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Electoral Reform – Letting Friends Down Easy

As some of you know, I am writing a book which will hit shelves next autumn.  My co-author is named Alex Berezow, he is a Ph.D. in microbiology and edits the science arm of Real Clear Politics called Real Clear Science.

You can imagine that working together on a book means you have to have a lot in common; yet we are more complementary than similar.  I am socially libertarian and fiscally conservative where he is socially more conservative and fiscally more liberal.  It works. Two people who say the same things are basically creating an echo chamber but two people who don’t agree often find another viewpoint either hones thoughts and reaffirms a position or shows a person where they are wrong.

Alex, it’s time to do some homing.

His latest piece in USA Today is on election reform.  He has a few ideas that will end gridlock and constant campaigning. Or not.

Suggestion 1. National Primary Day.  This basically sounds okay except the ebb and flow of a campaign, like a baseball game, shouldn’t necessarily be rushed.  Developments occur over the course of a campaign and the nomination process tests the mettle of candidates, similar to what will happen as president?  How is it different from the campaign itself?  In the case of the nomination process, it is friends and fellow party members trashing you, not so much the opposition.   This is a maybe solution. Having a nomination over in one day doesn’t seem that great but maybe tradition is injecting some bias.

Suggestion 2.  A Top Two Primary. Get rid of party primaries, he recommends. This will eliminate third party candidates and fringe ones too.  I am not sure of the logic.  We have gridlock because there are only two major parties so if the goal is to have less polar voting, third party candidates are a good thing.

It may work in his home state of Washington but only one party in California favors that; Democrats. Why? In an open primary like he suggests, in an overwhelmingly Democrat state like California, not only will Democrats get to choose their own candidate, they will get to choose the Republican one running against them. Think that sort of engineering won’t happen, dear reader?  A top two primary eliminates the Naive Party from contention so you need to read some political history and get a clue. I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Suggestion 3. Eliminate the Electoral College. The Electoral College has always confused people.  We don’t vote directly for president, we vote for a president and the delegates to the Electoral College actually vote him in.  It makes a difference on occasion.  In the election of 2000 Al Gore got more popular votes than George W. Bush but fewer electoral college votes.   Why did the brilliant Founding Fathers, these genius men, come up with such an odd mechanism?  The tyranny of the majority was the concern of the small states, that is also why each state gets two Senators.  If a president is required to get electoral votes rather than gross votes, the candidate has to visit every state and appeal to its people.  Each state has value and therefore the residents of each state, and their needs, have importance. In a popular vote, candidates don’t need to bother to campaign outside the top 5 states. And they won’t, which means we will have less participation, not more.

Getting rid of the electoral college is akin to stating Senators should be based on population; it ruins the chances for fair representation among smaller states.  Tyranny of the majority, unless you want California and New York picking every president for the rest of our history.

Suggestion 4.  End gerrymandering.  Gerrymandering, based on the legacy of redrawing Massachusetts state senate election districts by governor Elbridge Gerry in 1812, sounds bad.  Districts are drawn to keep a group together, sometimes to protect an incumbent.

Berezow writes:

California gets a lot of things wrong, but on this issue (along with Iowa), it is leading the nation. In 2010, voters approved Proposition 20, which wrestled control of congressional districting away from Sacramento and placed it in the hands of an unelected commission.

Sounds awesome, right? California has 53 seats in the House of Representatives. 19 are currently held by Republicans, 36%.  Under the new maps drawn up by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission Republicans will be able to hold 12 unless the candidates switch to Democrat – that’s 22% of the Congressional seats, despite Republicans being 31% of California’s voters. How long will people bother to vote when it is a Soviet-style waste of time? It isn’t better for Democrats to have no election choices either, unless they happen to work for the government or a union.

The new districts also diminished the strength of Latino voters, who tend to be a little more in play for both parties than other minorities, and will force more of them to be Democrats. And blacks are hurt most of all, since even voting 100% as a bloc gives them basically no representation from California.

Result: white Democrats would have a 2/3rds majority in every part of state government, which means it would be one party rule and elections themselves would be pointless.

End to gerrymandering sounds like a terrific idea, except sometimes it is necessary, to prevent minorities from being run into the ground politically.  A redistricting commission is a fine idea in a moderate state where political parties have reasonably equal representation.  Yet in many cases artificial fairness is a pretense for doing the wrong thing. In 1861, a commission that had to determine whether to free slaves would have come up with an answer similar to what the commission in California has done. The minority, and America, would have lost in that case just like democracy loses when there is one party control.

Sorry Alex, California got this one wrong too, just like they did with electing Gray Davis, banning cigarettes and regulating deregulation of energy.


