How to Stop Pennsylvania from Mattering

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70 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Unfortunately, each state is constitutionally allowed to decide on its electoral regime however it chooses.

    You’ve lost me.Report

  2. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    I think we should just go back to how the system was intended to work: appoint some electors and let ’em vote their consciences. See what happens.Report

    • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Michael Drew says:

      So much for democracy, then?Report

    • Well, they’d split their votes between George Clooney and Burt Likko, of course. But like the Cloon, if nominated, I will not accept and if elected, I will not serve.Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Burt Likko says:

        We can amend the Constitution so that you have no choice.

        Point of fact, making the office mandatory and really unpleasant has a lot of upsides to it, theoretically speaking.Report

        • Hah! Sort of like jury service:

          “Hey, Burt, wanna take Friday off, grab the Missus, and come out to the lake with us next week?”
          “I can’t. I got picked to be the President this September. Sorry.”
          “Whoa. Major bummer, dude. Maybe next time.”

          Then you do your month in the Oval Office, you’re done, and you go back to your regular life. It could turn out that things wouldn’t be all that different than they are right now.Report

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Burt Likko says:

            There’s a premise in one of the Eddings books where the ruler is voted on by the populace. When they take office, all of their worldly goods are impounded and indexed to the wealth of the nation.

            When their N years are up, they get back whatever it’s worth as a portion of today’s dollar.

            Obvious problems with inherited stuff here, but the idea is somewhat intriguing, from an implications standpoint.Report

  3. Avatar wardsmith says:

    What the OP says to me is, “blah blah blah, we ought to keep things the way they are forever”. There are those who have argued basically /forever/ that the winner-take-all method is fundamentally flawed. If the myopic viewpoint of the currently politically unfortunate Democrats were to switch to 20/20 they might understand that what today seems a lemon could well be tomorrow’s lemonade.Report

    • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to wardsmith says:

      So, if a Texas Democrat proposed this, you’d be all for it in the Lone Star State?Report

    • Avatar DarrenG in reply to wardsmith says:

      As the OP points out, the proposal in Pennsylvania is still winner-take-all, just on the level of heavily-gerrymandered, Republican-leaning congressional districts instead of the entire state.

      And as Jesse points out, I’m sure the Dems would gladly agree to a package deal where most states switched to proportional allocation of electors based on popular vote share.

      I won’t hold my breath waiting for the principled Republicans of Texas, the south, midwest, and inter-mountain west to propose proportional allocation in all those bright cherry-red states, though.Report

      • Avatar wardsmith in reply to DarrenG says:

        So Texas is gerrymandered and California (and 40 other states) aren’t? Take off those team blinders and look at the real world my friends.Report

        • Avatar DarrenG in reply to wardsmith says:

          I think you misread me. I was referring to Pennsylvania as a heavily gerrymandered state (13/19 districts currently lean Republican in a majority-Democratic state), and my main point was that this is a naked power grab, not some sort of principled democratic reform.

          Even if your read was correct, yes, Texas is another heavily-gerrymandered state which looks to stay so after the current redistricting is over; look at how they chop up the very blue areas around Austin as a good example.

          California is also currently heavily gerrymandered (my own district is one of the worst, in fact), but we turned the process over to a non-partisan commission for 2010 with some fairly strict rules about how districts have to be drawn, and the result so far looks to be a ton more competitive districts, which is a very good thing in my book.Report

      • Avatar oldgulph in reply to DarrenG says:

        Any state that enacts the proportional approach on its own would reduce its own influence. This was the most telling argument that caused Colorado voters to agree with Republican Governor Owens and to reject this proposal in November 2004 by a two-to-one margin.

        If the proportional approach were implemented by a state, on its own,, it would have to allocate its electoral votes in whole numbers. If a current battleground state were to change its winner-take-all statute to a proportional method for awarding electoral votes, presidential candidates would pay less attention to that state because only one electoral vote would probably be at stake in the state.

        If the whole-number proportional approach had been in use throughout the country in the nation’s closest recent presidential election (2000), it would not have awarded the most electoral votes to the candidate receiving the most popular votes nationwide. Instead, the result would have been a tie of 269–269 in the electoral vote, even though Al Gore led by 537,179 popular votes across the nation. The presidential election would have been thrown into Congress to decide and resulted in the election of the second-place candidate in terms of the national popular vote.

        A system in which electoral votes are divided proportionally by state would not accurately reflect the nationwide popular vote and would not make every vote equal.

