Some quarters of the conservative blogosphere are all atwitter because of something called the Electoral College Compact. Dick Morris, for example, has been very vocal of late ostensibly because Governor Andrew Coumo of New York recently enacted legislation whereby that state signed onto the compact. Briefly, this compact would be an agreement among signatory states to award their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. In the case of New York, for example, assume the voters of that state gave the majority of their votes to Barack Obama. If Mitt Romney had won the national popular vote in 2012, then under the compact New York would have been bound to give their 29 electoral votes to Mitt Romney. And the same would be true of all states signing onto the compact. However, the compact would not go into effect until enough states with 270 electoral votes- the number needed to win the presidency- sign onto it. New York makes the tenth state along with DC to officially sign onto the compact thus far. Collectively, they represent 165 potential electoral votes thus making them 105 short of their goal for implementation.
First, let’s look at the reality of this compact becoming effective. Some big electoral vote states have signed on- California, New York and Illinois being the biggest three. In nine other states, the compact has been approved by at least one house of their legislature- Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut,Delaware, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina and Oregon. If we assume- for the sake of argument- that all these states approve of the measure, they collectively represent 74 electoral votes, bringing the total to 239- still 31 short of implementation. That is the outlying possibility. The reality is that only Connecticut and their 7 electoral votes are a possibility any time soon.
Also, one has to look at the states involved in this group- all blue except possibly Arkansas and North Carolina. Now, there is also pending legislation in five other states- Oklahoma, Nebraska, Minnesota, Arizona and Pennsylvania. Starting at the established current 165 electoral votes already signed on, even if these blue states readily agree plus dragging along Colorado and Arizona (but not Arkansas, Nebraska, or Oklahoma), they would still be 11 electoral votes short for implementation. Thus, it becomes obvious that this is not happening any time soon and even if it does become a reality, it will require a major shifting in political alignments nationally where the swing states tip blue since it is the blue states at the forefront of this effort.
So, let us just assume they get to their 270-vote goal for implementation. Most conservatives realize this effort for what it is- an end-around the Electoral College because since the Progressive Era, the Left has been against this method of choosing our president. To them, if a candidate receives 50.00001 % of the popular vote, to hell with the other 49.99999% (unless it is them!). It is why they do not understand concepts like “the tyranny of the majority” or the concept of “liberty” in general.
From a practical standpoint, since 1900 there has been only one instance of anyone winning the electoral vote count but losing the popular vote nationally- George W. Bush’s victory in 2000. And that is the crux of their problem with the Electoral College. The Left has not gotten over the fact that Bush won in 2000 and they feel cheated so the next best thing besides demonizing the Bush victory is to change the rules. The compact is the best idea they can proffer because they realize the chances of a constitutional amendment to change the method would likely not pass. Instead of moving on (that is, “progressing”), they are still trying to settle a 14-year-old score.
However, if 50% is the standard we are to use for determining presidential legitimacy, Bush was certainly not the first since 1900. There was Woodrow Wilson in 1912 and 1916 where Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Party in 1912 and the Socialist Party in 1916 prevented Wilson from hitting 50%. In 1948, Truman won with less than 50% as did Nixon in 1968 due to George Wallace’s candidacy. And Ross Perot twice prevented Bill Clinton from hitting 50%. Then there is the close 1960 race between Nixon and Kennedy decided by about 100,000 votes nationally. If ever there was a case for a recount, 1960 was the year!
If this compact was in effect since the 1960 elections, which outcomes would have been affected? Starting in 1960, Kennedy won with 303 electoral votes to Nixon’s 219. Under the compact, the votes of six states would have shifted to Nixon (DC had no electoral votes then) totaling 60 votes. Thus Nixon would have defeated Kennedy 279-243 in the electoral vote count.
