26 January 2011

National Popular Vote unpopular in New York

While the Founders never intended that the President of the United States should be chosen directly by the American people, fidelity to democratic principles, rising expectations of presidential power and entrenched partisan consciousness have seemed to dictate more insistently over the last two centuries that the official widely believed to be the sole representative in government of the entire populace be appointed in the most democratic matter possible. Despite this evolution, the Electoral College remains entrenched in the Constitution despite the offense to democracy inherent in its disproportionate guarantee of at least three electoral votes to every state in the union. So many small states are presumed jealous of the power they gain from this arrangement that reformers concede the impossibility of abolishing the College by the usual amendment process. Instead, some small-d democrats have proposed an informal abrogation of the College by persuading states, each of them having the right to decide how its electors are chosen, to award all of their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote nationwide. The National Popular Vote movement has support in at least 20 states already, but while its intentions are as purely democratic as you could wish for, it finds itself opposed by a caucus of Democratic party assemblymen in New York State, despite a resounding victory in the state senate last year. As this report explains, Democratic opposition to the plan is based partly on calculation and partly on fear. With the electorate as polarized as ever, all the happy talk of the last fortnight notwithstanding, a razor-close vote on the model of 2000 and 2004 is likely in 2012. It's quite possible that a Republican candidate will win the popular vote next year, but it's also possible, as history shows, that a candidate can lose the popular vote and still win the electoral vote, thanks to the undemocratic disproportion built into the Electoral College. Democrats in New York clearly don't want to deny their incumbent any road to victory, while their own pride makes them unwilling to assign their electors to a Republican despite a Democrat winning the state.

I'm not keen on the NPV myself. Under current conditions, it would only make it even more difficult for independent presidential candidates. Call me perverse, but I wouldn't mind seeing presidential elections decided by the House of Representatives if no candidate gets an electoral-vote majority. If the Founders provided for it, it can't be a failure of their system, and if that seems undemocratic, then you ought to rethink the President's role in government. Having declared my opposition, however, I have to say that Democratic excuses, if reported accurately, are lame from a democratic perspective. I'm sure that their intolerant partisanship is reflected by Republican legislators elsewhere, and in either case partisanship itself is contradictory to democracy. It makes you wonder what Democrats mean by their name.


Anonymous said...

The odd thing is, if one were to take the party's by their name, then a Republican is one who should stand for a representative form of government not directly chosen by the people, whereas a Democrat should stand for a representative form of government where every decision is made according to the will of the people.

Samuel Wilson said...

Of course, the Democrats trace their heritage all the way back to Jefferson and Madison, and to perhaps confuse things further, they called their outfit the Democratic-Republican Party, though it was often shortened to "Republican." Then, after this party fell apart in 1824, the friends of President John Quincy Adams called eventually called themselves "National Republicans," while the insurgent supporters of Andrew Jackson became the "Democrats" we know today.

toto said...

A survey of 800 New York voters conducted on December 22-23, 2008 showed 79% overall support for a national popular vote for President.

By gender, support was 89% among women and 69% among men.

By age, support was 60% among 18-29 year olds, 74% among 30-45 year olds, 85% among 46-65 year olds, and 82% for those older than 65.

Support was 86% among Democrats, 66% among Republicans, 78% among Independence Party members (representing 8% of respondents), 50% among Conservative Party members (representing 3% of respondents), 100% among Working Families Party members (representing 2% of respondents), and 7% among Others (representing 7% of respondents).


toto said...

State-by-state winner-take-all laws to award electoral college votes were eventually enacted by 48 states AFTER the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution.

The Founding Fathers only said in the U.S. Constitution about presidential elections (only after debating among 30 ballots for choosing a method): “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.”

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.

In 1789 only three states used the state-by-state winner-take-all method to award electoral votes.

The winner-take-all method is not entitled to any special deference based on history or the historical meaning of the words in the U.S. Constitution. 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 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.

toto said...

The small states are the most disadvantaged group of states under the current system of electing the President. Political clout comes from being a closely divided battleground state, not the two-vote bonus. The reason for this is the state-by-state winner-take-all method (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but 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.

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. So despite the fact that these 12 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.

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 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 and Hawaii.

toto said...

June 7, 2010 — The New York Senate passed the National Popular Vote bill (S2286A / A1580B), with over two-thirds of both political parties supporting the bill in a 52-7 roll call. The vote was 22-5 among Senate Republicans (with 3 not voting) and 30-2 among Senate Democrats. In the 150-member Assembly it has 80 sponsors.

Anonymous said...

1) 800 people is hardly representative of the entire population of NY, considering the population of NYC alone is around 8,000,000.
2) If smaller states want better representation, let them grow their population to reflect it. Smaller states should NOT have an amount of representation disproportionate to their population merely because they feel "left out".

A major part of the political problems, especially the vitriolic rhetoric we face today is due to the FACT that a minority of malcontents on the right are unhappy with a democracy that THEY don't control. They weren't whining like this when they had control of the government during Bush's first term. Funny thing is, although those on the left were unhappy with the situation, they did not refer to "second amendment solutions" or speak of secession as a remedy for their unhappiness. They chose to act in a democratic fashion.