February 21, 2009

Why I oppose the so-called ‘National Popular Vote’ proposal

Posted in Abolish Electoral College, Election reform, Elections, Sen. Bill Nelson, voting tagged , , , , at 7:46 pm by bluebanshee

Many on the left support the proposed National Popular Vote plan because there is an unspoken assumption that it is a thoroughly progressive idea.  Upon closer examination that implicit belief about the inherent progressive roots of the National Popular Vote is revealed to be false.

I am opposed to the National Popular Vote proposal for the following reasons:

1. The elections in many other states are deeply flawed and not to be trusted as accurate. Therefore the count that would be used as the basis for determining what the “national popular vote” would be in a particular election is certain to contain errors that may be biased toward one candidate or another.

Example: In 2004 Gahana, Ohio, there were around 700 registered voters in one precinct but more than 4000 votes in the certified tally. The precinct’s votes went overwhelmingly to George W. Bush. There were numerous other instances of this kind of discrepancy throughout Ohio (see John Conyers’ book “What Went Wrong in Ohio” for more examples.)

Another example, more recent: In Humboldt county, California, after the November 2008 election, activists conducting the Ballot Transparency Project where all ballots were scanned by citizens and counted with open source software discovered that the Diebold op scan software used by the county had deleted an entire ballot batch from one precinct — and left no trace in the software transaction log. Without the paper ballot backup and the hard work of Mitch Trachtenberg and his merry band of activists this would never would have been discovered. This is the same Diebold software that is widely used throughout the country. Diebold has known about this “bug” since at least 2004 and has not corrected it, simply sent out a “workaround” directive that the Humboldt county registrar did not implement saying she was not informed of it.

Who knows how many other votes might have been deleted in jurisdictions around the country but went undetected.

2. I believe that the National Popular Vote proposal is at its heart, anti-democratic. It would require the Electoral Votes for a particular state to be cast for the purported winner of the reported national popular vote even if the overwhelming majority of voters in that state voted in a landslide for the other candidate. If NPV had been in effect in 2000 Oregon’s Electoral Votes would have been cast for Gore and this would have reflected the will of Oregon voters. In contrast, in 2004 Oregon’s Electoral Votes would have been cast for George W. Bush in clear contradiction to the overwhelming choice of Oregon voters (72% for John Kerry).

Since we are a representative democracy, it is imperative that our Electors cast their votes to reflect the preferences of those who elected them. To do any less would undermine a core value of our constitutional representative democracy.

3. The number of U.S. elections where the Electoral College vote and the popular vote differ has been the exception rather than the rule. Despite the controversy of 2000 and Bush v. Gore and Hayes-Tilden the Electoral College has been reflective of the popular vote in the vast majority of presidential elections. So why tinker with it if it works most of the time? Why throw the baby out with the bathwater? There are serious problems with the National Popular Vote proposal that I have addressed above. I think the NPV proposal may be a “Blue State Suicide Pact” and may diminish the electoral influence of states like Oregon, Maryland New Jersey  and Hawaii.  It would also give more incentive for electoral shenanigans in a few key  states.

There should be a consistent way of casting Electoral Votes in all 50 states and the NPV system would leave  some states using the NPV system and the rest still adhering to the current system. This situation, would in my opinion, violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

If we are going to change the Electoral College, then we should simply amend the U.S. Constitution, as has been proposed by Senator Bill Nelson of Florida.

Beginning in 2000 after the electoral meltdown in his state, Senator Nelson has introduced such a bill in the Senate every session. Why not rally to support the current incarnation?   Senator Nelson’s bill is S.J.Res. 4.  There is also a version introduced in the House by Rep. Gene Green (TX-29) — H.J.Res. 9.

Rather than supporting National Popular Vote, I strongly urge those who think  the Electoral College is obsolete to get behind Nelson’s constitutional amendment.    Change the Constitution the right way, not by “interstate compact” as an end-run around the amendment process.


  1. Short:

    I support a NPV but not a NPV interstate compact.


    >1. The elections in many other states are deeply flawed and
    > not to be trusted as accurate.
    There are some in the election integrity community that
    use this as the primary argument for why NPV is not a priority.

    I agree with it to a small degree but I think that the problem is that
    in many places in the US election integrity is very poor and that this should
    addressed directly. Also, from a practical standpoint, a NPV could
    encourage better election monitoring and election intgrity improvements

    (I’m not sure which state you are in btw)

    >2. I believe that the National Popular Vote proposal is at its heart,
    Having a NPV means having a national election for for president rather
    than a federal system for electing the president.

