The National Popular Vote and the Electoral College Anachronism

Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

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41 Responses

  1. Michael Drew says:

    I have the same question every time the NPV movement comes up (even though I am a nominal supporter of the proposal). So, currently there are 51 separate elections run by the states and D.C. to elect the president. That I am aware of no entity of the federal government officially tallies the result of the national popular vote — in any election (there being none for which it would be relevant other than President and Vice President (maybe it does though). What then is the official vote counter to which a state will refer when it seeks to empower a slate of presidential electors? CNN? The individual state’s SOS’s office’s sums of the official vote totals reported by every other state’s SOS’s office?

    Presumably there is a uniform law that those leading the movement would like to see a group of states with 270 EVs enact which resolves this problem. But what is the likelihood that such uniformity would transpire? Could a variety of statutes being passed as a result of this movement have unintended consequences? Could even a uniformly enacted law have unintended consequences? Last, while the states who changed their laws this way would not be usurping the prerogative of any other states, most certainly the states who never considered such a change would feel in some way that their vice has been diminished or possibly eliminated in the process (yes, even though a large group of them effectively are in every election anyway). What plan is there to communicate the legitimacy of the national change that would take place to the people of the states that decline to participate in it (or so it will seem to them)?Report

    • You see, those would have been really good questions for me to ask.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        I really do assume there is a good answer to the former question. But the problem of (what I see as likely) inter-state animus, however much based on misunderstanding, as this is being implemented tends to make me think this needs to be a national reform not a state-by-state one. But that would require an amendment. I wonder, just how many states are overrepresented in the EC? Probably more than 12. Dammit.Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

          Of course, we do interstate animus with flair already…Report

        • The interstate animus question is a very good one. Alas, I don’t have an answer to it. I will say that with respect to the uniformity question, there’s a number of fairly strong precedents of states adopting uniform legislation. The most obvious is the UCC, although there are often variations from state-to-state; ditto the Uniform Probate Code. But there are a number of other examples with few if any deviations from state-to-state. There’s the Uniform Fraudulent Transfers Act and the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act, to name two off the top of my head.Report

  2. Will says:

    Nice one, Thompson.Report

  3. North says:

    Mark first off I would like to second Will by saying that this is an ~awsome~ and informative interview. Great job!

    Now the NPV is really very clever and I’m quite fond of it in that it’s an elegant way to enact a change to the Electoral College without actually requiring the use of the clunky mechanisms for constitutional change. That said I am somewhat unconvinced that NPV would actually constitute a good change.
    Now correct me if I’m wrong here but as I understand it the NPV would make it so that the winner of the popular vote would become President. So far so good but have we actually thought about what that will do to electoral strategy? What I think we would see would be the entirety of the low population portion of the country dropping off the electoral radar. Campaigns would refocus onto the population centers of the country. So we’re talking the New England strip. The Florida-Dallas-Atlanta triangle and of course the West Coast strip (and to a lesser degree I suppose a feeble Minneapolis-Chicago-St. Louis triangle maybe). What would in essence happen is that the politicians would just grab the diagrams from all the national marketing companies and aim all of their campaigning at the interests of these high population density regions.

    Now of course I’m not convinced this would be a terrible thing. For conservatives it’d be equivalent to a stake through the heart since urban high density populations generally trend liberal on a lot of issues while low density rural populations trend conservative. But in fairness these markets would be high value targets specifically because more people live in them so why shouldn’t they get the lion’s share of the attention? Still, knowing how it would turn out I don’t see the scheme being sustainable.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to North says:

      The change would indeed be massive. I’m not sure how kindly everyone would take to the idea of the result in their state suddenly being irrelevant to the decision — even in states that are underrepresented and/or taken for granted because they are solid red or blue. But then I have lived in a state that has been in play and not egregiously underrepresented for most of my voting life.Report

      • ThatPirateGuy in reply to Michael Drew says:

        I would love to have my “states” opinion stop counting. As it is not one of my three votes for a president have been worth diddly squat as I live in Tennessee. A nice red state. I don’t have a problem with my fellow Tennesseen’s votes counting I simply wish mine did.Report

