Fixing the Transcript for DemocracyNow: “Fixing” the Electoral College

I am a fan of DemocracyNow. Yet, like all media they are not exempt from their own biases and blinders. In a segment last week they editorialized on, interviewed New Yorkers, and representatives of FairVote, on the occasion of New York joining the National Popular Vote Compact/Agreement: Fixing the Electoral College: New York Joins Pact to Elect President by Popular Vote <read>

Unfortunately, their transcript needs at least as much fixing as our current election system.  As CTVotersCount readers know, we oppose the Compact because it would make a risky system, much riskier, without providing the claimed benefits.  We understand the attraction to many, like nuclear power, fracking, GMOs, and Touch Screen Voting, the national popular vote would seem to be beneficial, yet like those other ideas it has largely unrecognized and unappreciated consequences. For details and background, refer to our recent testimony to the Connecticut Legislature or review our index of past NPV posts..

As a service to our readers, we here provide some annotations to the DemocracyNow transcript, showing where we disagree with the interviewees, and some of the biased comments of the reporters. Our comments are in {maroon, with curly brackets and italics} .


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: New York has become the latest state to join an agreement that would transform the way we elect the president of the United States. Under the compact for a national popular vote, states across the country have pledged to award their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the nationwide popular vote. If enough states sign on, it would guarantee the presidency goes to the candidate who wins the most votes across the country.{Not so. Gamesmanship like FL 2000 could easily cause the system to fail. Also there is no official popular vote number to use to determine the winner under the Compact} It would prevent scenarios like what happened in 2000, when Al Gore won the popular vote but still lost the election to George W. Bush. {Al Gore also apparently won FL by the newspaper recount of all votes in the state, demonstrating under a fair count, Gore would have won FL under the Electoral College in 2000}

AMY GOODMAN: The compact will kick in only when enough states have signed on to reach a threshold of 270 electoral votes. This week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo brought the campaign a step closer, adding New York’s 29 electoral votes to those already pledged by nine other states, including California, Illinois, Massachusetts and by Washington, D.C. In a statement, Governor Cuomo said, quote, “By aligning the Electoral College with the voice of the nation’s voters, we are ensuring the equality of votes {Yes, votes, if counted accurately would be equal, but that is misleading since citizens would not be equal, since there is not an equal national franchise and different levels of ease of voting and suppression across states} and encouraging candidates to appeal to voters in all states, instead of disproportionately focusing on early contests {sorry Gov, the Compact has nothing to do with primaries} and swing [states].” New York State Senator Joseph Griffo, a Republican, sponsored the bill.

STATE SEN. JOSEPH Gur RIFFO: Potential presidential candidates concentrate more than two-thirds of their advertising budget and two-thirds of their campaign stops in just five states. Almost 100 percent of their message is seen in approximately 16 battleground states. New York has 19.5 million people, but we’re routinely ignored by campaigns. I want to empower people. I want to make New York state relevant in a national campaign again. I want democracy that creates excitement in people, not apathy. Joining the National Popular Vote compact creates that opportunity. It leverages the combined power of the states in a compact to say, “No longer can you take us for granted. No longer can you effectively disenfranchise million of Americans by ignoring us {Do your really feel disenfranchised Gov? Did you vote for President last time? Did you tell New Yorkers not to waste their time?}. No longer can you assume that you have our vote.”
{Readers, think for yourselves:

  1. How many votes would have changed if Obama and Romney had visited Connecticut and spoke to a few thousand voters each, giving the same talking points as they did in other states, and you  watched them on Local news, in addition to National news?
  2. Do voters want more 30sec ads to help them decide who to vote for?
  3. Have you ever visited a swing state or early primary state? The voters there would tell you they do not want more ads and phone calls to help them choose a candidate.

Ask yourself who benefits by this? Most of the money would go to media moguls, not in your state.}

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the campaign for a national popular vote, we’re joined now by Hendrik Hertzberg, staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. He has been writing in support of the national popular vote since 2006, serves on the board of the electoral reform organization FairVote. {Another ”journalist” who shows his bias serving on a board advocating for the NPV.}

Rick, welcome to Democracy Now!Talk about the significance of New York joining on, but also what the national popular vote is.