    I think that a national election for president is democratic.
    The NPV interstate compact attempts to achieve this via a subversion
    of the existing federal system. Within the context of that federal system,
    yes it fails to democratically represent the voters of that state. However
    this is not a compelling argument to me because:
    * it tries to achieve a NPV which is a democratic expression
    of the voters selection
    * the existing system mostly has states allocating all of their electoral
    college votes to a single party which is certainly not a democratic
    expression of the will of the state’s voters.

    >Rather than supporting National Popular Vote, I strongly urge those
    >who think the Electoral College is obsolete to get behind Nelson’s
    >constitutional amendment. Change the Constitution the right way,
    >not by “interstate compact” as an end-run around the amendment
    Here I agree.

    Some flaws with the NPV compact plan that you did not mention:
    * It is predicated on states NOT IN THE COMPACT collecting data
    that can be used to compute a NPV. This would mean that states
    not in the compact would cause significant trouble if they used
    any single-winner voting system other than plurality. Eg. if a state
    tried to use an alternate election method such as Approval voting,
    instant runnoff voting, or a Condorcet voting method they would
    not be able to provide a count suitable for use in other states NPV
    * It seems both complicated and fragile from a legal compliance point
    of view. I can easily imagine ‘faithless elector’ problems being
    very significant and messy to resolve.

    • bluebanshee said,

      I live in a Blue state with 100% paper ballots and a post-election audit law.

  2. BTW,

    I have a couple posts about NPV.


  3. Ravi said,

    NPV with or without a compact is just plain wrong. Keep in mind that the US is not a democracy, and definitely NOT a unitary (singular or one-piece) nation. Rather, we are a federation of sovereign,free, and distinct republics which are known as States. The Founders understood that “one size fits all” government simply doesn’t work in a country this large, and especially one with so much regional and geographic differences in the peoples’ views and ideology.

    This is why they decided to give us a Federal government, and not a national/central government. The federal (literally, “of the federation”) government was to act as an agent of the States, and therefore, to serve the people of the US with fairness by treating each State as a sovereign unit of people with a right to pursue their own destiny within the guidelines of the Constitution, rather than live under oppressive and abhorrent laws forced upon them by a national/central government which was elected through majority mob rule (direct democracy).

    Benjamin Franklin aptly referred to direct democracy as “two wolves and a sheep deciding what to eat”, because such a government would reflect the will of the majority and ONLY the majority. On the other hand, government in a federal republic would represent a compromise of ideas between many many ideologies in the union with simply more weight given to the majority. In other words, the Founders knew that direct democracy/NPV cannot coexist with “liberty and justice for all”, because human nature is to have a lynch mob mentality and to do what you believe is right even if it hurts someone else. NPV is the antithesis of fairness.

    This is why they gave us the Electoral College. It preserves the very nature of who we are as a country- a federation of fifty sovereign States- whose people should be free to live life under their own terms, without an oppressive central authority or a president who would represent the frenzied mobs of the dense coastal cities and areas at the expense of rural and Middle America.

    Please realize that the majority (people on the West Coast, Northeast, and large urban centers) tend to hold values that are directly hostile to the values of the minority (people in the Midwest, South, Interior West, and rural areas). Examples of this include their support for gun control/licensing/registration/restriction/oversight, hostility toward organized religion, support of oppressive (to us) pro-environment policies, support of even more centralized power, extreme hostility toward States’ rights and federalism, tolerance of illegal immigration, tolerance of foreign languages, and opposition to capital punishment.

    Obviously these values do not represent ALL people in these two different regions, but I was simply trying to illustrate some of the very key differences here. NPV would make possible the election of a president who heavily represents these values held by many in the coastal and urban areas, while being openly hostile toward traditional Midwestern, Southern, and rural values. In other words, the Electoral College protects the people from having a radical or provincial president even if that person is able to scrape up the majority of votes in the federation as a whole. The EC demands that the presidential candidate gain BROAD support throughout the several States and forces the president to understand that the US is NOT a singular monolithic nation, but is in fact simply an alliance of 50 separate and unique States, each with a unique culture and identity. NPV would basically abolish the States altogether. It would truly be, in the words of James Madison, “tyranny of the majority”.

    If for some reason, the NPV supporters have their way, you can be sure that this country will be divided by region like never before. It would signal the death of the United States as we have known it for 200+ years, and would open the door to a partition movement (eg. Czechoslovakia into Czech Republic and Slovakia). Respect the Constitution! If you want to change it, do it the right way!

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