        It would penalize states, such as Montana, that have only one U.S. Representative even though it has almost three times more population than other small states with one congressman. It would penalize fast-growing states that do not receive any increase in their number of electoral votes until after the next federal census. It would penalize states with high voter turnout (e.g., Utah, Oregon).

        Moreover, the fractional proportional allocation approach does not assure election of the winner of the nationwide popular vote. In 2000, for example, it would have resulted in the election of the second-place candidate.

        A national popular vote is the way to make every person’s vote equal and guarantee that the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states becomes President.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to DarrenG says:

        Didn’t the PA dems try this same thing a few years back?Report

  4. Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

    I love the Electoral College, warts and all. We already have a split between the coastal United States of Canada and Jebusland; we don’t need anymore geographical tension. Somehow we muddle through.

    I suppose at some point, the EC will go the way of indirect election of senators [17th Amendment], but in the meantime, I think this vestige of federalism is more better than worse. There remains a rough symmetry between urban and rural, blue and red, secular and sacred that the successful candidate must still find a purplish hue.

    Republican Pileggi’s argument is no worse than those on the left [esp post-2000] who want to abolish the EC completely. The irony would be that the gerrymandering that created majority-minority districts to maximize the number of minority officeholders would come back as a big bite in the ass, as it would likely minimize minority votes under a district-by-district electoral vote plan.

    I have never been one for “If you can’t win the game, change the rules” type, per Edmund Burke. We elected Dubya and we elected Obama. An unfair game that’s equally unfair to both sides is still fair in its way. We have Gore 2000, but had Kerry swung a few thousand votes in Ohio, it would have been the other side whose Gore was oxxed.

    I’ll risk these close calls to preserve federalism, meself. This is a damn large country, and it’s hard enough to hold together without further majoritarianism, 51% against the other 49. A republic, not a democracy, if we can keep it.Report

    • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

      I can at least respect this argument, even if I disagree with it. But then, I’ve always thought the Founding Fathers were men who got about half of things right, not Gods.Report

      • Of the Framers, it occurs that they designed a government that they didn’t intend to be part of, by and large. Of the major Framers, Madison was one of the few who stuck around.

        Their concern was designing a system that they would want to live under, and of course they had to get it ratified by the states, which is where the compromises came in, foremost, it goes without saying, slavery. [But I said it anyway, anticipating the objection.]

        And so, I think they got more than half right. They had a virgin canvas on which to sketch the outline, having read every other configuration of government in man’s history. Madison got the idea of a deliberative senate from Carthage, Sparta and Rome.

        As for my defense of federalism, to me it’s just as or more important than in Founding times, with this 3000-mile wide country and 350 million disparate and diverse people. I watch Question Time on C-SPAN and see them deliberate foreign policy then turn around to rail service to Swindon. This just isn’t possible in a nation the size and complexity of the US, hence our principle must be: when in doubt, devolve power, don’t centralize it.

        [Objections to majoritarianism already stated; they figure in here as well. Majoritarian centralized power, which although “democratic,” can be tyrannical nonetheless. Federalism, although not a cure, is a balm at least.]Report

        • Isn’t it impressive to see the PM pivot so quickly, though? The dude has to be 100% o-n-i-t at all times. And he has to be all snarky in making his responses to the opposition’s slings and arrows. (John Major was pretty good at that, IMO.)

          The only time we US Americans demand our politicians be that way is during a debate, and even then we tend to focus the subject matter of those debates. Maybe that makes for better government, but the British system makes for better TV and these days, that counts for something.Report

          • Avatar Renee in reply to Burt Likko says:

            A little (tiny!) part of me died when I learned that the questions to the PM are submitted in advance. For years I thought the PM was just responding off the cuff and that his huge three ring binder was the most meticulously organized fact finder ever. And MLB players use steroids. Just another Dave Stohler moment in my life.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Burt Likko says:

            Cameron and Major snarky and good in PMQs? That’s like saying, “Yeah George W. Bush and his dad were quite good politicians. What’s that you say, someone was president in between them?”Report

            • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Michael Drew says:

              Dubya, like Reagan, surrendered domestic policy to get what he wanted in foreign policy. And they did.

              Bill Clinton, I never figured out what he wanted, except to be president. That said, I think he was a good president in the same way Bush 41 was. 41 was from the “Tory” tradition of public service, do your duty when called. If we recall, he barely bothered to campaign in 1992. If you don’t want me, fine. I don’t need this, you need me. Or maybe you don’t.

              Clinton, well, without getting into armchair psychoanalysis, he was damn OK. I’m not one who believes in politics as the solution to the human condition or as the driving force of a nation or people. The president’s Job One in peacetime is “First do no harm,” and Bill Clinton, political animal that he is, instinctively understood that.

