# SearchFirst Things

« Previous  |Home|  Next »

Thursday, September 30, 2010, 10:11 AM

It’s mathematically possible to win the presidency of the entire country handily in the electoral college with around 11 percent of the popular vote.

Can that be correct?

I took the state results from the 2008 presidential election and calculated the cheapest electoral votes (the least number, at 50 percent plus 1 voter, to obtain an electoral vote), from Wyoming on down. Then I scrolled down the list until there were over 270 electoral votes—for an actual vote total of under 15 million, out of 131.3 million voters in that 2008 election.

Doesn’t seem right, but maybe the more mathematically inclined can help us out here.

September 30th, 2010 | 10:42 am

Technically, it’s possible to win the presidency of the entire country handily in the electoral college with almost zero percent of the popular vote.

Here’s how it could work:

Two candidates split the popular vote almost equally, but one candidate wins the 11 states you mentioned. Because the electoral college only chooses electors who are selected to elect the president, these 270 people are the ones who really choose who will be office holder.

Now imagine that all 270 of them decide to be “faithless electors” (which is not only legal but Constitutionally permissible). They could choose to make Ron Paul the POTUS even though he may not have earned a single vote in the states they represent.

So technically, it is possible for 270 citizens to elect a president who was on the ballot but received zero percent of the electoral vote.

September 30th, 2010 | 10:49 am

Hopefully this isn’t intended to build a case for the current effort to undo the Constitution by adopting the proposals of the ‘National Popular Vote’ movement . . . . NPV is trying to circumvent the constitutional amendment process. But worst of all, direct election of the president would further erode the power of the states and, on a very practical level, make the 2000 recount fiasco in Florida look like child’s play.

September 30th, 2010 | 11:11 am

Or if we’re talking about sheer mathematical possibility, let’s say that only one person shows up to vote in each of the eleven essential states, and all vote for the same candidate. All the other states have 100% voter turnout and all of them vote for the opposing candidate. The eleven voters win the day.

September 30th, 2010 | 12:12 pm

The 11 most populous states contain 56% of the population of the United States and a candidate would win the Presidency if 100% of the voters in these 11 states voted for one candidate. However, if anyone is concerned about the this theoretical possibility, it should be pointed out that, under the current system, a candidate could win the Presidency by winning a mere 51% of the vote in these same 11 states — that is, a mere 26% of the nation’s votes.

Because of the state-by-state winner-take-all electoral votes laws (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in each state) in 48 states, a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide. This has occurred in 4 of the nation’s 56 (1 in 14) presidential elections. Near misses are now frequently common. A shift of 60,000 votes in Ohio in 2004 would have defeated President Bush despite his nationwide lead of 3,500,000 votes.

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. Elections wouldn’t be about winning states. Every vote would be counted 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.

Now 2/3rds of the states and voters are ignored — 19 of the 22 smallest and medium-small states and big states like California, Georgia, New York, and Texas. The current winner-take-all laws (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in each state) used by 48 of the 50 states, and not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution, ensure that the candidates do not reach out to all of the states and their voters. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or care about the voter concerns in the dozens of states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. Policies important to the citizens of ‘flyover’ states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.

The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes–that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

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. It does not abolish the Electoral College. 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, without federal constitutional amendments.

The bill has been endorsed or voted for by 1,922 state legislators (in 50 states) who have sponsored and/or cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.

The powers of state governments are neither increased nor decreased based on whether presidential electors are selected along the state boundary lines, along district lines (as has been the case in Maine and Nebraska), or national lines.

The National Popular Vote bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers, in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in Arkansas (6), Connecticut (7), Delaware (3), The District of Columbia (3), Maine (4), Michigan (17), Nevada (5), New Mexico (5), New York (31), North Carolina (15), and Oregon (7), and both houses in California (55), Colorado (9), Hawaii (4), Illinois (21), New Jersey (15), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (12), Rhode Island (4), Vermont (3), and Washington (11). The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Washington. These six states possess 73 electoral votes — 27% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

September 30th, 2010 | 12:15 pm

The accusation that recounts will be more likely and messy is distracting. Recounts are far more likely in the current system of state-by-state winner-take-all rules.

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.

A nationwide recount would not happen. We do and would vote state by state. Each state manages its own election. The state-by-state winner-take-all system is not a firewall, but instead causes unnecessary fires. The larger the number of voters in an election, the smaller the chance of close election results.