    • Mark Thompson in reply to North says:

      I think there’s some merit to this, although I’d note that the NPV doesn’t touch the Senate’s makeup (which is a good thing, I think). I guess my response would be that the overwhelming majority of both rural and urban votes don’t matter much as it is. Shifting the system so that urban votes, at least, are all equally valuable is a vast improvement over a system where only the urban votes of, say, St. Louis matter.Report

      • North in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        I agree Mark, quite whole heartedly, but if the objection that leads to the NPV is that large parts of the country are unrepresented then the NPV would not correct the problem. It would merely shuffle the representation around a bit.

        And of course once some formerly represented swing states realized they’d lost influence, or some low population states realized they hadn’t gained any or some conservative states realized that they were enabling liberals then a repeal of their state law would follow and shut the NPV down.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to North says:

          if the objection that leads to the NPV is that large parts of the country are unrepresented then the NPV would not correct the problem. It would merely shuffle the representation around a bit.


          It changes the focus from weird areas of the country having undue influence to different weird areas of the country having undue influence.

          (Additionally, it throws federalism away once and for all.)Report

          • Kyle in reply to Jaybird says:

            It changes the focus from weird areas of the country having undue influence to different weird areas of the country having undue influence.

            Agreed, with a caveat, in the last say three elections, we’ve seen the same roster of toss up states. Yet, have you seen how different the electoral maps are from say 1984 and 1996? Or even 1996 and 2004? 20 years ago California was a toss up state, as was Arkansas.

            I’m not sure you’d get such shifts in the importance of say New York or LA over the same time period.Report

        • Kyle in reply to North says:

          I think the repeal option is a big deal because it would give any state that can trigger the NPV or de-trigger(?) it a rather enormous amount of clout. So take for example the 2000 Election, a state like Texas or Florida could simply repeal the law, de-trigger the NPV and then the year long campaign strategy of Senator Democrat to court urban populations leaves him totally screwed in the electoral college because of a triksy Republican state legislature – or vice versa.

          That concern, which couldn’t be fixed by binding timing clauses in the compact, I think is a dealbreaker. Whatever the flaws of the EC, at least it’s a predictable system that won’t change next year or in say October.Report

          • North in reply to Kyle says:

            Yes I agree Kyle, I think that’s a very pertinent point.Report

          • mvymvy in reply to Kyle says:

            The bill is posted at and does not allow for withdrawals by states for the crucial 6 months window before and after the election – between July 20 and January 20th.

            “This [bill] shall govern the appointment of presidential electors in each member state in any year in which this agreement is, on July 20, in effect in states cumulatively possessing a majority of the electoral votes.”

            “Any member state may withdraw from this agreement, except that a withdrawal occurring six months or less before the end of a President’s term shall not become effective until a President or Vice President shall have been qualified to serve the next term.”Report

            • Kyle in reply to mvymvy says:

              The problem with that is that’s it’s not enforceable. Right.

              So Texas signs a law that says it won’t withdraw from an agreement after July 20. Then Texas signs a law that says it will. Congress cannot compel Texas to uphold the original agreement it made with the other states because the Constitution rather expressly delegates to the states their own manner of choosing (chusing?) electors.

              If it went to the Supreme Court, I can’t imagine a decision less than 9-0 in Texas’ favor. The only way you could make such a provision binding is by including it in states’ constitutions, then such a provision would be enforceable but constitutions, like laws are relatively amendable at the state level so it would be a significant bulwark but hardly rock solid.

              Even though Texas might be gaming the system unfairly it simply couldn’t be federally compelled to honor the original compact. This is one reason why people amended the Constitution in the first place, rather than using state compacts.Report

              • North in reply to Kyle says:

                Wouldn’t the Texas supreme court rule the other way though Kyle? The Texas law (once enacted) would spell out how Texas had decided to allocate their electors and how long it would take Texas to undecide. I would think that Texas trying to undecide faster than their law allowed would be struck down by the state court long before it ended up in the hands of the Supremes.Report

              • Kyle in reply to North says:

                It’s possible, I don’t know how the Texas Supreme Court would rule, though their justices are elected so I’m not sure how that might affect that particular ruling.