              It’s said that Clinton is wistful that he had no major crisis to confront and defeat, so that he’d be counted among the great presidents. But if he goes down in history [and I think he will] alongside such peace-and-prosperity presidents as Coolidge and Eisenhower, I think history will look back with fondness.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                You do realize I was talking about Tony Blair.Report

              • Avatar OhB1Knewbie in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Clinton, do no harm?? Really? Have you forgotten NAFTA and the repeal of the Glass Steagall Act? We can debate NAFTA perhaps, but without the repeal of Glass Steagall it’s almost certain there would have been no bank collapse/crisis in 2008 and hence no Great Recession.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Reagan’s domestic policy has led to the direct demise of the middle class in this country, through his use of Ponzi schemes, and direct demolition of unions/ union power. (WIA, anyone? think ya hafta be a pilot to get that joke).Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Clinton/Clarke wrote our “into and out of Afghanistan fast” plan. It worked. Letting Cheney/Rumsfeld do the nation building afterward was a dumb plan, and to the extent it was premised on “they won that quickly, so they can win the peace” it was a falsely premised endeavor.

                I like me a bored (intelligent) president. They make disaster contingencies.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

          The Canadians are a sprawling massive diverse country and their PM’s haven’t managed to crash the country into Alaska and sink it yet.Report

    • Avatar oldgulph in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

      2/3rds of the states and people have been just spectators to the presidential elections. That’s more than 85 million voters.

      States have the responsibility and power to make their voters relevant in every presidential election.

      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.”

      Federalism concerns the allocation of power between state governments and the national government. The National Popular Vote bill concerns how votes are tallied, not how much power state governments possess relative to the national government. The powers of state governments are neither increased nor decreased based on whether presidential electors are selected along the state boundary lines, or national lines (as with the National Popular Vote).Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

      “Republican Pileggi’s argument is no worse than those on the left [esp post-2000] who want to abolish the EC completely.”

      This is the only point I disagree. Abolishing the EC completely would be more democratic then district-wide voting as well as winner-take-all at the state level. However, winner take all at the state level is still more democratic, in the federalist framework, than district wide races, which effectively disintigrate state electoral lines. Federalism doesn’t work well when some or half the states decide to stop treating themselves as whole states.Report

  5. Avatar Charles says:

    ” The Electoral Collage is antiquated and no longer suits the needs of the country.”

    So, if I take your meaning correctly, there was a time when it was *current* and *did* suit the needs of the country? I’d be interested to hear the author’s opinion on what exactly changed, and when. Put differently. if it was a good idea when it was adopted, why is it not a good idea now?

    Of course, all of this assumes that the author isn’t simply using the word “antiquated” to mean, jointly, “It has existed for a long time.” and “I don’t like it.” But in that case, why not just say “I don’t like it?” Of what relevance is the age of the institution?Report

    • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Charles says:

      I can at least see the argument for the Electoral College in 1787 when only a small percentage of the population could read, it took days to across Rhode Island, and the government wasn’t doing much to interfere with the normal person’s life.

      In 2011? It’s simply holding on to the past. IMODO.Report

      • Avatar Renee in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

        The presumption is that the “needs of the country” require a strong, large, popularly elected national government. In which case, I would probably agree that the EC is ‘antiquated.’ But I’m not (yet) willing to cede the presumption. The EC is a relevant institution for a weaker, smaller, federal government of the states.

        I don’t think the founders were infallible, but they had in mind the latter, not the former. Hence the constitution rightly grants the state the ability to assign it’s representatives to the EC.Report

        • Avatar DarrenG in reply to Renee says:

          I don’t think the founders were infallible, but they had in mind the latter, not the former.

          Flag on the play for ignoring the abundant evidence of passionate disagreement and debate among the various founders on that very issue.Report

          • Avatar Renee in reply to DarrenG says:

            Fair enough – I’ll accept my penalty. But the compromises that were made and the resulting system is still very much slanted toward the federal system. And I think there is still a disconnect between our current system and even the most nationalistic of the founders.Report

            • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Renee says:

              Renee was OK if Framers + Ratifiers = “The Founders.” Indeed, Madison said it was the ratification that gave the Constitution “all the authority it possesses.”

              An examination of the ratification debates will show a strong tilt toward federalism, not more centralization.

