Archive for Thursday, April 5, 2007

Dumping Electoral College a dubious idea

April 5, 2007


— When it comes to persistence in pursuit of a political goal, no one can beat Birch Bayh.

It has been almost 40 years since the former Democratic senator from Indiana became the prime sponsor of a constitutional amendment for direct popular election of the president. The measure to abolish the Electoral College passed the House but lost in the Senate in 1970 and again in 1979.

Bayh, now a Washington lawyer (and father of Evan Bayh, currently representing Indiana in the Senate), has never abandoned the cause. This year, he has been an unpaid but effective lobbyist in Annapolis, helping persuade the Maryland Legislature to become the first in the country to endorse a plan that would - if it succeeded - achieve the direct election of the president, without the need for a constitutional amendment.

The National Popular Vote Plan, as it is known, has passed both houses of the Maryland Legislature and is headed for signature by Gov. Martin O'Malley.

The scheme, invented by John R. Koza, a Stanford professor, relies on the provision of the Constitution giving legislatures the power to "appoint" their presidential electors. If legislatures in enough states to make up a majority of the Electoral College - 270 electoral votes - pledge to commit those votes to the candidate winning the national popular vote, no constitutional amendment is needed. Bayh and other high-minded individuals, such as former Illinois Republican Rep. John B. Anderson, a one-time independent presidential candidate, support the plan, arguing that it is a perfect expression of 21st-century democracy, while the Electoral College is a relic of 18th-century thought.

All votes should count equally, no matter where they are cast, they say. Bayh told the Maryland legislators that Baltimore and Indianapolis voters are ignored by the presidential candidates now, because they are in states where one party dominates (Republicans in Indiana; Democrats in Maryland), while small-town voters in Ohio and Wisconsin are flooded with attention, simply because their states are closely contested.

What is worse, they say, the Electoral College made George Bush a winner in 2000 despite the fact that Al Gore got half-a-million more votes, and that could happen again. Those arguments have persuaded a wide variety of other endorsers, including The New York Times editorial page and columnist E.J. Dionne Jr., to sign up for the plan.

The sincerity and stubborn persistence of Bayh and the others notwithstanding, this is a questionable proposition. No one knows what the abandonment of a federal principle - voting by states for the highest officer in the land - would mean for American politics and government.

The two-party system that is the underpinning of our form of representative government is supported by the Electoral College, which gives each party a reliable base of support and forces both to compete fiercely for swing voters in the places where they are of roughly equal strength. That mix of stability and uncertainty is the formula for a healthy politics, and changing the formula should not be done casually.

A direct election scheme almost certainly would boost the already astronomical cost of presidential campaigns. It would likely offer new temptation for self-financed millionaire candidates to run as independents, knowing that their major-party opponents would no longer have any assurance of electoral advantage.

With no runoff provision possible under this scheme, would fringe candidates be able to bargain for commitments as the price for staying out of the race? Would a Ralph Nader or a Pat Buchanan or a George Wallace have less leverage - as Bayh contends - or more?

These are serious questions. When Bayh's constitutional amendment was being debated in Congress, the seemingly simple argument for direct democracy was tested by consideration of the many unintended consequences of switching to a national popular vote plan. Senators asked what it would do to rural and urban constituencies, small states and large, minority populations and the two-party system. In the final vote in the Senate in 1979, it was defeated by a coalition of Northern liberals and Southern conservatives in his own party as well as Republicans - all of whom found things to dislike.

Those issues need airing again before such a change is made. They were not debated seriously in the Maryland Legislature and they are not likely to be in others. That's why this scheme for bypassing the amendment process is - despite its honorable sponsorship - a really dubious proposition.

- David Broder is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


Ragingbear 11 years ago

Well of course it's a bad idea. After all, the popular vote method kinda puts the power in the hands of the voters. A lot harder for Bush to illegally steal an election that way.

Daniel Kennamore 11 years ago

If there was a National Vote Plan in 2000 Bush wouldn't have won...

K I'm sold.

Ragingbear 11 years ago

The electoral system was created in an age when nobody could predict the level of technology we have today. It was built as an effort to address the issue with it being nearly impossible to make sure that every vote would be counted. With computers today, we can do so in a reasonable manner, chads notwithstanding.

It's simply outdated. It's time to move on. We are in an age where we are told that our votes don't count, and they don't. Because if I live in a place like Utah and vote for anyone else but Mitt Romney, then my vote somehow counts as a vote for Romney.

bearded_gnome 11 years ago

raging, actually the electoral college system was put in to protect less populus and smaller states from being overrun by the population centers. same logic as the senate. having two votes for senate and at least one representative per state, means that the needs of wyoming, and for that matter, kansas, are represented more effectively than if they were on a strictly majority system. this is one way the minority gets protected. it was an ingenious solution.

p.s. in 2004, GWB was reelected by the largest majority in american history. clinton never had a majority at all, only pluralities.

bevy 11 years ago

Let's get out of the dark ages, people! I love how this writer touts the "two-party system" as the thing that makes our country great. That may have been so 100 years ago, but no longer. The two parties are so entrenched they no longer answer to the people, and there is equal corruption on both sides.

The electoral college today is mostly a method of insuring that we "dumb" average citizens can't elect someone that we want if they aren't part of the current two-party system.

Like a stinky diaper - this needs to be changed!