HENDRIK HERTZBERG: Well, it’s an important step psychologically, because now the threshold, instead of being 50 percent of the way to the threshold, we’re 61 percent of the way. So every little bit—every little bit helps. And, of course, New York is the media capital. Things don’t really happen in the brain of the media until they happen in New York. {Wow quite a statement, for someone advocating for a group that contends that New Yorkers are left out. Maybe that is why so many New York Republicans voted for the bill, considering it is the center of the media businesses which would be the chief beneficiaries, if the Compact’s advocates are correct in their assumptions of how campaigns would change.} So even though California, New Jersey, state of Washington—even though all these other states have already signed on, it’s only now starting to raise to the level of some sort of public attention. And most people don’t even know this is going on, and that includes people who are extremely well informed—don’t even—have never even heard of this, don’t realize that we’re halfway—more than halfway to solving one of the central problems of our Constitution, which is the—this Electoral College setup. {And unfortunately, the public does not understand the unanticipated consequences, with one-sided media coverage in favor of the Compact.} And the problem with the setup is not the Electoral College itself. The problem is the winner-take-all by state. That’s what creates all the anomalies. {Does anyone here see problems with voting rights inequality? Voter suppression? Campaign spending? Citizen’s United? The Media complex? Apparently not today.}

And what the National Popular Vote plan does is, by a whole bunch of states getting together to award their electors to whoever wins in all 50 states, as soon as that happens, well, then it doesn’t matter what state you live in: {Once again there is no equal franchise, state to state}. Your vote is just as much equal to go after, to campaign for. It means that, for instance, in New York, where it’s pointless to do—to do doorbell ringing, to have a coffee collection, invite your neighbors in—what difference does it make? Everybody knows which way New York is going. {Usually so in most states, but their votes count and contribute their fair share in determining the winner} But if every vote, if a vote in New York is worth the same as a vote in Ohio or Pennsylvania, you get a—that really is transformational. Even more than preventing a wrong winner is that you get grassroots politics happening in every corner of the country. {And you then get incentive for suppression and manipulation everywhere too.} And if you’re worried about political corruption, if you’re worried about campaign finance, for example, what this would do is, all those billions raised for campaigns, instead of being funneled into a handful of states, they would have to be spread out across the whole country, so their relative impact would be much less. This is an extraordinary reform. {That is an extraordinary claim, that by providing more opportunity for more money to make more of a difference, you are reducing the influence of that money? How many of the advocates for the Compact agree that Citizens United is bad for Democracy? I suspect the vast majority, yet increased influence of money is twisted to be a benefit when it comes to the Compact.}

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, what allows a group of states to be able to come together and reach a compact like this? Wouldn’t a constitutional amendment be needed for this? Explain the legality of it.

HENDRIK HERTZBERG: Well, this is based on two things in the Constitution. One is what you just mentioned, interstate compacts. There are hundreds of them. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, maybe not the best example lately, but that is an example of an interstate compact. It’s in the Constitution. The other part is that the only thing in the Constitution about electing the president is basically a one-liner that says each state shall appoint a number of electors in such manner as the Legislature thereof may determine. That’s all it says. Everything else is left to—is left to the states to figure out. And the winner-take-all notion, that’s a—that’s something that came in 20, 30 years after the Constitution was written. And it’s because a party that controls the state Legislature isn’t going to say, if given the choice between keeping all those electors for themselves or giving, you know, some portion of them to the opposition, of course they’re going to do it this way. {I am not a Constitutional lawyer. I am not a lawyer. Yet, I would agree the Compact is likely Constitutional, yet it may well be challenged to the Supreme Court. And based on the precedents of past elections, and the rules of the Electoral College, it is quite likely that the Supreme Court would be “forced” to choose the President under those challenges. See our testimony for a discussion of the 12th Amendment and the Electoral Count Act and the Compact’s likely effects.}

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democratic New York State Senator Michael Gianaris, who is among those who oppose joining the compact for a national popular vote.

STATE SEN. MICHAEL GIANARIS: The current system allots Electoral College votes based on a state’s population, whereas a system such as the National Popular Vote will do so based on voter turnout in a presidential election, which means states that have a high number of unregistered residents would not be counted as much, or states that have low voter turnout would not be counted as much as they are under the current system. There’s also a myriad of other issues related to those that have wealth being able to saturate a big city media market to affect the outcome more than they currently do, which is already too much, as well as the possibility for some states that are unhappy with the results, potentially between Election Day and the Electoral College vote, changing their state laws to pull back out of a compact like this, which would throw the whole system into chaos. {We generally oppose the Compact for other reasons, the increased risks to the system. We do not reject these arguments out of hand. Unfortunately, the strongest arguments against the Compact are not getting a fair hearing}

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Democratic New York State Senator Michael Gianaris. Now, interesting, he’s Democrat, and the person we played for the national popular vote was a Republican. But can you answer his points? {Interesting because, in our opinion in general, Democrats are for it for the wrong reasons, and Republicans are against it for the wrong reasons. Both think their party would benefit from their positions.}

HENDRIK HERTZBERG: He’s wrong on every single one of them. You cannot withdraw from the state—interstate compact for 90 days before an election. That’s part of the deal. That’s part of the contract that you make.

