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POLITICS AS USUAL (By Jim Baron) Revisiting an old friend — the Electoral College

April 23, 2012

Every presidential year, it seems, a debate starts up about the curious constitutional custom of the Electoral College.
Because the Founding Fathers were scared silly about putting real power in the hands of the great unwashed (which, to be fair, was in the late 1700s significantly illiterate, ill-informed and unfamiliar with the whole concept of self-government), they concluded that the states would elect presidents rather than having a popular vote of the citizens. They were also, having had quite enough experience with kings, scared silly at the idea of a strong executive power in the hands of one man (they expected it would always be a man and, 224 years later, they are still correct), they viewed the president as “chief magistrate” carrying out the will of Congress, not the powerful head of government we recognize today.
Well, things change.
We now think of our country as “one nation, indivisible,” rather than the collection of states the Founders were lashing together under a single constitution. And the populace is, compared with then, far better educated and more well-informed than in the late 18th century. (Whether we are wiser is a debate best left to another time.)
So the populace has changed, the country has changed and the nature of the presidency has changed. Given that, should the way we elect a president change? Maybe.
Since politics is never far removed from self interest, it should be noted that the Electoral College is designed to protect the interests of smaller states like Rhode Island) from being overwhelmed by the larger states.
Even then, four of the first five presidents were from Virginia, which was the big Kahuna of states at the time and the fifth, John Adams, was from Massachusetts, Kahuna North.
But even if the Electoral College gives Rhode Island a tiny bit of an edge it wouldn’t otherwise have, electing a president by popular vote is probably the Right Thing To Do. Most of us know in the backs of our minds somewhere that there is an Electoral College that has something to do with the election, but in practice we behave as though a presidential election is a contest where the candidate who gets the most votes wins, even if Al Gore would remind us that it isn’t so.
What is most certainly NOT the right thing to do is the method that a cabal known as National Popular Vote (NPV) is trying to foist on the nation — Rhode Island’s House of Representatives is slated to vote on it May 1— called the “interstate compact.”
The NPV people are trying to enlist states into an agreement to allocate all of their electoral votes to whichever candidate gets the most popular votes nationwide, regardless of how the citizens in that state voted. So if this bogus “compact” had been in effect in 2004, when 259,760 Rhode Islanders voted for Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and only 169,046 of us voted for President George W. Bush, all four of Rhode Island’s electoral votes would have gone to re-elect President Bush. In other words, “fie on all you silly people who cast votes, we are going to render them meaningless, and the votes cast on your behalf are going to go to the other guy.”
You can’t hold an election and then give the votes cast the exact opposite effect than that which the voters intended. That’s perverse.
NPV likes to point out that the U.S. Constitution allows states to choose presidential electors any way they see fit, so what they propose isn’t exactly a constitutional violation. Yes, but the notion that any state would, at this point in time, choose by any way other than by a vote beggars common sense and more than 200 years of history. Simply put, they are trying to circumvent the constitution, to undermine it, when what they should be doing is trying to amend it.
Article V of the constitution explains in detail how the constitution should be amended if there is a desire to do so. Passing a constitutional amendment is a very difficult process and it was meant to be so. I don’t want to imagine what kind of country we would be living in now if it were easy to make changes to the founding document.
If the General Assembly were to ratify a constitutional amendment calling for a popular vote for President of the United States, that would be one thing. But if they validate this cockamamie scheme, they would be betraying you and invalidating your vote. The legislation passed both chambers a few years ago, but Republican Gov. Donald Carcieri vetoed it.
Proponents claim that Independent Gov. Lincoln Chafee, while not specifically supporting the legislation, has spoken favorably of a national popular vote in the past.

Folks who saw this column last week will recall that it put forth the proposition that, despite Rep. David Cicilline’s current troubles, he shouldn’t be counted out of his re-election bid just yet, that it is conceivable he could make a comeback.
I was playing some of my Neil Young bootlegs in the past week, and I ran across a verse from a song that could be the theme of that campaign:
I’m sorry for the things I’ve done,
I’ve shamed myself with lies.
But soon these things are overcome,
And can’t be recognized.
The name of the song? “Running Dry.” Nothing’s perfect, I guess.