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years ago

Small states are not "minorities." Each citizen in those states gets one vote just like any citizen in a large state-- except in senate and presidential elections, where they effectivly get more votes per person than someone in a large state.

The system we have was state of the art 220 years ago. It's long overdue for change.

bearded_gnome 11 years ago

in the minds of the framers, bonzo, the residents of smaller or less populus states were minorities. I am not using that in the modern liberl sense of minorities as in hyphenated americans. but whenever you have a majority, you have a minority in voting...was that simple enough for you, I tried typing slowly. our system has never functioned as a purely majority system. that's why the added weight given to the smaller or less populus states, why the supreme court exists, why there's a constitution. when the majority rules purely, there can often be great swings in public opinion. that's why we don't have a parliamentary system and the president is the executive for a fixed term, cannot be voted out. this lends stability.

I agree this was made at a time when they couldn't imagine our country the way it is now. however, the principle is still effective in that Kansas' interests are certainly different from New York or California interests in national decisions.

JumporFall 11 years ago

I think it is a great idea. And to take the money aspect out of it, we should have public funded elections, but people would have to demonstrate enough support to receive the funds.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years ago

"Kansas' interests are certainly different from New York or California interests in national decisions."

Well, that's why Kansas elects its representatives, not New York or California.

Ragingbear 11 years ago

Gnome, Bush did not win the '04 election. He, his cronies and those crooks at Diebold simply stole the election and did a better job at covering it up.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years ago

So Gnome, why should Kansas's interests be more important than those of New York and California just because we have fewer people? Because we have more vacant landscape? One empty acre, one vote?

bearded_gnome 11 years ago

oh, but they failed on the '06 election, or then the machines were suddenly reliable?

raging, your foil hat has sprung a leak.

Bonzo, it is precisely to protect those different interests that kansas is given more weight in the system because in a vote contest between NY and KS, KS would always lose. we still are outweighed by NY but the difference isn't so great. if you revamp the electoral college you don't want to create a purely majority system. and, you'd have to revamp the senate. now, in the senate, we do need to repeal the 17th amendment so the senators no longer have to stand for popular election and thus have to have massive fundraising.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years ago

When I vote, I don't vote for "Kansas." I vote for myself. Same for voters in New York.

This whole system was set up as a way to entice small states to ratify the constitution, because in that approval process, each state had an equal vote. In other words, the elites in those small states had to be bribed with disproportiate representation.

Time to do away with the Senate altogether, along with the electoral college, and we should probably even adopt a parlimentary/prime minister system, especially when we get presidents like Bush who want to be emporer.

Ragingbear 11 years ago

They failed in 06' for a few reasons. 1. Bush doesn't care ,despite his attempts at the amendment to allow him to remain dictator for as long as he wants. 2. You can skew results, but when 90% of the voters vote democrat, then skewing the results will still result in 60% of the voters voting democrat.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years ago

If it weren't for the Electoral College, and the Supreme Court, Bush never would have made it to the election of 2004, and Gore would have been reelected in that election.

But this is all too hypothetical to be meaningful in any way. Our presidential elections (and nearly all others) are determined almost exclusively by money and the very wierd media events it buys. Not exactly a good way to run a "democracy", or even a "democratic republic".

Ragingbear 11 years ago

The flaw with that Bozo, is that Bush may have been re-elected, but would never have been elected in the first place.

Sure, our president may have been a robot with no sense of humor and a fixation on Manbearpig, but our economy, budget, welfare, educational system and foreign relations would be significantly better. There is also a damn good chance that 9-11 would never have happened, conspiracy theories aside.

bearded_gnome 11 years ago

wow, amazing raging. you really need help buddy. you're just making up voting figgures now. look at yourself in the mirror and see what you've become!

bozo, the socialist who doesn't believe in americans right to private property wishes we had a parliamentary system, thus our system would be as weak as italy. that's what he/she/it wants since it is "blame america first." of course it was compromise. that's how the politics have operated ever since! so what! and, there was sound reason behind that compromise. yes, you don't vote for kansas, but you do vote from kansas and you are by the numbers a different voter than a voter in NY or CA. one thing which has made our country strong is that the farm states and western states still had bargaining power to protect their interests. otherwise, elections would just be won in about four or five states and even more would just be "fly over country." kansas benefits from the electoral college and the senate. though I am often frustrated by the senate, it is properly called the greatest deliberative body in the world.

the 2000 election decided by the supreme court was because the florida vote counting was counting votes by different standards which violates one of the most essential pillars of our democratic system: "one man, one vote." the florida supreme court was obviously corrupt. also, note that the 2000 supreme court vote to stop Gore's cherry-picking was 7-2, not even a slim majority. so, put a sock in it! you poor dudes are still fighting the 2000 election which you lost fair and square, Gore even certified the election results to the senate.

Ragingbear 11 years ago

With the widespread issues and corruption that was flagrantly apparent in Florida, the electoral commission should have tossed Florida out of the mix. But that would have made Gore winner, and Jeb couldn't allow that.

bearded_gnome 11 years ago

no provision for such in the constitution...once again you guys demonstrate your willful ignorance of the constitution.

bearded_gnome 11 years ago

and, oh yes, given a choice between trusting the founders, or the vision of bozo-on-the-wrong-bus...well no contest!

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