award Electoral College votes, are an example of state laws eventually enacted by states, using their exclusive power to do so, AFTER the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, Now our current system can be changed by state laws again.

Unable to agree on any particular method, the Founding Fathers left the choice of method for selecting presidential electors exclusively to the states by adopting the language contained in section 1 of Article II of the U.S. Constitution-- "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors . . ." The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the state legislatures over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as "plenary" and "exclusive."

The constitution does not prohibit any of the methods that were debated and rejected. Indeed, a majority of the states appointed their presidential electors using two of the rejected methods in the nation's first presidential election in 1789 (i.e., appointment by the legislature and by the governor and his cabinet). Presidential electors were appointed by state legislatures for almost a century.

Neither of the two most important features of the current system of electing the President (namely, universal suffrage, and the 48 state-by-state winner-take-all method) are in the U.S. Constitution. Neither was the choice of the Founders when they went back to their states to organize the nation's first presidential election.

In 1789, in the nation's first election, the people had no vote for President in most states, only men who owned a substantial amount of property could vote, and only three states used the state-by-state winner-take-all method to award electoral votes.

The current 48 state-by-state winner-take-all method (i.e., awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in a particular state) is not entitled to any special deference based on history or the historical meaning of the words in the U.S. Constitution. It is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, the debates of the Constitutional Convention, or the Federalist Papers. The actions taken by the Founding Fathers make it clear that they never gave their imprimatur to the winner-take-all method.

The constitutional wording does not encourage, discourage, require, or prohibit the use of any particular method for awarding the state's electoral votes.

As a result of changes in state laws enacted since 1789, the people have the right to vote for presidential electors in 100% of the states, there are no property requirements for voting in any state, and the state-by-state winner-take-all method is used by 48 of the 50 states. States can, and frequently have, changed their method of awarding electoral votes over the years. Maine and Nebraska do not use the winner-take-all method-- a reminder that an amendment to the U.S. Constitution is not required to change the way the President is elected.

The normal process of effecting change in the method of electing the President is specified in the U.S. Constitution, namely action by the state legislatures. This is how the current system was created, and this is the built-in method that the Constitution provides for making changes.

Posted by: oldgulph at June 15, 2011 10:57 PM

oldgulph: Did actually you bother to read the post and comments, or are you too busy bloviating?

1. Bianchini wants a state's electoral votes to go to the national popular vote winner. You weren't at all clear in your initial comments whether this is what you likewise favor, or -- more likely by what appears in your text, especially your mentioning Dole saying direct election -- you advocate a complete change to a national popular vote method of electing the president.

2. Since it appears by your initial comments that you're a proponent of a direct election, this would indeed necessitate a constitutional amendment. Your comments about one not being necessary based on Bianchini's proposal are moot, because I wrote "Despite potential questionable constitutionality (although, based on my non-lawyerly reading of Article II Section 1, I don't see much of a hassle)" In addition, Rhymes With Right wrote "It is clearly Constitutional to allocate electoral votes this way."

Forget the grade school math? How 'bout some grade school reading comprehension, then?

Posted by: Hube at June 16, 2011 05:57 PM