              There was no foul on the play.Report

              • The convention, I thought, was:
                “Founders” = signers of Declaration of Independence in 1776.
                “Framers” = members of Constitutional Convention in 1787.
                “Ratifiers” = state ratification convention attendees from 1787-1790.Report

              • Avatar DarrenG in reply to Burt Likko says:

                As far as I can tell, historians haven’t settled on one hard-and-fast definition of the term. For example I’m used to seeing (and Wikipedia seems to concur here):

                “Signers” = signed Declaration of Independence
                “Framers” = as you describe
                “Founders” = Signers + Framers

                Back to the larger point, I just get twitchy any time I see “the founders wanted” or “the founders had in mind” in a political debate, as the attached idea is usually some combination of over-simplified (as in this case) or outright ahistorical.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Burt Likko says:

                Likko, I didn’t want to get into the tall weeds of “Founders.” The Revolution was 1.0, the Constitution 2.0.

                I do argue strongly per Mr. Madison that the Founding isn’t complete until Ratification, not the Framing, my core point here, pedantic though it be.Report

              • Avatar DarrenG in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                A tilt, perhaps, but hardly unanimity on the issue, especially in the years following ratification as they started to govern.

                I think any reasonable definition of “the founders” includes Adams and Hamilton, after all.

                I don’t think I’ll pick up the flag just yet 🙂Report

              • Avatar Renee in reply to DarrenG says:

                At the risk of facing 1st and 30 . . . .
                I am happy to include Hamilton in the founders (I admit to using the term cavalierly). But he supported a strong national government in comparison to the Continental Congress. We can bicker about what he would say were he alive today, but his writings don’t seem to indicate support for the scope of government we currently have.

                To your larger point of getting ‘twitchy’: Amen. The founders were not of a single mine (nor are libertarians, conservatives, Democrats, Greens, etc. for that matter). Oversimplification is an easy trap to fall into.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Renee says:

                … I don’t mind oversimplification, so much as veneration of the Hellraisers. This country is still alive because Ben Franklin made one hell of a gigolo.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to Renee says:

          Indeed, they did have in mind the latter. I wonder what they’d say about the Toledo War?
          In my humble opinion, they premised most of their thinking on a resource-rich country, where the states were reasonably secure in what they had. This does not resemble the country I know — and in the country I know, a weak federal system would lead to all-out war between states (aha! you say — we’d have a military to stop the state national guards! so what? I can name ten things that don’t involve all-out war, or interfering with inter-state commerce, that can really bollox up a neighboring state).Report

      • Avatar Charles in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

        “I can at least see the argument for the Electoral College in 1787 when only a small percentage of the population could read, it took days to across Rhode Island, and the government wasn’t doing much to interfere with the normal person’s life.”

        You seem to be focused on the delegation aspect of it — but most of the factors you cite as supporting it were still true in the 1820s, when the vast majority of states started linking their allocations to the popular vote.

        Besides, the author seems to be taking issue with the “winner-take-all” aspect associated with the states’ rights to assign their electors as they see fit. Though it may be an unintended consequence of the institution, it does have an effect. That effect is that it induces candidates to seek out narrow majorities in numerous jurisdictions, rather than run up enormous majorities in a few areas. That’s been the effect for most of the life of the institution — I’d argue that this is a salutary effect of the institution, and I don’t see why the effect would be any less salutary in the modern times.Report

        • Avatar mac in reply to Charles says:

          Consider what would happen if every large state with legislative republican control but who voted for Obama in 2008
          * Pennsylvania (+7) (21)
          * Ohio (+4) (20)
          * Wisconsin (+14) (10)
          * Virginia (+6) (13)
          and assume that they split 50/50 by electoral area.
          That would be a total swing of 83 votes (+41.5 R, -41.5 D) in favor of republicans. If this had been the case in 2008, the results would have been 313/216 Obama/McCain instead of 365/173. It’s a huge shift.

          In a closer election, the chance of a democratic victory would be near zero.Report

          • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to mac says:

            I’m not sure I agree with that. The chance of a democratic victory would be near zero under the present electoral calculus. But there is nothing to say that Republicans might not discredit themselves so badly over the next few years that the math would reverse.Report

            • Avatar mac in reply to Burt Likko says:

              The math could only reverse if the dems did badly enough to lose PA and Ohio. In that case, yes they’d make a few more electoral votes but still get hammered overall.
              This kind if shenanigans really is heads I win tails you lose.Report

        • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Charles says:

          Let’s remember that over half the population couldn’t vote back then either.Report

      • Avatar karl in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

        “in 1787 when only a small percentage of the population could read”

        As far as the Electoral College was concerned only eligible voters needed to be literate; the only web-based estimate of white male literacy in the late 18th century I could find (quickly) is 70% or greater, depending on the region.