Based on a recent study of 7,645 statewide elections in the 26-year period from 1980 through 2006 by FairVote, the probability of a recount is 1 in 332 elections (23 recounts in 7,645 elections). So, if the President were elected from a single nationwide pool of votes, one would expect a recount once in 332 elections, or once in 1,328 years.

The average change in the margin of victory as a result of a statewide recount was a mere 274 votes. The original outcome remained unchanged in over 90% of the recounts.

The U.S. Constitution requires the Electoral College to meet on the same day throughout the U.S. (mid-December). This sets a final deadline for vote counts from all states. In Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court has interpreted the federal “safe harbor” statute to mean that the deadline for the state to finalize their vote count is 6 days before the meeting of the Electoral College.

September 30th, 2010 | 12:16 pm

There have been 22,000 electoral votes cast since presidential elections became competitive (in 1796), and only 10 have been cast for someone other than the candidate nominated by the elector’s own political party. The electors are dedicated party activists of the winning party who meet briefly in mid-December to cast their totally predictable votes in accordance with their pre-announced pledges. Faithless electors are not a practical problem, and most states have complete authority to remedy any problem there could be, by means of state law.

If a Democratic presidential candidate receives the most votes, the state’s dedicated Democratic party activists who have been chosen as its slate of electors become the Electoral College voting bloc. If a Republican presidential candidate receives the most votes, the state’s dedicated Republican party activists who have been chosen as its slate of electors become the Electoral College voting bloc. The winner of the presidential election is the candidate who collects 270 votes from Electoral College voters from among the winning party’s dedicated activists.

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld state laws guaranteeing faithful voting by presidential electors (because the states have plenary power over presidential electors).

September 30th, 2010 | 2:03 pm

September 30th, 2010 | 2:54 pm

Wow, NPV is sure Constitutional, but so is flipping a coin within each state to determine electors, and it makes just about as much sense.

Thanks to mvymvy’s propaganda spam, I now know what to look for in governmental idiocy in my state.

WHY WHY WHY would a state give up its right to representation by allowing results from other states to determine its electors? (We may as well just join some world government agency in which, oh, perhaps someone would have the lack of vision to place China on a human rights commission! Hah!)

The all-or-nothing method in which states determine electors surely is flawed, but the NPV is the worst solution ever. How about just assigning an elector to each congressional district, one to the state popular vote, and one to the candidate who wins the most congressional districts? Nah, that’d keep every single congressional district in play in every state, who on earth would want THAT??? :/

September 30th, 2010 | 3:21 pm

A national popular vote would be a disastrous move. Why not, every four years, just ask California to name the President?

September 30th, 2010 | 3:46 pm

This is a republic, not a democracy. If you want to maintain your personal freedom, and not decsend into a dictatorship, you’ll opt for the republic. See youtube video: http://tinyurl.com/awyudu

September 30th, 2010 | 5:30 pm

The founders would have been astonished that anyone would think the National Popular Vote Compact (NPVC) is consistent with the constitutional order they established. While the NPVC is technically constitutional, it strikes at the very heart of the founders’ conception of how the executive should be selected. The whole purpose of the second clause of Section 2 of Article II was to insulate the presidency from the very process the NPVC would establish. For very good reason the founders were chary of democracies. That’s why they did not establish one.

The constitution establishes two political branches (executive and legislative). The legislative branch is in turn composed of two chambers. Of these three components of the political branches (i.e., the president, the house and the senate), the founders allowed only one (the house) to be elected directly. Only in 1913 did the 17th Amendment provide for the popular election of senators.

The founders employed a number of devices in an effort to mediate the evils of unchecked democracy. One of those devices was empowering states qua states at the expense of strict democratic representation. That’s why, for example, Wyoming with a population of 545,000 has the same number of senators as California with a population of nearly 37 million.

How soon we forget the lessons of history, including those that informed the founders’ fear of unchecked democracy. In his/her posts above mvymvy illustrates perfectly the puerile modern attitude: “founders bad elitists; pure democracy good.” But they can keep their snake oil. The founders established a pretty good system that has stood us in good stead for 221 years now.

September 30th, 2010 | 7:08 pm

Mr. Coin, two states already do your suggestion; Maine and Nebraska. They elect two electors statewide and one for each congressional district.