Call me a contrarian, but I was never one who demanded that politicians cough up their income tax returns or cast aspersions on those who refused to release them.
If elected officials and candidates choose to offer up their tax returns for inspection, I will gleefully comb through them and report any interesting details, but if they say no, I figure that is their right.
I have always been horrified at the notion: “If you don’t have anything to hide, what do you need privacy for?”
As WPRI’s Ted Nesi noted in his Nesi’s Notes blog last week, In Rhode Island, top pols such as Sen. Jack Reed, Rep. David Cicilline, Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Secretary of State Ralph Mollis are offering up their returns, as are Senate candidate Barry Hinckley and congressional candidate Brendan Doherty.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee is among those saying no to making their 1040s pubic, as are Rep. Jim Langevin, Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts and Attorney General Peter Kilmartin.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s office says he’s not sure if he will release his.
Congressional candidate Anthony Gemma says he won’t release his unless and until he is elected. That seems a bit backward. The whole idea of releasing the returns is to allow voters to know information about the personal finances of the people they are electing. Once someone is in office, it’s too late. Gemma seems to want it both ways, suggesting that he is open to releasing them, but not doing it until he is safely in office. Those in state office correctly point out that the RI Ethics Commission has an excellent and informative financial disclosure form that provides pertinent information voters can use in choosing a candidate to vote for or against. The federal financial disclosure system, which only provides disclosures within very broad ranges, leaves a lot to be desired and should be tightened up considerably.

Comments

Every Vote Would Be Equal, Every Voter Would Matter

April 23, 2012 by oldgulph (not verified), 2 years 13 weeks ago
Comment: 1152

The National Popular Vote bill preserves the constitutionally mandated Electoral College and state control of elections. It changes the way electoral votes are awarded by states in the Electoral College, instead of the current 48 state-by-state winner-take-all system (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but since enacted by 48 states). It ensures that every vote is equal, every voter will matter, in every state, in every presidential election, and the candidate with the most votes wins, as in virtually every other election in the country.

No voter would be betrayed or invalidated.

Under National Popular Vote, every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election. Every vote would be included in the state counts and national count. The candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC would get the needed 270+ electoral votes from the enacting states.

The Electoral College is now the set of dedicated party activists, who vote as rubberstamps for presidential candidates. In the current presidential election system, 48 states award all of their electors to the winners of their state. This is not what the Founding Fathers intended.

The Founding Fathers in the Constitution did not require states to allow their citizens to vote for president, much less award all their electoral votes based upon the vote of their citizens.

The presidential election system we have today is not in the Constitution, and enacting National Popular Vote would not need an amendment. State-by-state winner-take-all laws to award Electoral College votes, were eventually enacted by states, using their exclusive power to do so, AFTER the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution. Now our current system can be changed by state laws again.

Unable to agree on any particular method for selecting presidential electors, the Founding Fathers left the choice of method exclusively to the states 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."

The constitution does not prohibit any of the methods that were debated and rejected. Indeed, a majority of the states appointed their presidential electors using two of the rejected methods in the nation's first presidential election in 1789 (i.e., appointment by the legislature and by the governor and his cabinet). Presidential electors were appointed by state legislatures for almost a century.

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

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 entitled to any special deference based on history or the historical meaning of the words in the U.S. Constitution. It 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. States can, and frequently have, changed their method of awarding electoral votes over the years. Maine and Nebraska do not use the winner-take-all method– a reminder that an amendment to the U.S. Constitution is not required to change the way the President is elected.

The normal process of effecting change in the method of electing the President is specified in the U.S. Constitution, namely action by the state legislatures. This is how the current system was created, and this is the built-in method that the Constitution provides for making changes. The abnormal process is to go outside the Constitution, and amend it.

The National Popular Vote Bill- 49% of the Way to Go Into Effect

April 23, 2012 by oldgulph (not verified), 2 years 13 weeks ago
Comment: 1151

The Compact ensures that every vote is equal, every voter will matter, in every state, in every presidential election, and the candidate with the most votes wins, as in virtually every other election in the country.

Under National Popular Vote, every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election. Every vote would be included in the state counts and national count. The candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC would get the 270+ electoral votes from the enacting states. That majority of electoral votes guarantees the candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC wins the presidency.