                However, as I understand it previous law can’t bind the legal options of subsequent laws. Otherwise the current Texas legislature could simply include in all of their laws, a clause stipulating that it couldn’t be repealed before 2100. A law is a law and the only things greater than than law are constitutional requirements.

                Therefore, if the Texan constitution had a clause requiring it to fulfill the obligations of interstate compacts or specifically to abide by the legal requirements of the NPV, then yes, there would be no problem. However if those are absent from the state constitution, it’d be no different from normal state law passage and repeal.Report

    • Kyle in reply to North says:

      Well the other big change…now that I think about it is that big city mayors would start becoming major presidential candidates. YAY Machine politics!

      On one hand, that would mean more money and supports for urban politics but on the other hand, I think one of the strengths of the United States is that our stability (in a heterodox culture) is reinforced by a system that’s only semi-majoritarian.

      Scrapping the EC, in my mind, is like the 17th amendment, it’ll fundamentally change how one gets elected, who the powerful gatekeepers to election are, and who one is accountable to. I’m not sure it’ll make the Presidency stronger or more accountable, just differently accountable.

      That said, if you really want to make the EC less countermajoritarian, simply enlarge Congress. The larger Congress is the greater the statistical likelihood that the winner of the popular vote will also win the electoral college.Report

      • North in reply to Kyle says:

        I’m with ya 100% there Kyle. Double the size of Congress and repeal the 17th. The lobbies would have to work hard for their influence then.Report

        • Bob Cheeks in reply to North says:

          Hey, howabout a lottery (true democracy) for the lower house?Report

          • North in reply to Bob Cheeks says:

            I don’t know Bob. While the political profession is rightly reviled by many I have seen the bad impact of having a perpetual batch of neophytes running the show.Report

            • Bob Cheeks in reply to North says:

              North, you’ll have the same staff people, sundry experts, etc., the only difference will be the rep him/herself…less likely to fall victim to corruption, influence, and lobbyists I should think. Besides the House is sticking its nose into much to much…!Report

  4. mvymvy says:

    Under the current system of electing the President, presidential candidates concentrate their attention on a handful of closely divided “battleground” states. 98% of the 2008 campaign events involving a presidential or vice-presidential candidate occurred in just 15 closely divided “battleground” states. Over half (57%) of the events were in just four states (Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia). Similarly, 98% of ad spending took place in these 15 “battleground” states. Similarly, in 2004, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their money and campaign visits in five states and over 99% of their money in 16 states.
    Two-thirds of the states and people have been merely spectators to the presidential elections. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or worry about the voter concerns in states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. The reason for this is the state-by-state winner-take-all rule 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.

    Another shortcoming of the current system is that a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide. This has occurred in one of every 14 presidential elections.

    In the past six decades, there have been six presidential elections in which a shift of a relatively small number of votes in one or two states would have elected (and, of course, in 2000, did elect) a presidential candidate who lost the popular vote nationwide.Report

  5. mvymvy says:

    When the combined minimum-needed 270 electoral votes of states enacting National Popular Vote bill is reached, the bill comes into effect. Then all the electoral votes from the states that enacted it would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC). The 270 electoral votes of the states that enact the bill are enough, by themselves, to elect a President (270 of 538).

    Current federal law (Title 3, chapter 1, section 6 of the United States Code) requires the states to report the November popular vote numbers (the “canvas”) in what is called a “Certificate of Ascertainment.” You can see the Certificates of Ascertainment for all 50 states and the District of Columbia containing the official count of the popular vote at the NARA web site at

    Article I-Section 10, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution specifically permits states to enter interstate compacts. There are hundreds of major compacts currently in force (and thousands of minor ones), as can be seen at

  6. mvymvy says:

    The National Popular Vote bill is currently endorsed by over 1,659 state legislators (in 48 states) who have sponsored and/or cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.