The one main drawback I see in the NPV is that there is no good way to do recounts in the states that aren’t NPV-signatories. For instance, if you had widespread voter fraud in a non-NPV state, but the race was clearly on one side, there would be no need for a recount.

Let’s say Texas isn’t in the compact. The Republican wins 55-45, but it should have been 56-44 were it not for “graveyard precincts” in Houston and San Antonio. Texas might not bother with a recount, but an extra 50,000 Democratic votes out of Texas gets tacked onto the national popular vote.

The only way to do it right is via a constitutional amendment, but that takes 38 states rather than a majority of the EC.

September 30th, 2010 | 8:31 pm

Mr. Byron, yes, Maine and Nebraska do it mostly as I described. They allow each congressional district to elect its own elector, but they distribute the two “senatorial electors” (for lack of a better term) according to the popular vote in the state. That’s not agreeable to me, especially in states such as ME and NE, where these electors who represent the senate seats in the states are almost half of the electors in the state. Popular vote makes it possible for generally politically homogeneous urban areas to dominate state policy, which is why I would give one of those electors to the candidate who won the plurality of congressional districts.

If the only problem that you see with NPV is the problems of recounts, then I think you may need to re-read the issue. As Mr. Arrington said, “it strikes at the very heart of the founders’ conception of how the executive should be selected. The whole purpose of the second clause of Section 2 of Article II was to insulate the presidency from the very process the NPVC would establish.” NPV does indeed circumvent the intent of the structure of the U.S. Constitution.

I am not sure what you mean by “the only right way to do it” being a Constitutional amendment. Do you mean that the Constitution should be amended to enforce NPV, or to enforce some other system, or to remove the electoral college completely?

I will state that “the only right” thing to do is to teach the Constitution to our children. If a person reached voting age and does not understand the difference between a Democracy and a Democratic Republic (not to mention being able to describe each of the first ten amendments!), then we have failed them, and therefore we have failed the nation.

September 30th, 2010 | 11:33 pm

And the point of this pointless discussion is. . . ?

October 1st, 2010 | 12:09 am

mvymcy, you convinced me. If anybody cares so much about it, it must be a bad idea!

October 1st, 2010 | 11:59 am

Dividing a state’s electoral votes by congressional district would magnify the worst features of the Electoral College system. What the country needs is a national popular vote to make every person’s vote equally important to presidential campaigns.

If the district approach were used nationally, it would less be less fair and less accurately reflect the will of the people than the current system. In 2004, Bush won 50.7% of the popular vote, but 59% of the districts. Although Bush lost the national popular vote in 2000, he won 55% of the country’s congressional districts.

The district approach would not cause presidential candidates to campaign in a particular state or focus the candidates’ attention to issues of concern to the state. Under the 48 state-by-state winner-take-all laws(whether applied to either districts or states), candidates have no reason to campaign in districts or states where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind. In North Carolina, for example, there are only 2 districts the 13th with a 5% spread and the 2nd with an 8% spread) where the presidential race is competitive. In California, the presidential race is competitive in only 3 of the state’s 53 districts. Nationwide, there are only 55 “battleground” districts that are competitive in presidential elections. Under the present deplorable 48 state-level winner-take-all system, two-thirds of the states (including California and Texas) are ignored in presidential elections; however, seven-eighths of the nation’s congressional districts would be ignored if a district-level winner-take-all system were used nationally.

Also, a second-place candidate could still win the White House without winning the national popular vote.

October 1st, 2010 | 12:00 pm

National Popular Vote has nothing to do with whether the country has a “republican” form of government or is a “democracy.”

A “republican” form of government means that the voters do not make laws themselves but, instead, delegate the job to periodically elected officials (Congressmen, Senators, and the President). The United States has a “republican” form of government regardless of whether popular votes for presidential electors are tallied at the state-level (as has been the case in 48 states) or at district-level (as has been the case in Maine and Nebraska) or at 50-state-level (as under the National Popular Vote bill).

If a “republican” form of government means that the presidential electors exercise independent judgment (like the College of Cardinals that elects the Pope), we have had a “democratic” method of electing presidential electors since 1796 (the first contested presidential election). Ever since 1796, presidential candidates have been nominated by a central authority (originally congressional caucuses, and now party conventions) and electors are reliable rubberstamps for the voters of the district or state that elected them.