Some (more) concerns with the National Popular Vote

We have long been opposed to the National Popular Vote Agreement/Compact. Not because we are against the popular election of the President in theory, but because the Agreement would cobble the popular vote onto a flawed electoral accounting system making it more risky and more subject to manipulation than the current electoral college system. Be careful what you ask for! An article from the Huffington Post raises some issues to consider.

Why National Popular Vote Is a Bad Idea <read>

This blog post is a joint effort with Leslie Francis, former executive director of the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

As the National Popular Vote (NPV) movement steps up its effort to impose a direct election for president, attempting to enlist states with a sufficient number of electors to constitute a majority (268) and to bind them to the winner of the national popular vote, those states considering the proposal might first reflect on the nightmare aftermath of the 2000 presidential election.

Because there was a difference of less than 1,000 tabulated votes between George W. Bush and Al Gore in one state, Florida, the nation watched as 6 million votes were recounted by machine, several hundred thousand were recounted by hand in counties with differing recount standards, partisan litigators fought each other in state and federal courts, the secretary of state backed by the majority of state legislators (all Republicans) warred with the state’s majority Democratic judiciary — until 37 days after the election the U.S. Supreme Court, in a bitterly controversial 5-4 decision effectively declared Bush the winner.

That nightmare may seem like a pleasant dream if NPV has its way. For under its plan, the next time the U.S. has very close national vote, a recount would not be of six million votes in one state but of more than 130 million votes in all states and the District of Columbia, all with their own rules for conducting a recount.

We are glad to see Democrats raising concerns with the National Popular Vote Agreement. Many Democrats are in favor of the Agreement in the mistaken belief that Al Gore would have won the 2000 election if the Agreement would have been in place. We point out that if there had been a complete recount of Florida, under the Electoral College he likely would have won under that system; the official popular vote gave Gore a slim margin, but without a recount it is not guaranteed that he did actually receive more votes than George Bush; and most important if the popular vote had been in effect, we agree that more individuals would have voted but nobody knows if Al Gore or George Bush would have benefited more from that.

We also find that most Republicans want to retain the Electoral College system as they believe it currently increases their chances for victory.

Both political sides and those who support or oppose the Agreement create an unending stream of issues supporting their case. Many of these issues have merit and are worth discussing e.g. Supporters argue for one person one vote while opponents argue for the Federal system and the wisdom of the Founders. Some issues are objective, others are subjective, and others are subjective and speculative. e.g. To what extent will candidates spend more time and money in non-swing states under the Agreement (speculative) and what value to democracy is more money to local outlets of national media, more mailers, more phone calls, and more candidates visits with the same sound bites (subjective); are small states disadvantaged by the Electoral College as proponents argue when visiting Connecticut, or are large states disadvantaged as the proponents also argue based on less electoral votes per person making their votes less equal? (subjective).

Each of these issues deserves an intricate debate before our system is changed.

However, we say that election integrity issues trump all the subjective issues. That the popular election of the President, especially via the Agreement, is too risky without effective reform of electoral accounting. For more details see our past posts and our testimony last year opposing the Agreement and opposing endorsement of the Electoral College as the best possible system of the electing the President.

While we agree that “That nightmare [of 2000] may seem like a pleasant dream if NPV has its way.” we point out the incorrect claim that:

For under its plan, the next time the U.S. has very close national vote, a recount would not be of six million votes in one state but of more than 130 million votes in all states and the District of Columbia, all with their own rules for conducting a recount.

This is incorrect because:

  • There is no official popular vote number available to officially determine the need for a recount prior to the date that each state is required to specify their electors
  • Many states do not have laws providing for recounts based on close vote margins
  • States that do have recount laws for close votes are based on close margins in those states, not based on national margins.
  • The Agreement does nothing to change that and in any case only applies to the states that sign it.

The article is inaccurate and  too optimistic in that regard. The rest of the article brings up several issues, subjective and speculative, that are worth evaluating before making a choice between the popular vote or the Electoral College.

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