The Case for a National Popular Vote
Is it time for the US to graduate from the Electoral College to a national popular vote plan? David Sirota makes a strong case in an article for Salon:
With all eyes trained on Iowa and New Hampshire as their decisive presidential nominating contests approach, the question once again is upon us: Why should these two states have such disproportionate sway over American politics? This is a particularly pressing question right now because our increasingly multiethnic, urbanized nation looks less and less like these two small, super-white, largely rural, comparatively older enclaves. In effect, the system promotes a form of generational tyranny whereby a disappearing mid-20th-century model of America continues to wield disproportionate power over today’s 21st century America.
Unfortunately, this problem doesn’t get much better in the general election. Thanks to the undemocratic Electoral College, presidential elections take place in a few big swing states, but nowhere else. ….
Taken together, the system undermines the most basic notion of republican democracy: the idea that every voter gets equal representation in our national government. In American presidential races, it’s the opposite. Between the nominating process and general election, we have effectively denationalized our most important national election, allowing a tiny handful of voters to choose who represents all of us in the White House. For no substantive or defensible reason, these voters get this undemocratic, anti-republican power not because they are inherently more important, valuable, or demographically representative citizens (in fact, they are often less representative), but simply because they happen to live within a specific state whose nominating contests come early (New Hampshire/Iowa) or whose general elections tend to be narrowly won and lost.
Sirota’s article also debunks five myths about the national popular vote:
1. “The national popular vote plan is unconstitutional.”
Some states award their electors proportionally while some give all their electors to the winner in their state. All the national popular vote plan does is use the very same constitutional power to give a state’s electors to the winner of the national popular vote.
2. “The national popular vote plan would undermine federalism.”
Thankfully, the Founders — who were highly protective of federalist power — made sure to constitutionally prevent this kind of my-way-or-the-highway authoritarianism. In Article 2, they wisely guaranteed that if a state believes it’s important to give its electors to the national popular vote winner, that state has the clear constitutional authority to do so.
3. “The national popular vote plan will allow New York City and Los Angeles to dominate presidential elections.”
The problem with the argument (beyond its racist tenor) is that it makes no sense. All the national popular vote idea does is make all votes equal, regardless of their geography.
4. “The national popular vote plan violates the idea of republican democracy.”
The dictionary definition of a republic — which many national popular vote opponents clearly forgot to look up — is “a state in which the supreme power rests in the body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives chosen directly or indirectly by them.” A national popular vote falls well within that definition by directly electing America’s representative in the White House.
5. “The national popular vote plan is a liberal plot designed to help Barack Obama.”
It’s hard to believe that anyone actually subscribes to the Secret Obama Plot delusion, but as the wave of email I got this weekend proves, this fantastical form of paranoia is definitely out there — and growing. In this crazed mythology, since polls show Obama is facing a tough road in the big swing states most valued by the Electoral College system, liberals are trying to rescue him by — gasp! — making sure the president is the candidate who wins the most votes in America.
Read “The case for a national popular vote” (David Sirota, Salon.com, 12/19/11) »