    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. This national result is similar to recent polls in closely divided battleground states: Colorado– 68%, Iowa –75%, Michigan– 73%, Missouri– 70%, New Hampshire– 69%, Nevada– 72%, New Mexico– 76%, North Carolina– 74%, Ohio– 70%, Pennsylvania — 78%, Virginia — 74%, and Wisconsin — 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): Delaware –75%, Maine — 77%, Nebraska — 74%, New Hampshire –69%, Nevada — 72%, New Mexico — 76%, Rhode Island — 74%, and Vermont — 75%; in Southern and border states: Arkansas –80%, Kentucky — 80%, Mississippi –77%, Missouri — 70%, North Carolina — 74%, and Virginia — 74%; and in other states polled: California — 70%, Connecticut — 74% , Massachusetts — 73%, Minnesota – 75%, New York — 79%, Washington — 77%, and West Virginia- 81%. Support is strong in every partisan and demographic group surveyed.

    The National Popular Vote bill has passed 29 state legislative chambers, in 19 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Oregon, and both houses in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, and Washington. These five states possess 61 electoral votes — 23% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

    See http://www.NationalPopularVote.comReport

  7. mvymvy says:

    The small states are the most disadvantaged of all under the current system of electing the President. Political clout comes from being a closely divided battleground state, not the two-vote bonus.

    Small states are almost invariably non-competitive, and ignored, in presidential elections. Only 1 of the 13 smallest states are battleground states (and only 5 of the 25 smallest states are battlegrounds).

    Of the 13 smallest states, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Alaska regularly vote Republican, and Rhode Island, Delaware, Hawaii, Vermont, Maine, and DC regularly vote Democratic. 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 smallest states as important as an Ohio voter.

    The concept of a national popular vote for President is far from being politically “radioactive” in small states, because the small states recognize they are the most disadvantaged group of states under the current system.

    In small states, the National Popular Vote bill already has been approved by eight state legislative chambers, including one house in Delaware and Maine and both houses in Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermont. It has been enacted by Hawaii.Report

  8. mvymvy says:

    Most of the medium-small states (with five or six electoral votes) are similarly non-competitive in presidential elections (and therefore similarly disadvantaged). In fact, of the 22 medium-smallest states (those with three, four, five, or six electoral votes), only New Hampshire (with four electoral votes), New Mexico (five electoral votes), and Nevada (five electoral votes) have been battleground states in recent elections.

    Because so few of the 22 small and medium-small states are closely divided battleground states in presidential elections, the current system actually shifts power from voters in the small and medium-small states to voters in a handful of big states. The New York Times reported early in 2008 (May 11, 2008) that both major political parties were already in agreement that there would be at most 14 battleground states in 2008 (involving only 166 of the 538 electoral votes). In other words, three-quarters of the states were ignored under the current system in the 2008 election. Michigan (17 electoral votes), Ohio (20), Pennsylvania (21), and Florida (27) contain over half of the electoral votes that mattered in 2008 (85 of the 166 electoral votes). There were only three battleground states among the 22 small and medium-small states (i.e., New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Nevada). These three states contain only 14 of the 166 electoral votes. Anyone concerned about the relative power of big states and small states should realize that the current system shifts power from voters in the small and medium-small states to voters in a handful of big states.Report

  9. mvymvy says:

    The 11 most populous states contain 56% of the population of the United States and a candidate would win the Presidency if 100% of the voters in these 11 states voted for one candidate. However, if anyone is concerned about the this theoretical possibility, it should be pointed out that, under the current system, a candidate could win the Presidency by winning a mere 51% of the vote in these same 11 states — that is, a mere 26% of the nation’s votes.

    Of course, the political reality is that the 11 largest states rarely act in concert on any political question. In terms of recent presidential elections, the 11 largest states include five “red states (Texas, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Georgia) and six “blue” states (California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New Jersey). The fact is that the big states are just about as closely divided as the rest of the country. For example, among the four largest states, the two largest Republican states (Texas and Florida) generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Bush, while the two largest Democratic states generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Kerry.