  1. In 2004, % and margin of popular votes:
    * California (55% Democratic), 1,023,560
    * New York (59% Democratic), 1,192,436
    * Texas (62% Republican), 1,691,267
    * Georgia (58% Republican), 544,634
    * North Carolina (56% Republican), 426,778

    To put these numbers in perspective, among the four largest states, the two largest Republican states (Texas and Florida) generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Bush, while the two largest Democratic states generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Kerry. Oklahoma (7 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 455,000 “wasted” votes for Bush in 2004 — larger than the margin generated by the 9th and 10th largest states, namely New Jersey and North Carolina (each with 15 electoral votes). Utah (5 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 385,000 “wasted” votes for Bush in 2004. 8 small western states, with less than a third of California’s population, provided Bush with a bigger margin (1,283,076) than California provided Kerry (1,235,659).

  2. The National Popular Vote bill preserves the Electoral College and state control of elections. It changes the way electoral votes are awarded in the Electoral College.

    Under National Popular Vote, every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election. Every vote would be included in the national count. The candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC would get the 270+ electoral votes from the enacting states. That majority of electoral votes guarantees the candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC wins the presidency.

    National Popular Vote would give a voice to the minority party voters in each state. Now their votes are counted only for the candidate they did not vote for. Now they don’t matter to their candidate.

    With National Popular Vote, every vote, everywhere would be counted equally for, and directly assist, the candidate for whom it was cast.

    More than 2/3rds of the states and people have been just spectators to the presidential elections. That’s more than 85 million voters.

    Policies important to the citizens of ‘flyover’ states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.

    States have the responsibility and power to make all of their voters relevant in every presidential election and beyond.

    The National Popular Vote bill would end the disproportionate attention and influence of the “mob” in the current handful of closely divided battleground states, such as Florida, while the “mobs” of the vast majority of states are ignored. 98% of the 2008 campaign events involving a presidential or vice-presidential candidate occurred in just 15 closely divided “battleground” states. 12 of the 13 lowest population states (3-4 electoral votes), that are almost invariably non-competitive, are ignored, in presidential elections. 9 of the original 13 states are considered “fly-over” now. Over half (57%) of the events were in just four states (Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia). Similarly, 98% of ad spending took place in these 15 “battleground” states.

    The current system does not provide some kind of check on the “mobs.” There have been 22,000 electoral votes cast since presidential elections became competitive (in 1796), and only 10 have been cast for someone other than the candidate nominated by the elector’s own political party. The electors now are dedicated party activists of the winning party who meet briefly in mid-December to cast their totally predictable rubberstamped votes in accordance with their pre-announced pledges.

    With the current state-by-state winner-take-all system, it could only take winning a plurality in the 11 most populous states, containing 56% of the population, for a candidate to win the Presidency — a mere 26% of the nation’s votes.

    Now with state-by-state winner-take-all laws, presidential elections ignore 12 of the 13 lowest population states (3-4 electoral votes), that are almost invariably non-competitive,in presidential elections. 6 regularly vote Republican (AK, ID, MT, WY, ND, and SD), and 6 regularly vote Democratic (RI, DE, HI, VT, ME, and DC) in presidential elections.

    Support for a national popular vote is strong in every smallest state surveyed in recent polls among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group. Support in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK– 70%, DC — 76%, DE –75%, ID – 77%, ME — 77%, MT – 72%, NE — 74%, NH –69%, NE — 72%, NM — 76%, RI — 74%, SD – 71%, UT – 70%, VT — 75%, WV – 81%, and WY – 69%.

    In the lowest population states, the National Popular Vote bill has passed in nine state legislative chambers — including one house in DC, Delaware, Maine, and both houses in Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermont. It has been enacted by the District of Columbia, Hawaii, and Vermont.

  3. In 1789, in the nation’s first election, only three states used the state-by-state winner-take-all method to award electoral votes.

    The current 48 state-by-state winner-take-all method (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in a particular state) is not entitled to any special deference based on history or the historical meaning of the words in the U.S. Constitution. It is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, the debates of the Constitutional Convention, or the Federalist Papers. The actions taken by the Founding Fathers make it clear that they never gave their imprimatur to the winner-take-all method.

    Unable to agree on any particular method, the Founding Fathers left the choice of method for selecting presidential electors exclusively to the states by adopting the language contained in section 1 of Article II of the U.S. Constitution– “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors . . .” The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the state legislatures over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as “plenary” and “exclusive.”

    • Okay, then why not get rid of the Iowa caucus? If we are going to homogenize everything, why have states vote at all? We could just have a national primary and a national election.