        That said, I used to enjoy the archaic nature of the EC — yet I yearned for the day that we would get a minority-vote president and I would see History In Action and the resulting Constitutional dissolution of a 200 year-old institution (I’m too young to have witnessed the crusade for the 17th Amendment).

        Didn’t happen. But if Obama retains the presidency with fewer votes in 2012 (could happen) you can bet your bottom Euro that we won’t have an EC in 2016.Report

  6. Avatar Plinko says:

    But as things stand, shifting the rules would not only degrade the urban electorate, it would also undermine Pennsylvania’s privileged status as a major swing state.

    For most of this century, at least, this has been the primary counterweight to attempts to rig the electoral college for one’s own party. There will probably be some pretty big Republican supporters that oppose the change for this reason alone.Report

  7. Avatar Mike Houser says:

    Even as a quite liberal person I’m fairly excited by this development. If the PA plan goes through the backlash against it could be just what would be needed to get enough states to ratify the National Popular Vote and end the electoral college. They already have nine states with 132 electoral votes in. Getting to 270 after a massive electoral college debacle would be pretty easy I would hope.

    • Avatar North in reply to Mike Houser says:

      NPV is a dead letter in my mind, alas. All it would take would be for a 2000 redux and the various state legislatures would scramble madcap over top of each other to repeal the law in time to swing the presidency their way.Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to North says:

        Ooo. That would make for an interesting novelization.Report

      • Avatar oldgulph in reply to North says:

        The bill says: “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.”

        Any attempt by a state to pull out of the compact in violation of its terms would violate the Impairments Clause of the U.S. Constitution and would be void. Such an attempt would also violate existing federal law. Compliance would be enforced by Federal court actionReport

        • Avatar North in reply to oldgulph says:

          Laws can say things, laws can be written to unsay them, then it’s down to the courts and the lawyers would be all over it like Florida a thousand times over.
          Still it’s good to know they’d taken the possability into account.Report

          • Avatar oldgulph in reply to North says:

            The National Popular Vote compact is, first of all, a state law. It is a state law that would govern the manner of choosing presidential electors. A Secretary of State may not ignore or override the National Popular Vote law any more than he or she may ignore or override the winner-take-all method that is currently the law in 48 states.

            There has never been a court decision allowing a state to withdraw from an interstate compact without following the procedure for withdrawal specified by the compact. Indeed, courts have consistently rebuffed the occasional (sometimes creative) attempts by states to evade their obligations under interstate compacts.

            In 1976, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland stated in Hellmuth and Associates v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority:

            “When enacted, a compact constitutes not only law, but a contract which may not be amended, modified, or otherwise altered without the consent of all parties.”

            In 1999, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania stated in Aveline v. Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole:
            “A compact takes precedence over the subsequent statutes of signatory states and, as such, a state may not unilaterally nullify, revoke, or amend one of its compacts if the compact does not so provide.”

            In 1952, the U.S. Supreme Court very succinctly addressed the issue in Petty v. Tennessee-Missouri Bridge Commission:
            “A compact is, after all, a contract.”

            The important point is that an interstate compact is not a mere “handshake” agreement. If a state wants to rely on the goodwill and graciousness of other states to follow certain policies, it can simply enact its own state law and hope that other states decide to act in an identical manner. If a state wants a legally binding and enforceable mechanism by which it agrees to undertake certain specified actions only if other states agree to take other specified actions, it enters into an interstate compact.

            Interstate compacts are supported by over two centuries of settled law guaranteeing enforceability. Interstate compacts exist because the states are sovereign. If there were no Compacts Clause in the U.S. Constitution, a state would have no way to enter into a legally binding contract with another state. The Compacts Clause, supported by the Impairments Clause, provides a way for a state to enter into a contract with other states and be assured of the enforceability of the obligations undertaken by its sister states. The enforceability of interstate compacts under the Impairments Clause is precisely the reason why sovereign states enter into interstate compacts. Without the Compacts Clause and the Impairments Clause, any contractual agreement among the states would be, in fact, no more than a handshake.Report

  8. Avatar Anderson says:

    Oh, the joys of federalism…It does seem odd, though, that a states rights provision like this ends up having repercussions far outside the state’s borders. That would seem to indicate that the structuring of the EC falls under federal jurisdiction, no? Moreover, the whole thing seems oddly pre-17th amendment-esque, with state legislatures impacting who holds federal office. Didn’t Hamilton argue that the U.S. constitution was a direct compact with the American people, not with the states? Then again, I’m sure that, like virtually every government action, this provision was added in the first place to compromise with the states rights side at the Constitutional convention.Report