    Moreover, the notion that any candidate could win 100% of the vote in one group of states and 0% in another group of states is far-fetched. Indeed, among the 11 most populous states, the highest levels of popular support were found in the following seven non-battleground states:
    * Texas (62% Republican),
    * New York (59% Democratic),
    * Georgia (58% Republican),
    * North Carolina (56% Republican),
    * Illinois (55% Democratic),
    * California (55% Democratic), and
    * New Jersey (53% Democratic).

    In addition, the margins generated by the nation’s largest states are hardly overwhelming in relation to the 122,000,000 votes cast nationally. Among the 11 most populous states, the highest margins were the following seven non-battleground states:
    * Texas — 1,691,267 Republican
    * New York — 1,192,436 Democratic
    * Georgia — 544,634 Republican
    * North Carolina — 426,778 Republican
    * Illinois — 513,342 Democratic
    * California — 1,023,560 Democratic
    * New Jersey — 211,826 Democratic

    To put these numbers in perspective, Oklahoma (7 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 455,000 votes for Bush in 2004 — larger than the margin generated by the 9th and 10th largest states, namely New Jersey and North Carolina (each with 15 electoral votes). Utah (5 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 385,000 votes for Bush in 2004.Report

  10. mvymvy says:

    When presidential candidates campaign to win the electoral votes of closely divided battleground states, such as in Ohio and Florida, under the state-by-state winner-take-all rules, the big cities in those battleground states do not receive all the attention, much less control the outcome. Cleveland and Miami certainly did not receive all the attention or control the outcome in Ohio and Florida in 2000 and 2004.

    Likewise, under a national popular vote, every vote everywhere will be equally important politically. There will be nothing special about a vote cast in a big city or big state. When every vote is equal, candidates of both parties will seek out voters in small, medium, and large towns throughout the states in order to win. A vote cast in a big city or state will be equal to a vote cast in a small state, town, or rural area.

    Another way to look at this is that there are approximately 300 million Americans. The population of the top five cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia) is only 6% of the population of the United States and the population of the top 50 cities is only 19% of the population of the United States. Even if one makes the far-fetched assumption that a candidate could win 100% of the votes in the nation’s top five cities, he would only have won 6% of the national vote.

    Further evidence of the way a nationwide presidential campaign would be run comes from the way that national advertisers conduct nationwide sales campaigns. National advertisers seek out customers in small, medium, and large towns of every small, medium, and large state. National advertisers do not advertise only in big cities. Instead, they go after every single possible customer, regardless of where the customer is located. National advertisers do not write off Indiana or Illinois merely because their competitor has an 8% lead in sales in those states. And, a national advertiser with an 8%-edge over its competitor does not stop trying to make additional sales in Indiana or Illinois merely because they are in the lead.Report

    • North in reply to mvymvy says:

      Yes all the votes would be equal, but the panders wouldn’t be. An advertising dollar or a campaign promise that impacted the views of say densely packed New Yorkers would be much more effective than a dollar or promise geared to the views of the people living in say upstate Minnesota. Campaigns could become ruled by what the population cores preferred and would move on, then the rural areas could take it or leave it but the rural populations are so diffuse and diverse that they would require much more money and attention per vote to gather the same support as a core region would.

      Again likely that would result in a much more liberal presidential race than we have now. Or it may well. Certainly you’d see an end to presidents who campaigned very strongly in favor of agricultural subsidies (though I suppose the primary process would continue to tug them in that direction to cater to Iowa and NH).Report

      • Kyle in reply to North says:

        It would be liberal because the cities are almost uniformly socially liberal, but then again, I don’t think Pat Roberts or Sam Brownback are contenders in the system we have now…

        To add to your points North and be a bit harsher, mvymvy’s points are functionally useless. President Obama won in 2008 with a blow out 23% of the “national vote.” Of course in the first place, the national vote isn’t 300 million people, because there aren’t 300 million potential voters in the United States. Likely voters in a Presidential election drops the number down to less than half, which makes those seemingly small percentages quite a bit larger. Just the top 6 metropolitan areas would equal John McCain’s vote total, the top 8, Obama’s. Using cities rather than metropolitan areas skews the stats inaccurately.

