February 21, 2009
Why I oppose the so-called ‘National Popular Vote’ proposal
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.