Make Every Vote Equal: What a Novel Idea
October 20, 2012
The practical application of this is that a select group of Americans residing in geopolitically advantageous locations receive special attention, while the concerns of Americans residing in “safe states” are largely ignored. It is not uncommon for Presidents to compromise their ideological objectives just to propitiate voters in battleground states.
For example, George W. Bush was a vociferous proponent of free trade. He pledged to work to “end tariffs and break down barriers everywhere, entirely, so the whole world trades in freedom.” Yet in 2003, Bush uncharacteristically levied tariffs on imported steel, a move that was popular with the domestic steel industry in the critical showdown states of Ohio and Pennsylvania.
By contrast, Mr. Bush put out a full-court press to shepherd through the U.S. Congress the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) in 2005. The administration ignored protests by the sugar industry in the “safe state” of Louisiana. In fact, the state’s former Governor, Mike Foster, a Republican and supporter of George W. Bush warned that eliminating tariffs on foreign sugar would “wipe out the Louisiana Sugar Industry.” Of course, Louisiana is a “safe state” with no electoral leverage.
In an attempt to ameliorate this inherent electoral inequality, there is an effort underway to make every vote equal. The National Popular Vote Plan is an interstate compact, whereby participating states agree to allocate their electoral votes to the winner of the National Popular Vote as opposed to the candidate who secures the most votes in their state. The compact would take effect when enough states (constituting the requisite 270 electoral votes required to win the Presidential election) agree to participate. Currently eight states and the District of Columbia, constituting 132 Electoral votes, have ratified the compact.
Under the current winner-take-all electoral voting scheme, millions of votes across the nation are not being counted in the official national tally. In the 2008 Presidential election, Republican nominee John McCain received more than five million votes in the state of California. Despite this achievement, all 55 electors in California cast their vote for Democrat Barack Obama. This inequity occurred solely because California uses the winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes, meaning that despite how close the popular vote may be, the winning candidate takes home “all” the electoral votes of that particular state. Similarly, more than 3.5 million Texans marked ballots for Barack Obama, yet because John McCain won the state, those 3.5 million votes were disregarded. Again, because Texas also uses the winner-take-all system of electoral voting, the winning candidate, John McCain, was able to take home “all” of Texas’ 33 electoral votes. This all-too-common outcome disenfranchises voters from “safe states” (non-battlefield states) and discourages them from going to the polls. They know that their votes are not likely to even be figured in the final national tally.
Despite contemporary belief, the winner-take-all regime was not the grand design of the Founding Fathers. The Founders were deadlocked as to the method of electing the President. They decided to delegate “plenary authority” to the states in awarding their electors, as reflected in Article II, Section 1, Clause 11 of the U.S. Constitution, which states: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors.” Accordingly, each state has autonomy to select electors in any way they choose.” In 1789, the year of the first Presidential election, voters in only five states were permitted to mark ballots for Presidential electors. The other states granted the power of voting for Presidential electors to their state legislatures. In fact, New York did not even appoint electors because their legislature was stalemated over the issue.
The winner-take-all electoral voting scheme was designed to protect partisan’s parochial interests. It was not part of a grand design conceptualized by the Founding Fathers.
Contrary to some claims, there is no contradiction between the U.S. being a republic and the states awarding their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. It is sometimes argued that the plan contravenes the nation’s Founding Fathers’ intention to make the U.S. a Constitutional Republic rather than a Direct Democracy. A Direct Democracy is a system where the citizenry assemble and vote directly on laws. In a Constitutional Republic the voters select fellow citizens to represent them. The National Popular Vote Plan would have the President elected the same way Americans elect Cemetery Commissioners, County Coroners, Governors, and U.S. Senators. The person who garners the most votes wins. It’s that simple.
The argument is often made that under the Plan candidates would only focus on securing and solidifying votes in large urban areas while ignoring small states. In actuality, the nation’s top 25 cities comprise only 12% of the electorate, and the nation’s five largest populated cities constitute just 6% of the electorate. Accordingly, to win the national popular vote, a candidate must appeal to the large majority of Americans who do not live in these urban centers.
We see the ineffectiveness of this argument at the state level. In 2010, Texas Governor Rick Perry was re-elected by 13 percentage points, despite being overwhelmingly defeated in the state’s two largest cities, Houston and Dallas.
Under the current electoral regime, voters from both large and small states are ignored. The states with the largest populations: California, Texas, and New York, respectively, are used only as an ATM machine, where candidates parachute in, hold a fundraiser, collect money from the state's financial elite, and leave without meeting the state's rank-and-file citizens. Small states are also disregarded by Presidential campaigns. With the exception of New Hampshire, the 13 smallest states are all “safe states” receiving no attention from Presidential nominees. They have no electoral incentive to address issues specific to small states like livestock grazing in Wyoming, the effects of debilitating fishing regulations on Rhode Island fishermen, or the future of Vermont’s diary industry.
Under the National Popular Vote Plan, a vote in Marblehead, Massachusetts will be commensurate with a vote in Marblehead, Ohio. A vote in Dover, Delaware will be no less important than a vote in Dover, New Hampshire, and a vote in Charlotte, North Carolina will be no less than a vote in Charlotte, Vermont. Under the National Popular Vote Plan every vote will be relevant and equal.
Rich Rubino is a political enthusiast and the Managing Editor of the political blog www.Politi-Geek.com. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and Communications from Assumption College, and a Master’s Degree in Broadcast Journalism from Emerson College. He currently works as the Social Media Coordinator for Support Popular Vote, a group working to change the way electoral votes are allocated within the Electoral College. Rubino writes a blog for Support Popular Vote: http://www.popularvoteblog.com . Previously, he has interviewed presidential candidates at the New Hampshire Primary and has served as an on-air panelist in New Hampshire providing political analysis on election night. He has also worked as a policy advisor on a gubernatorial campaign and on a Congressional campaign in Massachusetts.
The Political Bible of Little Known Facts in American Politics can be purchased at Amazon.com <http://www.amazon.com/Political-Bible-Little-American-Politics/dp/061552737X> and through all major booksellers.
Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.