        Finally, big cities in Ohio and Florida don’t control the outcomes there because they can’t mathematically and that’s not where the independents are. Democrats won the swing states in states where they turned out an urban base AND won the suburbs. There’s no reason to assume that because Ohio doesn’t always go the same way as Cleveland, the same relationship would apply nationally. Indeed, California is blue precisely because of the Bay Area, LA, and San Diego (barely). Massachusetts is blue because of Boston, Illinois because of Chicago, and Connecticut because of New Haven-Hartford-Stanford.Report

  11. Dan Miller says:

    I think the people who claim this would enhance the impact of big cities and disenfranchise rural voters are mistaken. Remember, rural TV is cheap and urban TV is expensive. So why wouldn’t McCain have tried to run up the score in Idaho and Alaska? Those votes would be as valuable as any others, and cheap besides (albeit available in limited quantity). It’s not as if rural people aren’t marketed to now for non-political things. Campaign tactics would be different, yeah–it’s really tough to canvas Alaska. But frankly, it’s really tough to canvas Alaska now, and that doesn’t prevent them from having vibrant elections. I don’t think this would disadvantage rural areas at all.Report

    • Kyle in reply to Dan Miller says:

      rural TV is cheap…where it exists. Campaigning is more than just ad buys, the big difference, however, isn’t that one is more costly than the other. The difference is that one is much more cost-effective than the other.

      LA County went Obama to McCain, 69/29. He didn’t spend too much time campaigning there, but still netted 956,000 votes nearly twice the total number of people who voted in Montana, which went McCain by a 10,000 vote margin with 243,000 votes.

      The NPV system says McCain’s voters in California basically didn’t exist and in this system, he’d pick up an extra 956,000 votes rather than 0 electors from LA County. It also, says Montana isn’t really a swing state (though it nearly was) and their votes aren’t equal but here, Mac & Obama would each pick up another quarter million votes, which is about the same amount Mac picked up from Nassau County, NY.

      So it’s hard to see why candidates would spend any time in smaller states with a less concentrated population, when a single suburb or metro area is so much more valuable. The opportunity cost in time of canvassing not-Vegas, Nevada or most of Indiana or New Hampshire would be huge.

      To the argument that it wouldn’t be worse, I disagree because swing states change. Montana is one now, Nevada and Colorado as well. Florida is becoming less of a swing state. As states become battlegrounds, they get more attention, and vice-versa. On the other hand, cities don’t change. Year in and year out, candidates will be heading to the same cities and suburbs, shaking hands with the same mayors, talking about the same issues. I don’t see that as an improvement and arguably it privileges metro areas at the cost of battleground states.Report

      • Dan Miller in reply to Kyle says:

        This problem doesn’t seem to crop up in governor’s races or Senate races, which are all one-person one-vote.Report

        • Kyle in reply to Dan Miller says:

          Tell that to upstate New York voters…I’m sure in some other states it does as well. In this case we’re talking about changing an existing national system. Changing it to something that has other problems isn’t necessarily an improvement.

          Of course, all elections are one-person, one-vote, the problem articulated is that not all votes are equally important and some “don’t count.” Just because a majority popular vote would determine the Presidency doesn’t make each vote equally important, it exchanges one geographical preference for another. Just as importantly, it exchanges one set of gatekeepers for another.

          That could be totally fine, in fact one could argue that we should make those tradeoffs. I’m arguing first that the tradeoffs exist and second that the tradeoffs instead of being an improvement might actually be a step backwards (kind of like directly electing senators). We can disagree just fine on the latter question. However, on the first point, I push back quite strongly against the idea that somehow this would be a cost-free switch. Or that a system that totally privileges metro areas doesn’t disadvantage anyone. You literally cannot build a system that doesn’t disadvantage someone, so the real question is what balance of advantages/disadvantages works the best for whatever goals we can agree upon.Report

  12. Roque Nuevo says:

    One big problem with the interview is that Paul Fidalgo explains the framers intent by pure speculation, i.e., that ordinary people lack understanding of national politics, etc etc, and that these decisions are best left to the state legislatures. This is probably true as a historical matter. But the fact is that the framers were struggling with inventing the balance of powers and the federal system. The direct election of the president by popular vote would strengthen the executive with respect to the other two branches of government. It would fatally unbalance the balance of powers invented by Madison and Hamilton. This was something the delegates to the constitutional convention in 1787 were bound to prevent, because of their experience with the monarchy.

