Thoughts on the Electoral College, Part I: Voter Eligibility

The Constitution of the United States specifies that the President be selected by electors, not by popular vote.

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress… (Article II, Section 1).

So there is no national uniformity in voter qualification, or in voting methods. Oregon has gone to 100% vote-by-mail. In North Dakota, there is no system of voter registration; voters go to the polls on Election Day, present ID, and vote.

The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature. (Article I, Section 2).

This section specifies eligibility to vote in Congressional elections. Again, determination of eligibility is the responsibility of the states, not the Federal government.

Just for grins, let’s say we adopt a pure popular-vote system for electing the President.

Two things happen immediately:

  • The power to name the President devolves to the states with the highest urban concentrations of voters. Smaller and less-densely populated states lose their voice.
  • States could gain power by subverting Federal immigration law and lowering voter qualification standards. (Not that that would ever happen! </sarc>)

In such a system, a vote becomes a commodity, a currency of power, not a transaction between candidate and voter.

Only the biggest mass communication centers get any attention from candidates.

Power is determined by how efficiently and effectively voters can be motivated to vote and corralled to the polls.

How much attention will the 270,000 registered voters in Wyoming receive? Their vote becomes insignificant.

One flaw in our current system is the attention paid to small-state interests when during presidential primary season. The Renewable Fuels Standard, which mandates the use of corn ethanol, is one manifestations this. I hate the RFS, but use it as an example to demonstrate that under an national popular election, only urban and big-state interests (read: CA, TX, NY, IL, FL) will be served.

The Constitution is a contract, voluntarily entered into by states of varying sizes with varying interests. One of the key compromises was the formation of the Senate, in which each state has an equal voice. Absent that compromise, small states had no incentive to ratify. Thirty-seven states have joined and the population has shifted, but the need for balance and equity among the states is the same as it was in 1789.


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6 Responses to Thoughts on the Electoral College, Part I: Voter Eligibility

  1. Voters in the biggest cities in the US are almost exactly balanced out by rural areas in terms of population and partisan composition.

    16% of the U.S. population lives outside the nation’s Metropolitan Statistical Areas. Rural America has voted 60% Republican. None of the 10 most rural states matter now.

    16% of the U.S. population lives in the top 100 cities. They voted 63% Democratic in 2004.
    The population of the top 50 cities (going as far down as Arlington, TX) is only 15% of the population of the United States.

    The rest of the U.S., in suburbs, divide almost exactly equally between Republicans and Democrats.

  2. With the National Popular Vote bill, when every popular vote counts and matters to the candidates equally, successful candidates will find a middle ground of policies appealing to the wide mainstream of America. Instead of playing mostly to local concerns in Ohio and Florida, candidates finally would have to form broader platforms for broad national support. Elections wouldn’t be about winning a handful of battleground states.

    Fourteen of the 15 smallest states by population are ignored, like medium and big states where the statewide winner is predictable, because they’re not swing states. Small states are safe states. Only New Hampshire gets significant attention.

    Support for a national popular vote has been strong in every smallest state surveyed in polls among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group

    Among the 13 lowest population states, the National Popular Vote bill has passed in 9 state legislative chambers, and been enacted by 4 jurisdictions.

    Now political clout comes from being among the handful of battleground states. 70-80% of states and voters are ignored by presidential campaign polling, organizing, ad spending, and visits. Their states’ votes were conceded months before by the minority parties in the states, taken for granted by the dominant party in the states, and ignored by all parties in presidential campaigns.

    State winner-take-all laws negate any simplistic mathematical equations about the relative power of states based on their number of residents per electoral vote. Small state math means absolutely nothing to presidential campaign polling, organizing, ad spending, and visits, or to presidents once in office.

    In the 25 smallest states in 2008, the Democratic and Republican popular vote was almost tied (9.9 million versus 9.8 million), as was the electoral vote (57 versus 58).

    In 2012, 24 of the nation’s 27 smallest states received no attention at all from presidential campaigns after the conventions. They were ignored despite their supposed numerical advantage in the Electoral College. In fact, the 8.6 million eligible voters in Ohio received more campaign ads and campaign visits from the major party campaigns than the 42 million eligible voters in those 27 smallest states combined.

    The 12 smallest states are totally ignored in presidential elections. These states are not ignored because they are small, but because they are not closely divided “battleground” states.

    Now with state-by-state winner-take-all laws (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later enacted by 48 states), presidential elections ignore 12 of the 13 lowest population states (3-4 electoral votes), that are non-competitive in presidential elections. 6 regularly vote Republican (AK, ID, MT, WY, ND, and SD), and 6 regularly vote Democratic (RI, DE, HI, VT, ME, and DC) in presidential elections.

    Similarly, the 25 smallest states have been almost equally noncompetitive. They voted Republican or Democratic 12-13 in 2008 and 2012.

    Voters in states, of all sizes, that are reliably red or blue don’t matter. Candidates ignore those states and the issues they care about most.

  3. The National Popular Vote bill is 64% of the way to guaranteeing the majority of Electoral College votes and the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the country, by changing state winner-take-all laws (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later enacted by 48 states), without changing anything in the Constitution, using the built-in method that the Constitution provides for states to make changes.

    It simply requires enacting states with 270 electoral votes to award them according to the nationwide, rather than the statewide, popular vote.

    All voters would be valued equally in presidential elections, no matter where they live.
    Candidates, as in other elections, would allocate their time, money, polling, organizing, and ad buys roughly in proportion to the population

    Every vote, everywhere, for every candidate, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election.
    No more distorting, crude, and divisive and red and blue state maps of predictable outcomes, that don’t represent any minority party voters within each state.
    No more handful of ‘battleground’ states (where the two major political parties happen to have similar levels of support) where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in 38+ predictable winner states that have just been ‘spectators’ and ignored after the conventions.
    We can limit the power and influence of a few battleground states in order to better serve our nation.

