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SuperWonk Donating Member (355 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Mar-09-06 05:42 PM
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New Yorker: The Popular Vote Issue
Edited on Thu Mar-09-06 05:43 PM by SuperWonk
I love how this issue is getting a lot of press. It is high time!

New Yorker: COUNT EM
Hendrik Hertzberg

Last Thursday morning, in one of the smaller function rooms at the National Press Club, in Washington, an ad-hoc bunch of amateurs, once-weres, might-bes, and goo-goos floated an initiative that, with a little luck, could enable our ramshackle republic to take a long, and long overdue, step toward a more perfect union. The idea behind their initiative is this: that the President of the United States should be elected by the people of the United States.

This idea is neither new nor outlandish, but for most of the past couple of centuries it has been dismissed as unachievable. The Electoral College is enshrined in the Constitution itself, so getting rid of it would require the concurrence of two-thirds of both houses of Congress plus three-quarters of the state legislatures. Thats not going to happen.

But maybe it doesnt have to. The promoters of the Campaign for a National Popular Vote, as theyre calling themselves, have come up with an elegant finesse. Instead of trying to change the Constitution, they propose to apply it, one bit in particular: Article II, Section 1, which instructs each state to appoint its Presidential electors in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct. Heres how the plan would work. One by one, legislature by legislature, state law by state law, individual states would pledge themselves to an interstate compact under which they would agree to award their electoral votes to the nationwide winner of the popular vote. The compact would take effect only when enough states had joined it to elect a Presidentthat is, enough to cast a majority of the five hundred and thirty-eight electoral votes. (Theoretically, as few as eleven states could do the trick.) And then, presto! All of a sudden, the people of all fifty states plus the District of Columbia are empowered to elect their President the same way they elect their governors, mayors, senators, and congressmen. We still have the Electoral College, with its colorful eighteenth-century rituals, but it can no longer do any damage. It becomes a tourist attraction, like the British monarchy.


As has become increasingly clear over the past few general elections, with their red states and blue states, an American Presidential campaign is no longer truly national. It takes place almost exclusively in the purple statesthe battleground states, where neither party can be sure of a lock. In 2004, there were thirteen such states, accounting for twenty-eight per cent of the population (and thirty-two per cent of the ultimate vote, since turnout increases with the uncertainty of the outcome). In the final month, the candidates spent $237 million on advertising, $229 million of it in those thirteen states. (In twenty-three states, they didnt spend a dime.) At the same time, President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, Senator Kerry, and Senator Edwards attended a total of two hundred and ninety-one campaign events. Two hundred and sixty-eight of them were in the lucky thirteen.

Theres a traditional view that without the Electoral College Presidential campaigns would simply ignore the small states. It hasnt worked that way. The real division that the Electoral College creates, in tandem with the winner-take-all rule, is not between large states and small states but between battleground states and what might be called spectator states. Of the thirteen least populous states, six are red, six are blue, and oneNew Hampshireis up for grabs. Guess which twelve Bush and Kerry stiffed and which one got plenty of love, long after the primary season? Size doesnt matter. At the other end of the spectrum, the three biggest statesblue California, red Texas, and blue New Yorkwere utterly ignored, except for purposes of fund-raising.

Thats not the worst of it, though. After all, some people might count it a blessing to be spared the October onslaught of thirty-second spots and traffic jams caused by self-important motorcades. The worst of it is the death of participatory politics in two-thirds of the country. If you live in a spectator state, it might be fun to persuade your neighbors to vote your way, or ring their doorbells, or hand them leaflets. But it cant make a difference. And it doesnt matter which side youre on or which color your state is. Widening your tickets margin of victory or narrowing its margin of defeat is equally pointless. In this sense, our Presidential campaigns are not only not national; in most of the country theyre not local, either. Theyre just not.

For fifty years, polls have consistently shown that seventy per cent of the public favors direct election. Nevertheless, the National Popular Vote plan will meet with a lot of resistance, some of it from battleground-state politicians. But in all those spectator states there are scores of millions of voters, and thousands of politicians, who would like to get in on the game. They might prefer to see our Presidents elected not by red states and blue states and purple states, and not by big states or small states, but by the United States. Last Friday, a bill went into the hopper of the Illinois legislature. Well see.

Read it is full above.

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mcscajun Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Mar-09-06 06:44 PM
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1. I love it! A simple yet elegant solution to a nearly intractable problem.
Can't wait on this...We need to start pestering our state representatives to introduce similar bills to the one being floated in the Illinois legislature.

Thanks for posting this one.

Recommended. :)
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SuperWonk Donating Member (355 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-10-06 08:28 AM
Response to Reply #1
2. Agreed!!
Illinois is the first step of many. How many? How about 50? :)
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