    This is still true today, and is the downside of calls to reform the electoral college. You can’t have one without the other. So as we tinker with the Constitution, we should remember the law of unintended consequences and go very slowly. “Don’t fix it if it isn’t broken” should be the guide. The electoral college system returns results that are valid for the public ninety-five percent of the time. It ain’t broken, so let’s not fix it.

    Moreover, I don’t see the fact that a voter in California has more impact than one in Nevada as being anti democratic at all. People vote by states because of the federal system. States have more or less weight in the federation according to population. More weight equals more votes. That seems fair enough to me. It’s analogous to voting in corporations: the more stake one has in the business, the more votes one has. It doesn’t make any sense at all for those whose stake is negligible to have equal votes with those who have a lot of money invested.Report

  13. Great blog and that’s a good interview, but I think you mostly skipped over an important set of issues. Nuevo is right on: what matters even more than the front-end math and mechanics is what comes out on the other side.

    I’m convinced (it’s why I started a project to counter NPV, actually) that 1) NPV is a particularly risky way to shift to direct election of the President because it simply manipulates the E.C. apparatus to do something it was never intended to do and 2) direct election of the President would remove several important unifying/moderating incentives that exist in our current (and certainly imperfect) system. To the latter point, we should really wonder that we have very little geographic regionalism in our politics. Both political parties exist in all 50 states (the Democrats are in Utah, the G.O.P. is in Massachusetts). And our political incentives favor two large coalitions rather than a fractured field of single-issue parties in ever-shifting alliances. While some idealogues would prefer the latter, there’s no question that the way things are now is more stable. And stability is an essential prerequisite for both liberty and prosperity.

    I’ve said enough. Hope you’ll check out my website,, and consider the outcomes of the presidential election process before you decide whether or not to reject our current system.


    • Two more points:
      1. If the NPV would even the odds for small states with respect to the large or battleground ones, that’s reason enough to predict that NPV will never happen. What’s in it for the large states? NPV requires either an amendment to the Constitution or something very similar. Large states have no incentive to vote for it, therefore it just won’t happen given the current federal compact. Not-so-strangely-enough, this is exactly why the Electoral College worked as a compromise in 1787 and why it (more or less) works today: it’s part of the federal system and the federal system, while it makes nobody really happy, is satisfactory for everyone. The alternative is either a confederacy or an overpowering central government. Neither is acceptable to Americans. NPV would set us on the road to an overpowering central government, without question.

      2. Kyle’s point about trade-offs is important: there is no “solution” for the present system; there are only trade-offs. Tinkering with the Constitution so as to achieve a “fairer” result will fail because of this alone. What’s “fair” for someone will be “unfair” for someone else, depending on the trade-off in question. People will never get the result they desire by tinkering with the law. The only way for that to happen is under a dictatorship, where the dictator gets what he wants, all the time, but nobody else does. A good example is the recent election of Scott Brown. Mass democrats tinkered with the law to get a democrat in the Senate if Kerry had won; they tinkered with it again to preserve their super majority when Kennedy died. The result favored Brown, which Democrats obviously hadn’t considered before hand. If they had left the law as it was, Brown wouldn’t be in the Senate today and some hack beholden to the governor would be. The rest is history.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Trent England says:

      Just want to say that I share the Ttrent’s concerns stated here. It’s not clear to me they constitute a decisive concern, but I certainly share the concern. Most particularly, the question of whether we are actually ready to move away from electing presidents through state elections (though it should be pointed out that the vision of the Founders was for electors literally to exercise their judgement after being selected by the states, but that quickly evolved into a system of transparency about the actions that given electors would take) it seems to me is a question we should deal with through a truly comprehensive national process (such as a constitutional convention). Concern about whether we are ready to make that move is aptly expressed in the name of Mr. England’s website.Report