Here in Massachusetts, a poll taken just last week showed 72% support among likely voters — 86% among registered Democrats, 68% among unenrolleds, and 54% among Republicans.
Although Natioanl Popular Vote doesn’t necessarily help one party or the other, the Republicans in Massachusetts are strangely exercised about it. In other states, the proposal has been winning 30-40% support in the Republican caucus, but I will be surprised if we get a single Republican vote here. (Here’s a copy of last session’s roll call in the House — it passed in the Senate, as well, and the only reason it’s not law is the clock ran out before a final procedural vote on the last day of the session though Republican threats of a filibuster helped, too.)
Yet, as the 2000 and 2004 elections demonstrate, this is really not a partisan issue. While few can forget that Bush won the election after loosing by half a million votes in 2000, they fail to appreciate that Kerry came very close to winning in 2004 with a more considerable 3.5 million vote deficit. In fact, we’ve narrowly missed the ‘wrong winner’ in 5 of the last 12 elections. Because you can’t split electors into fractions, the congressional district solution, or proporational allocation by state, yeilds the same bad result. Additionally, many gerrymandered districts are solidly safe and you would see the same lackadaisical contest you see in ‘safe’ states today.
Katherine Harris is another reason to support National Popular Vote — when an election rides on a few hundered votes (or a few thousand, which as is more frequently the case) there is a tremendous incentive to play with the rules, or commit fraud, in order to alter the result.
Think of it this way — with the Electoral College, a margin of, say, 500 votes can result in 27 electoral votes in Florida, and about 10% of the total needed to win. Under a popular vote, 500 votes is exactly that — 500 votes and less than 0.0005% of the votes needed to win. Not even a drop in the bucket. And certainly not worth the risks.
But the real reason to support National Popular Vote is the bizarre way the system affects campaigning and governing. Candidates really only bother with the battleground states. Activists at Blue Mass and elsewhere didn’t call voters in state to persuade them to vote for Obama — they called folks in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Virginia, or went up to New Hampshire. Obama and McCain spent 98% of their ad money in just 15 states. States that 65% of us don’t live in. Even now, the vast majority of Obama’s travel is to swing states.
President Bush’s press secretary, Ari Fleisher, recently defended Obama’s travel schedule in the Washington Post saying “If people don’t like it, they can move from a safe state to a swing state and see their President more.” How crazy is that? Voters in Massachusetts should see their President just as frequently as the voters in swing states. National Popular Vote would make it so that each voter, regardless of where he or she lives, will be considered equally valuable at the height of Presidential campaign season — and after.
But there’s more at stake than whether or not Obama pays us a visit every now and again. According to a recent study by BU professor Andrew Reeves, “… a highly competitive state can expect to receive twice as many Presidential disaster declarations than an uncompetitive state, holding all else constant including the damage caused by the disaster…I find that these decisions have the intended electoral benefits — voters react and reward Presidents for Presidential disaster declarations. A President can expect a 1.7% increase in a statewide contest in return for a single Presidential disaster declaration.”
It is easy to think of far-fetched scenarios in an attempt to discredit this proposal, but there are good answers to all of them, not to mention most of these are possible — if not to a worse extent — under the current system.
One common objection is that Massachusetts would cast its electoral votes for the national popular vote winner instead of the winner in our state. Yes, that’s not only true but it’s precisely the point of the whole thing. One country, voting together, everyone on an equal footing. The Electoral College stays in place, but as a rubber stamp for the popular vote in all 50 states. And we will still have bragging rights if our state goes the other way. But we will also be relevant, and our voters will be courted, driven to the polls, and we will benefit from all the other trappings of a real campaign. We’ll have candidate visits, rallies, and those pesky ads (yeah, I know not necessarily a plus, except for the local broadcasters). And no more driving to New Hampshire for politicking except during primary season.We will also see our Presidents more once they’re in office. Our concerns will matter more. And hopefully, more people will realize that all elections — from the top all the way down — really do matter.
Thanks for discussing this issue. As you can tell, I think it’s really important. Please call your state representative and ask him or her to pass this critical reform. And I’ll be back with an update later.