Recently, ABC News’ program Full Circle featured my friend and fellow NPVIC advocate Deb Mazzaferro in a story about the National Popular Vote. The story is deep and unfortunately mistakes states with cities, but Deb make some great points.
I just wish folks would stop saying the ten percent of the nation that lives in the largest fifty cities is somehow going to control the elections. First of all, ten percent is no way to win an election. If you expect to win with ten percent of the vote, you’re going to lose. Even Abraham Lincoln, in a three-man race, got 39.8% of the popular vote in 1860, and no President—apart from the one-party, five man, election of 1824—ever got a lower Popular Vote lower than that. It’s unlikely we will be seeing a true three-person race in the near future, never mind a five-person race, but in no case, not even in those unusual races, did we ever see a President elected with only ten percent of the popular vote. The very idea is absurd.
Secondly, as I said, it’s not states, it’s cities. With the Popular Vote, you free millions of voters suppressed by winner take all in each state, from both parties. When you go to a popular vote, when you look at how purple each state actually is, you’ll realize that big states won’t control anything in the popular vote. If you want to talk cities, that’s ten percent. But as far as states are concerned, they are irrelevant with respect to the National Popular Vote.
Thirdly, I think it’s important to note that most people who claim the Popular Vote will favor cities are using it as code to say it will favor progressives. However, when you look at the ten smallest states, those that are guaranteed a conservative vote number 15 and those that guarantee a progressive number 17. The electoral college actually favors progressives. And what’s more, there’s a trend in the South for a number of large states to shift toward battleground and even progressive, meaning that that progressive bias will be even stronger as time goes on.
Finally, it’s important to note the irony of the idea that only certain states will dominate under a National Popular Vote. The whole reason we are fighting for a National Popular Vote is because right now only five battleground states decide our elections. How is a system that rests control of its nation in the hands of only five states one that can call itself a Democratic Republic? The Electoral College doesn’t help big states because they aren’t battlegrounds. It doesn’t even help small states because they aren’t battlegrounds either. It alienates 81% of nation, and how can that be a good way to govern?
Thank you Deb for your intelligent commentary on the NPVIC and let’s hope it moves more to believe that every vote should be equal and in the principle of one person, one vote.
It’s that time of year again. Time for the world’s second largest Democracy by population, and richest Democracy by overall GDP to vote to select who is the best to represent their party on the Presidential stage.
Voting through most of American history has been difficult. Our nation, like almost every Democracy, has political parties and every election it always comes down to just two choices: Conservatism or Progressivism. Progressives believe in progress, a government that is strong and protects its citizens from business. Conservatives believe in small government, state’s rights, and traditional values.
While all these elections were interesting, there’s one even more interesting. One more interesting than the 1888 election, where Grover Cleveland the Conservative won the Popular Vote but lost the Electoral College to Progressive Benjamin Harrison. One more interesting than the election of 1860, where Abolitionist Progressive Abraham Lincoln won the election with only 40% of the Popular Vote in a Three-Party Race. One even more interesting than the election of 1796, where the electoral college appointed the highest ballot winner to the Progressive John Adams, thus making him President, while the Conservative Thomas Jefferson had the second most votes, making him Vice President.
That last arrangement was so untenable that the Twelfth Amendment was passed. This amendment entrenching the party ticket system with our nation for the past 220 years. It give us the modern interpretation of Article II, Section 1, which in turn grants sole power to state legislatures to determine how that state’s electors are chosen.
But even that election isn’t the one I want to talk about.
The election of 1824 was a cantankerous one. That year, the Federalist Party had dissolved and the nation became a single party state where everyone claimed to be a member of Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans. Under that backdrop, in the first election for which we have popular voting data, there were a slate of four candidates: John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, and William H. Cranford.
John Quincy Adams
William H. Crawford
With four candidates running, for what was so far the only time in history, no-one received a majority of electoral votes, 131. As such, under the Twelfth Amendment (as amended by the Twentieth Amendment), the election is decided by taking the top three or less candidates and having each state’s Representatives voting on which of the candidates they prefer, with the state going to whomever the most Representative for that state voted for. Each state gets one vote, and whoever gets a majority of states becomes President. If no candidate receives that state majority, then the vote is recast until a majority is decided.
In 1824, this is exactly what happened. Of the twenty-four states at the time, thirteen were needed to decide the election. Fortunately, since Henry Clay, having been eliminated as not being in the top three, backed John Quincy Adams, meaning that only a single ballot was required in the House of Representative to elect John Quincy Adams as President.
John Quincy Adams
William H. Crawford
If this were to happen in 2020 thanks to a third party candidate making it impossible for either the President or the Democratic Challenger to receive at least 270 Electoral Votes, then I personally feel the nation would be aghast. Most Americans don’t know about the Electoral College Voting Majority requirement or the state-based Congressional voting system, and would indeed by shocked to know that’s just what their Constitution says.
Like the election of 1824, the modern Primary system seeks to choose a winner by strict majority among a list of party-faithful Presidential Candidates. If no candidate receives a majority of votes on the first ballot, SuperDelegates in the Democratic Party (Republicans don’t have SuperDelegates) are used to put their fingers on the scale and the required majority changes to reflect this.
Wouldn’t it be easier if we could just pic the majority on the first ballot? If people in 1824 could just say without Clay and Crawford they wanted Jackson?
All these problems could be solved with Ranked Choice Voting. With Ranked Choice Voting, or RCV. Under RCV, you can say you prefer Crawford, but if your second choice is Jackson, then Adams, and finally Clay. Or you could say, like me, your first choice is Elizabeth Warren, because, among other things she supports the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, but my second, third, fourth, and fifth choices would be among the various other candidates.
What you do with that is a whole other question. Clearly, you could just ignore all but the first choice and see if anyone gets a majority. But that’s what we have now, and clearly a majority isn’t guaranteed.
Another possibility, very possible is Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), where, instantaneously, a mock election is conducted with all the first-place candidates, and if no-one receives a majority, the candidate receiving the least amount of votes is eliminated and anyone voting for him or her will instead vote for their next choice. This algorithm is continued until one candidate receives a pure majority.
The problem with IRV is that it doesn’t guarantee a Condorcet Winner. The reason is easy to see if you have a series of ballots where, in aggregate, a majority prefer A over B, a majority B over C, and a third, unique majority C over A. In the vaguest case, this could produce C as winner even though a majority prefer A over C.
Another alternative, one I prefer, is the Schulze method. It is Condorcet and will match IRV when IRV doesn’t contain, for instance cycles like above. However, Schulze is a rather complicated, geometric voting system. Were it up to tabulations by hand of hundreds of millions of RCV Ballots, this would be impossible. But with modern computers, it’s facile.
Whatever voting system we use, it’s better than the system we have now with throwing the election to the House of Representatives or using SuperDelegates to ensure majorities.
And whoever you vote for this coming Super Tuesday or beyond, vote wisely, be informed, and vote with a free hand because the decision is yours. Just make sure you go out and vote!