National Popular Vote would give a voice to the minority party voters in each state. Now their votes are counted only for the candidate they did not vote for. Now they don't matter to their candidate.

And now votes, beyond the one needed to get the most votes in the state, for winning in a state are wasted and don't matter to candidates. Utah (5 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 385,000 "wasted" votes for Bush in 2004. 8 small western states, with less than a third of California’s population, provided Bush with a bigger margin (1,283,076) than California provided Kerry (1,235,659).

With National Popular Vote, every vote, everywhere would be counted equally for, and directly assist, the candidate for whom it was cast.

Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states. The political reality would be that when every vote is equal, the campaign must be run in every part of the country, including Rhode Island.

The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for President. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

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). Support for a national popular vote is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in virtually every state surveyed in recent polls in closely divided Battleground states: CO – 68%, FL – 78%, IA 75%, MI – 73%, MO – 70%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM– 76%, NC – 74%, OH – 70%, PA – 78%, VA – 74%, and WI – 71%; in Small states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE – 75%, ID – 77%, ME – 77%, MT – 72%, NE 74%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM – 76%, OK – 81%, RI – 74%, SD – 71%, UT – 70%, VT – 75%, WV – 81%, and WY – 69%; in Southern and Border states: AR – 80%,, KY- 80%, MS – 77%, MO – 70%, NC – 74%, OK – 81%, SC – 71%, TN – 83%, VA – 74%, and WV – 81%; and in other states polled: CA – 70%, CT – 74%, MA – 73%, MN – 75%, NY – 79%, OR – 76%, and WA – 77%. Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.

The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers in 21 states. The bill has been enacted by 9 jurisdictions possessing 132 electoral votes - 49% of the 270 necessary to go into effect.

NationalPopularVote
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74% of Rhode Island Voters Support a National Popular Vote

April 23, 2012 by oldgulph (not verified), 2 years 13 weeks ago
Comment: 1150

A survey of Rhode Island voters showed 74% overall support for a national popular vote for President.

Support was 78% among independents, 86% among liberal Democrats, 85% among moderate Democrats, 60% among conservative Democrats, 71% among liberal Republicans, 63% among moderate Republicans, and 35% among conservative Republicans.

By age, support was 77% among 18-29 year olds, 80% among 30-45 year olds, 70% among 46-65 year olds, and 76% for those older than 65.

By gender, support was 84% among women and 63% among men.

Most Americans don't care whether their presidential candidate wins or loses in their state. . . they care whether he/she wins the White House. Voters want to know, that even if they were on the losing side, their vote actually was directly and equally counted and mattered to their candidate. Most Americans think it's wrong for the candidate with the most popular votes to lose. We don't allow this in any other election in our representative republic.

The Electoral College does NOT protect the interests of smaller states like Rhode Island) from being overwhelmed by the larger states.

With the current state-by-state winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes, it could only take winning a bare plurality of popular votes in the 11 most populous states, containing 56% of the population of the United States, for a candidate to win the Presidency -- that is, a mere 26% of the nation's votes!

Now presidential elections ignore 12 of the 13 lowest population states (3-4 electoral votes), that are non-competitive in presidential elections. 6 regularly vote Republican (AK, ID, MT, WY, ND, and SD), and 6 regularly vote Democratic (RI, DE, HI, VT, ME, and DC) in presidential elections. Voters in states that are reliably red or blue don't matter. Candidates ignore those states and the issues they care about most.

Support for a national popular vote is strong in every smallest state surveyed in recent polls among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group. Support in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK -70%, DC -76%, DE --75%, ID -77%, ME - 77%, MT- 72%, NE - 74%, NH--69%, NE - 72%, NM - 76%, RI - 74%, SD- 71%, UT- 70%, VT - 75%, WV- 81%, and WY- 69%.

In the lowest population states, the National Popular Vote bill has passed in nine state legislative chambers, and been enacted by three jurisdictions.

Of the 22 medium-lowest population states (those with 3,4,5, or 6 electoral votes), only 3 have been battleground states in recent elections-- NH, NM, and NV. These three states contain only 14 (8%) of the 22 medium-lowest population states' total 166 electoral votes.

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