    The bill would take effect when enacted by states with a majority of the electoral votes—270 of 538.
    All of the presidential electors from the enacting states will be supporters of the presidential candidate receiving the most popular votes among all 50 states (and DC)—thereby guaranteeing that candidate with an Electoral College majority.

    The bill was approved in 2016 by a unanimous bipartisan House committee vote in both Georgia (16 electoral votes) and Missouri (10).
    Since 2006, the bill has passed 36 state legislative chambers in 23 rural, small, medium, large, red, blue, and purple states with 261 electoral votes.
    The bill has been enacted by 12 small, medium, and large jurisdictions with 172 electoral votes – 64% of the way to guaranteeing the presidency to the candidate with the most popular votes in the country


  4. Presidential elections won by the candidate with the most national popular votes, would motivate national parties to put pressure on every election board to make sure every ELIGIBLE voter has the opportunity to vote.

    Federal law prohibits aliens from voting for President. 18 United States Code section 611 states:
    “It shall be unlawful for any alien to vote in any election held solely or in part for the purpose of electing a candidate for the office of President, Vice President, Presidential elector, Member of the Senate, Member of the House of Representatives …”

    Tom Tancredo (R-CO) supports the National Popular Vote bill – “it is harder to mobilize massive voter fraud on the national level without getting caught, than it is to do so in a few key states . . . The National Popular Vote make [voter fraud] a smaller [problem].”

    Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution mandates the U.S. Census count every resident in the United States.

    The current system gives “illegal immigrants” a 10 vote advantage in the Electoral College for the Democrats…because they tend to live in safe Democratic states.

    An election for President based on the nationwide popular vote would eliminate the Democrat’s advantage in Electoral College members arising from the uneven distribution of non-citizens.

  5. A successful nationwide presidential campaign of polling, organizing, ad spending, and visits, with every voter equal, would be run the way presidential candidates campaign to win the electoral votes of closely divided battleground states, such as Ohio and Florida, under the state-by-state winner-take-all methods. The big cities in those battleground states do not receive all the attention, much less control the outcome. Cleveland and Miami do not receive all the attention or control the outcome in Ohio and Florida. In the 4 states that accounted for over two-thirds of all general-election activity in the 2012 presidential election, rural areas, suburbs, exurbs, and cities all received attention—roughly in proportion to their population.

    The itineraries of presidential candidates in battleground states (and their allocation of other campaign resources in battleground states, including polling, organizing, and ad spending) reflect the political reality that every gubernatorial or senatorial candidate knows. When and where every voter is equal, a campaign must be run everywhere.

    With National Popular Vote, when every voter is equal, everywhere, it makes sense for presidential candidates to try and elevate their votes where they are and aren’t so well liked. But, under the state-by-state winner-take-all laws, it makes no sense for a Democrat to try and do that in Vermont or Wyoming, or for a Republican to try it in Wyoming or Vermont.

    The main media at the moment, TV, costs much more per impression in big cities than in smaller towns and rural area. Candidates get more bang for the buck in smaller towns and rural areas.

  6. Because of state-by-state winner-take-all laws, not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution. . .

    Policies important to the citizens of the 38 non-battleground states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.

    The National Popular Vote system addresses the core threat of parochialism in presidential elections.

    “Battleground” states receive 7% more presidentially controlled grants than “spectator” states, twice as many presidential disaster declarations, more Superfund enforcement exemptions, and more No Child Left Behind law exemptions.

    Compare the response to hurricane Katrina (in Louisiana, a “safe” state) to the federal response to hurricanes in Florida (a “swing” state) under Presidents of both parties. President Obama took more interest in the BP oil spill, once it reached Florida’s shores, after it had first reached Louisiana. Some pandering policy examples include ethanol subsidies, steel tariffs, and Medicare Part D. Policies not given priority, include those most important to non-battleground states – like water issues in the west.

    The interests of battleground states shape innumerable government policies, including, for example, steel quotas imposed by the free-trade president, George W. Bush, and the Trump steel and aluminum tariffs now, from the free-trade party.

    Electoral math drives protectionist trade policies to favor parochial interests in battleground states.
    The root cause of the current trade war is the state-based winner take all system.
    “Trump’s Tariff Is a Gift to Swing States” – Bloomberg – 3/20/18
    And conversely, Trump’s trade war, with China targeting red states, could hurt the very voters who put him in the White House.

    As trade and other tensions increase with foreign countries, U.S. foes and trading partners can micro-target their efforts against us. They’re certainly going to target major U.S. exports like soybeans and pork and investments, and many of those are in areas like the Farm Belt. The agriculture community is concerned about it. There are other possible easily identified targets as well.
    European Union officials quickly crafted possible retaliatory tariffs against American goods, using strategies using their knowledge of the effects of state winner take all laws for awarding electoral votes.

    The current state-based winner-take-all system allows foreign governments to weaponize protectionism against the battleground states and encourages presidents to start trade wars in order to win parochial voters in a handful of battleground states.

    Facing fierce opposition by Democratic and Republican governors in all coastal states, after the Trump administration announced the opening of offshore oil drilling, only battleground state Florida has been exempted.

    Parochial local considerations of battleground states preoccupy presidential candidates as well as sitting Presidents (contemplating their own reelection or the ascension of their preferred successor).

    Even travel by sitting Presidents and Cabinet members in non-election years has been skewed to battleground states

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