09 December 2011

Idiot of the Week: Mitch McConell and the NPV

Minority Leader McConnell has virtually declared a constitutional crisis by denouncing the National Popular Vote campaign this week. The leader of the Senate Republicans goes against some members of his own party in opposing the plan, which frequent readers will remember as a compact among states to award all their Electoral Votes to the nationwide winner of the popular vote in a presidential election. McConnell scores his first idiot points by describing this compact as "eliminating the Electoral College." Actually, there can be no NPV plan without an Electoral College, since the plan depends on each state's right to determine how it selects Electors. Indeed, the plan, whatever its other merits or flaws, is entirely about choosing Electors. If McConnell is concerned about the autonomy of Electors, then he should question the winner-take-all rules that prevail in most states, where Republican districts end up represented by Democratic Electors, or vice versa, depending on statewide popular vote totals.

McConnell brought up a common argument against NPV during his talk at the Heritage Foundation: critics of the plan fear that it will increase litigation over recount demands across the country and delay scheduled transfers of power. This is no argument against NPV, however, but a complaint against partisan litigiousness. Having made his point, McConnell yielded the idiot podium to Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, who warned that NPV would encourage conspiracies of fraud on a national scale. Kobach envisions Democrats shipping disreputable voters en masse to the states with the fewest safeguards against fraud in order to run up their totals their and tip the balance in a close national race. While Kobach arguably deserves to share our idiot citation with the Senator, his speculations are more delusional than stupid.

The Heritage alarmists may deserve extra idiot credit for going against what some Republicans regard as their party's best interest in the NPV. How Republicans feel about the plan may depend on whether they're a minority or majority in their home states. In California, for instance, many Republicans support NPV because it creates an incentive for greater turnout despite consistent Democratic majorities in that state. While Democrats may take the state again next year, and still win any statewide prizes available, the prospect of helping tip the balance nationally could draw many Republicans to the polls who may have thought voting pointless without NPV. Democrats in the "reddest" states may feel the same way. My own complaint against NPV remains the same: it would make things even harder for third-party presidential candidates than they already are. I admit, however, that that doesn't rise to the level of a constitutional challenge, unless you regard Bipolarchy itself as a subversion of Founding intentions. I would sympathize more with NPV advocates if they'd acknowledge that the Electoral College isn't really the worst threat to democracy in America. But when idiots like McConnell and lunatics like Kobach attack the plan, the friends of NPV have all my sympathies.


toto said...

The 2000 presidential election was an artificial crisis created because of Bush's lead of 537 popular votes in Florida. Gore's nationwide lead was 537,179 popular votes (1,000 times larger). Given the miniscule number of votes that are changed by a typical statewide recount (averaging only 274 votes); no one would have requested a recount or disputed the results in 2000 if the national popular vote had controlled the outcome. Indeed, no one (except perhaps almanac writers and trivia buffs) would have cared that one of the candidates happened to have a 537-vote margin in Florida.

Recounts are far more likely in the current system of state-by-state winner-take-all methods.

The possibility of recounts should not even be a consideration in debating the merits of a national popular vote. No one has ever suggested that the possibility of a recount constitutes a valid reason why state governors or U.S. Senators, for example, should not be elected by a popular vote.

The question of recounts comes to mind in connection with presidential elections only because the current system so frequently creates artificial crises and unnecessary disputes.

We do and would vote state by state. Each state manages its own election and is prepared to conduct a recount. The state-by-state winner-take-all system is not a firewall, but instead causes unnecessary fires.

Given that there is a recount only once in about 160 statewide elections, and given there is a presidential election once every four years, one would expect a recount about once in 640 years with the National Popular Vote. The actual probability of a close national election would be even less than that because recounts are less likely with larger pools of votes.

The average change in the margin of victory as a result of a statewide recount was a mere 296 votes in a 10-year study of 2,884 elections.

No recount would have been warranted in any of the nation’s 56 previous presidential elections if the outcome had been based on the nationwide count.

The common nationwide date for meeting of the Electoral College has been set by federal law as the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December. With both the current system and the National Popular Vote approach, all counting, recounting, and judicial proceedings must be conducted so as to reach a "final determination" prior to the meeting of the Electoral College.

toto said...

A League of Women Voters study notes that Americans are twice as likely to get hit by lightning as to have their vote canceled out by a fraudulently cast vote.

The current state-by-state winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes maximizes the incentive and opportunity for fraud. A very few people can change the national outcome by changing a small number of votes in one closely divided battleground state. With the current system all of a state's electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who receives a bare plurality of the votes in each state. The sheer magnitude of the national popular vote number, compared to individual state vote totals, is much more robust against manipulation.

National Popular Vote would limit the benefits to be gained by fraud. One fraudulent vote would only win one vote in the return. In the current electoral system, one fraudulent vote could mean 55 electoral votes, or just enough electoral votes to win the presidency without having the most popular votes in the country.

Hendrik Hertzberg wrote: "To steal the closest popular-vote election in American history, you'd have to steal more than a hundred thousand votes . . .To steal the closest electoral-vote election in American history, you'd have to steal around 500 votes, all in one state. . . .

For a national popular vote election to be as easy to switch as 2000, it would have to be two hundred times closer than the 1960 election--and, in popular-vote terms, forty times closer than 2000 itself.

Which, I ask you, is an easier mark for vote-stealers, the status quo or N.P.V.[National Popular Vote]? Which offers thieves a better shot at success for a smaller effort?"

Anonymous said...

Well, toto, if "the people" are no longer satisfied with the Constitutional election-process, then it should be up to the people to demand a Constitutional amendment to change the process. This NPV nonsense looks to me to be nothing more than a cheap method of undermining the Constitution. What we truly need is to eliminate the states completely and become truly 1 nation, with 1 government and 1 set of laws.