Rational reasons against the National Popular Vote

CTNewsJunkie hosted dueling op-eds for and against the National Popular Vote Compact:  Procedural Problems Plague National Popular Vote Compact Bill <Jason Paul against> <Andrea Levien against>

Jason echoes some of the same concerns we have expressed in our earlier op-ed at CTNewsJunkie and our testimony to the General Assembly.

Unfortunately, too much of the discussion and debate has revolved around the normative question: Would it be better to have a national popular vote or an Electoral College process? This is an interesting discussion and I am honestly quite torn on the question. From a normative perspective, I would probably pick the National Popular Vote.

Too many people are answering the normative question, however, and then ending the inquiry. When it comes to this bill that simply cannot be where the discussion stops. The practicalities and the details of running elections matter immensely. Shortcuts are problematic.

Under the current system, the Presidential election is decided based on the outcomes in 56 districts (50 states, plus D.C. and five congressional districts in two states that give a vote to the winner of their Congressional districts). These are all separate election contests, administered by 51 different state bodies (the 50 states, plus D.C.] Each of these 51 bodies has different rules, different guidelines, and different standards. This is fine because each body’s rules only affect the result in its own state or district. Federal laws cover the most egregious potential voting abuses; beyond that, states administer their own elections. That would change if we adopted a National Popular Vote Compact. Instead of giving them control of their own territory, these 51 different bodies would have a degree of control over the entire election system. This poses serious problems.

Here’s one example. A national recount could be a nightmare under any system. Consider that for the 2012 election, revised vote totals were still coming in all the way into February 2013, with new votes in the tens of thousands and the margin of victory changing by the thousands. The margins were large enough that each state was able to declare a winner in time for the electoral college. The late tallies didn’t matter to the outcome — this time. Under the National Popular Vote Compact, the problems would be even worse, and potentially unresolvable.

Currently, in case of a very close election in a state, there is a well-established procedure for conducting a recount according to that state’s rules. Under the compact, because there is no national system, there is no mechanism for conducting a nationwide recount. What is worse, there is no way to force states to participate in a national recount. Because the compact need only be among states with a total of more than 270 electoral votes and not all states, there will be some states that will quite rightfully take the position that they are still in the old system of 51 differing bodies. They will feel no obligation to even consider the impact of the new system. The compact-participating states won’t be able to do anything about it. States can’t force each other to do things. This would make it incredibly difficult to even have a nationwide recount.

If we are going to go from one system (sum of state outcomes) to another, (national popular vote), we need to have an understanding of how the procedural problems will be worked out. Otherwise, it is easy to conceive of a nearly endless number of problems, which would mean lots of trips to court. I would contend it is bad for elections to be decided in court. It might be possible to work out these problems under a compact system, but right now, I do not think they are even reasonably addressed. Until it is possible to answer basic questions — such as how to conduct a national recount — the idea is too flawed to implement. We should not chose the normative value over practical considerations, because it puts the credibility of our electoral system at risk. The proponents need to work out the bugs.

Paul provides a very articulate description of the problems. In the 1st comment on the op-ed we have extended his concerns with a summary our op-ed and testimony.

Jason Paul joins a group of distinguished, prominent, and thoughtful democrats who have warned of the risks of the Compact: Former Wesleyan Professor and U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, Former State University Chancellor William Cibes, and Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie. Jason Paul is a “Connecticut Democratic political operative from West Hartford and a University of Connecticut Law School student.”

Andrea Levien is a “Researh Fellow at FairVote”, one of the well-financed national groups working toward the National Popular Vote agreement. Her arguments seem to have more to do with money than voting integrity. While these are among many considerations, to us, they do not stack up against the added risks of a national popular vote without a uniform trusted national election system.

I have lived and voted in three cities since I turned 18: New Haven, New York City, and Washington, D.C.

While I have been extremely proud to call each of these unique cities my home, they all have one big disadvantage for a young voter who cares about presidential politics: none of these cities are located in swing states, the only states that ever receive any attention in presidential elections.

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney spent 99.6 percent of their television advertising money in the general election targeting voters in just 10 states, including the usual focus on Ohio and Florida. Neither candidate held a single campaign event outside those 10 states after the party conventions. The 2008 election wasn’t much different, with only a few more states receiving any attention at all.

I am not so sure that any Connecticut voter would be more informed by a candidate rally or visit to Bridgeport than a similar rally reported from Philadelphia. It would be great for the media moguls out of state who would get the bulk of profits from advertising in the Courant or on Comcast.

Levien also points to a study by a Ph.D.  candidate which demonstrates that Presidential administrations distribute grants based on political considerations <read>. We certainly do not dispute that. Yet, the national popular vote would be a deck chair move in return for a ticket on the Titanic. It would change the distribution criteria based on alternative political considerations from swing states to areas that would be considered ripe for raising or decreasing votes for and against candidates.

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3 responses to “Rational reasons against the National Popular Vote”

  1. Baron

    There’s a problem with this objection to the NPV compact. Specifically…what national recount is the author talking about? NPV does not provide for, nor does it need to provide for, a national popular vote recount. States which have close elections will follow whatever procedures their laws call for to recount the votes cast in their domains. The NPV will tabulate the EC votes and members of the compact will cast their EC votes as agreed.

    But, you might ask…what if the popular vote nationwide is razor thin…say a few hundred thousand votes as in 1960?

    The answer to that question is…”Yeah…and what national popular vote recount took place THEN?” Put another way, why does NPV have to address all of the ills of our current system? NPV didn’t create them. Why dos it have to cure them?

    Install NPV first and elect the president by popular vote, which is supported by an overwhelming majority of American voters. THEN we can look to establishing uniform voting procedures.

  2. Baron

    All due respect, but you’ve just restated the position without addressing my observations. We don’t have a national popular vote recount procedure now under the current EC implementation. That doesn’t seem to trouble opponents of the NPV compact, apparently because EC votes are determined for the most part by a winner take all allocation on a state by state basis. But precisely those state by state tallies will be used to determine the popular vote victor, whether the individual state margins were large, small…recounted in any given state or not. All the compact does is perform a final tally of the popular vote totals submitted by the individual states however they may calculate those totals. So this argument against the NPV is, in my view, a red herring. Furthermore, it is often made with the very strong, and deceitful, implication that a national recount WILL occur if the totals are close. That is certainly not the case, and I commend you for acknowledging that.

    Going a bit further, I would submit that the NPV methodology will help to resolve a glaring defector the EC system as currently implemented. Consider Ohio in 2004. Both camps understood that the election result hinged largely on how Ohio would go. But only one side had the advantage of controlling the electoral processes within that state. And that’s exactly what they did, perpetrating what amounted to widespread electoral fraud. Why? Because by doing so they could swing an entire election by causing a shift of roughly 4% of the total EC votes from one side to the other. Could they have shifted 4% of the national popular vote? No.

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