The next year affected would have been 1968 where Nixon won 301-191. But, under the compact a whopping 155 votes in 11 jurisdictions would have switched and we would have had President Humphrey then. In 1976, Jimmy Carter would have lost to Gerald Ford 400-137 instead of winning 297-240. And Bush would have lost in 2000 by a 300-237 margin instead of winning 271-266 (even with Florida’s votes in the Bush column). Of course, it would be academic, but Bush would have also lost in 2004 to John Kerry by 33 electoral votes instead of winning by 35 votes. While the Left is pushing this initiative, there are apparent pitfalls for them also. Of the five elections whose outcomes would have been different under this scenario, three benefit the Democrats and two benefit the GOP. Of course, history would have been rewritten as there would have been no JFK (although he could have run in 1964) and likely no Richard Nixon (since his third attempt would have been 1972). And although the country may have been much better off without a President Carter, that would be counterbalanced by a President Gore in 2000. And can anyone really, without possibly vomiting, envision a President John Kerry?
Naturally, the brain trust on the Left fails to realize that there are population shifts in the country which is why we take a census every ten years. Of the ten states that are currently signatories to the compact, four LOST electoral votes from 2000 to 2010- New York, Illinois, Massachusetts and New Jersey. Only one- Washington- gained any electoral votes. If current estimates are any indication, both Illinois and New York on track to lose electoral votes come the 2020 census. Likewise, two states considered the best bet to possibly sign on by 2020- Michigan and Pennsylvania- are also on track to lose electoral votes after the 2020 census unless current trends reverse. Hence, what if these states that sign on collectively in the future fall below that 270-vote threshold? Do they then “de-implement” the agreement?
The purpose of the Electoral College was to protect against certain large population states dictating to the remaining states who the President shall be. That is, a coalition of smaller population states can counter the large population states. A rural, agrarian state can counter an urban, industrialized state. It is called federalism, something the Left disdains and cannot quite grasp.
The Left is also big these days in ranting against voter ID laws claiming that they disenfranchise voters, although this writer has commented extensively in the past that these assertions are hogwash! But, looking at the 2000 election and if this compact was hypothetically in effect, the votes of 3,884,918 people in Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona,and North Carolina would have been basically negated because Bush lost the popular vote nationally by 547,398 votes. Because of that half-million vote difference, the votes of almost 4 million voters would have been essentially voided and what is more disenfranchising than that? Put another way, simply killing it in one or two big population states can easily overcome 5-6 states other states in terms of the popular vote. Do we really want New York, California, Illinois, and New Jersey dictating the president?
And,quite frankly,Republican meddling is no better. There was an effort by some Republican controlled states to adopt an electoral vote allocation among presidential candidates according to congressional district. Under this scenario, in a state like New York with 29 votes, assume Obama won 22 districts and Romney won 5 while Obama took the state as a whole. Under this scenario, Obama would receive 24 electoral votes (22 districts plus 2 for the state) and Romney would get 5. In fact, Maine and Nebraska, two small population states, use this system for a total of 9 potential electoral votes. While the Left’s compact proposal would widen the playing field since one would be chasing the overall popular vote, the other proposal would result in a micromanaged, almost district-by-district campaign. Of course, some districts would just be lost causes to each party and ignored. But even this is bad since instead of focusing a campaign on a handful of states with issues that interested all (thus, national since the President is a national, not local leader), it would be focused on a handful of congressional districts where more parochial, local interests would become campaign fodder for a presidential candidate. Admittedly, when the dust clears and all the analysis is completed and put on a map of the US showing the presidential vote by congressional district after an election, there definitely is a lot of red on that map. Now! But just as the number of electoral votes can change from census to census, congressional district boundary lines most definitely change every ten years.
In the end, it is best to just leave alone a system which has worked extremely well for over 200 years. Although certainly misunderstood, the reasons to leave well enough alone far outweigh the suggestions to improve or abolish the Electoral College. The fact is that since the Progressive Era’s political reform movements onward, attempts to reform or abolish the Electoral College play nicely- as a slogan- into their mantra of reform. We are seeing and hearing today the same arguments heard at the tail end of the 19th century. For a group that is supposedly “progressive,” they sure have not progressed too far.
From the more important practical standpoint,despite the high profile addition of New York to the list of signatories, the Left has succeeded in a state where if they had not, then they would have to concede impotence. This “progressive” reform will succeed in the liberal strongholds like New York and California and may likely drag along some surprise states like Nevada or Pennsylvania. But, they are further away from their 270 goal than they are close. Dick Morris can fret about this initiative,but realism dictates no need for worry. And that is why it is vitally important that readers be involved in their state legislative elections since this where these decisions will be made.