The notion that—as far as turnout is concerned, right now there’s a sort of a five-to-10-point difference in the turnout between battleground states and spectator states. So when you have a nationwide vote, you’re going to see—yes, you’re going to see turnout increase, but don’t say it like it’s a bad thing.

He mentions that the Electoral College is based on—is not based on how many people vote; it’s based on population. And that’s one of—that’s sort of the original sin of the Electoral College, because the reason it’s based on population is so that the three-fifths of the slaves could be counted to give the slave owners more representation. It imports—the Electoral College mechanism imports that right—which is in the Senate and the House, right into this choice of the presidency. Now, that part of it’s gone now, but that is the original sin. {There are a lot of things in our history which are regrettable, but tying the Electoral College to slavery, is close to playing the  Hitler card on other issues. Should opponents bring up disappointing or criminal Senators, Governors, and Mayors that were elected by popular vote?}

And of course it makes more sense for the president to be chosen by voters, one-by-one voters, rather than by states with a fixed number of votes. Even if only three people vote in a state and it’s got 10 electoral votes, they’ll still go to that candidate. All the National Popular Vote plan does, really, is elect the president the way we elect a dog catcher or a governor or a senator or representative. It’s not that complicated. {Unfortunately, it is much more complicated. Study our testimony on the 12th Amendment and the Electoral Count Act, along with the effect of the Compact.}

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But my question is, given the fact that you would only need the states who equal a number of 270 votes to join the compact, and they would therefore then be decisive in terms of who would get elected if the—who wins the popular vote, but isn’t it possible just as well for the compact to be broken years down the line? In other words, for new legislatures to come in and decide to leave?

HENDRIK HERTZBERG: Sure, that would be possible, yeah. And actually, that’s one of the advantages to this maybe over a constitutional amendment. We can try it. We can try it, see if—try electing a president democratically, see if we like it. If we like it, we can keep it. If we don’t like it, we don’t have to keep it. That’s actually a plus, not a minus.

AMY GOODMAN: So, so far, now—

HENDRIK HERTZBERG: And I might add, Juan, that it’s not as if the states that are compacting are then going to decide who’s president. No, the only thing that will decide who’s president is the voters in all the states that are compacting and that are not compacting. It won’t make any difference whether you live in one of them or not. {Unless, they are not counted accurately, there was no national post-election audit, no national recount, and no national popular vote number available in time for states to choose their electors. Oooops we have none of those, so we are stuck with the “trust us” non-verification system.}

AMY GOODMAN: So, now signed on: New York, Maryland, New Jersey, Illinois, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Vermont, California, Rhode Island and Washington.


AMY GOODMAN: What happens next?

HENDRIK HERTZBERG: Well, right now there’s a focus on Connecticut, where the bill is being considered. It’s kind of a one-by-one thing, state to state. {Yes, we are the next target.} Now, people may have noticed that the states that you mentioned are all blue states. And, of course, because of what happened in 2000, Republicans tend to have a—you know, they kind of—they kind of have a—react to this and think—or, suspiciously, they think maybe this is Al Gore’s revenge. {And Democrats are apparently, in general, blind to the risks, since they have been led to believe that this would have changed the outcome in FL in 2000. Yet with different voters, more voters, with a different counts, and different campaign strategies, who knows if Gore would actually have won under the NPV in 2000. Can we at least all agree that more and different voters would go to the polls under the Compact and that we have no idea what an accurate count would have been in 2000?}, in fact, there are plenty of Republicans who back this. If you believe in democracy, if you believe that the way to have an election is count the votes, see who wins, then it really doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or a Democrat. Yes, there are these inbred prejudices. Republicans are—maybe they’re more resistant to change. Maybe they think this is somehow an end run around the Constitution, which it is not, which it definitely is not. They have a—they have more skepticism to overcome. But this isn’t like, you know, taxing the rich, where that’s a matter of principle. It’s a matter of principle the other way: If you’re for democracy, you really ought to be for this. {Yup, anyone against this is charged with being undemocratic. And the other side says proponents are against the Founding Fathers. And then back to the opposition favoring slavery…}

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Hendrik Hertzberg is a staff writer at The New Yorker. He’s been writing in support of the national popular vote since 2006. I think you said in your last piece you had written 51 pieces on this.

HENDRIK HERTZBERG: Fifty-two as of this morning.

AMY GOODMAN: He serves on the board of the electoral reform organization FairVote. When we come back, we’re going to England and to Norway to talk about drones and who’s running the U.S. drone operation. Stay with us.

As we have said many times, we are not in theory opposed to electing the President by national popular vote. But we need a uniform voting system, a uniform national franchise, enforceable, and enforced to avoid increasing the risks inherent in the current system.


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