Wednesday, January 25, 2012

national popular vote?



WaPo | Last Thursday’s GOP presidential debate was a doozy. Some of the commercials weren’t bad, either. My favorite was the ad from the National Popular Vote movement, promoting legislation in the 50 states to guarantee that the people, not the electoral college, choose our president.

Mind you, I’ve always found it kind of fallacious to worry that our current system elevates popular-vote losers to the presidency: that’s because popular votes cast in a state-by-state contest for 270 electoral votes do not reflect the national will. Rather, they reflect the results of a competition in which candidates tailor their messages and deploy their resources according to the rules of the electoral college; they would do everything differently if the goal was a popular-vote majority.

So when Al Gore got about 500,000 votes more than George W. Bush in 2000 but still lost, I was pretty much unmoved. Complaining about that — as opposed to the different issue of the Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore — was like griping that your basketball team lost even though it made more free throws.

In a contest for popular votes, Bush would have had an incentive to scrounge for every vote in states he had locked up, like Texas, or the ones he had consigned to Gore.

Still, it’s easy to see why the electoral college is so unloved. It is inconsistent with the idea of one-person, one-vote; every 677,000 Californians get one electoral vote, while the 563,000 inhabitants of Wyoming get three. And it gives presidential nominees an incentive to cater to the interests of “swing” states while treating the rest as flyover country.

The National Popular Vote plan would, at least in theory, solve those problems. Instead of trying to abolish the electoral college through a constitutional amendment — which small states might block — National Popular Vote devised a way to get around it: States agree by law to cast all of their electoral votes for the first-place finisher in the national popular vote; and the law becomes operative as soon as it is adopted by enough states to total 270 votes in the electoral college.

So far, nine deep-blue jurisdictions with a total of 132 electoral votes — including Maryland, the District and California, the 55-elector behemoth — have signed on to this proposed interstate compact.