Allocating Electoral Votes Proportionally: Fairness, or Illusion?

Despite the apparent fairness of allocating Electoral votes proportionally within the Electoral College, this method would not guarantee fairness because it would not guarantee that the winner of the popular vote would become President. Under a proportional system it would still be very possible for a candidate to win the popular vote only to lose the Presidency in the Electoral College. For a number of reasons which will be enumerated below, the fairness and value of proportional voting is an illusion.

The Fraction Dilemma: Under a proportional system, there is the potential that two candidates would muster about half of the popular vote in a state that has an odd number of electors. Let’s say for example that a state had three electors (and many do). Under the proportional method of allocating Electoral votes where the two top candidates receive about 50% of the votes each (plus or minus), one elector would vote for the Republican nominee, a second elector would vote for the Democratic nominee. We would then be confronted with what to do with the third and final elector. Which candidate would the third elector vote for? Short of a “Judgment of Solomon Solution,” there is no fair method of allocating this third vote, and it is entirely possible that the winner in the Electoral College could be outvoted in the popular vote by the other candidate. Due to the fraction dilemma, many voters will be marginalized, “no matter how you slice it.”

The Third-Party Squeeze: Under a proportional system, many third-party candidates, as well as Independent candidates will be “squeezed out” of the process, and those who voted for these candidates will be totally marginalized (eradicated) in the Electoral College. Again, for the sake of simplicity, let’s take the example of a state that has three electoral votes wherein the two major party candidates receive in the neighborhood of half the popular vote each. What happens to the third-party or Independent candidate(s) that receives 5% of the popular vote in that state, or 4% or 3% or 2% or even 1% or less? Again, in this example it would be easy to allocate one electoral vote to the Republican candidate and one electoral vote to the Democratic candidate. But what do we do with the third electoral vote? No matter how you slice it you will be accused of “fuzzy math” by every candidate that doesn’t receive this third, final, and perhaps very important electoral vote. Again, and more importantly, this “allocation fuzziness” will not only end up being unfair to some candidate(s), but will not ensure that the winner of the national popular vote will be pronounced President of the United States within the Electoral College.

Electoral Votes Come in Different Sizes: Unfortunately, not all electors reflect that same number of voters in their respective states. In Wyoming, the nations smallest state, there are three electors in a state with a population of about 568,000. Each Elector therefore represents approximately 190,000 residents. In sharp contrast, California, the nation’s largest populated state, is allotted 55 electors to represent its 38 million inhabitants. Each California elector therefore represents approximately 690,000 residents. Therefore, despite the fact that electors in Wyoming represent far fewer voters than electors in California, the electors in Wyoming have just as much clout in the Electoral College as individual electors from the state of California. Given this rather wide state-based variation in electoral representation, under the proportional voting method there would be no guarantee that the winner of the national popular vote would be pronounced President of the United States within the Electoral College. Furthermore, because electors in each state represent different numbers of Americans, many voters will not be fully represented in the Electoral College. Bottom-line: Every vote would not be equal.

Rate of Growth versus Rate of Decrease: Another problem with the proportional voting method is the fact that a state’s Electoral College electors are re-allocated only every ten years based on the national census. Therefore states that are declining quickly in population between the ten-year census interval would maintain their same electoral strength in the Electoral College despite the fact that each electoral vote would now represents far fewer voters. The voters in these declining states would be overrepresented in the Electoral College. The opposite effect would occur in rapidly growing states, as electors from these states would represent far more voters than the number of electors the state has been allotted from the most recent national census. The voters in these states would be underrepresented in the Electoral College.

Voting Turnout Would Matter: Those states with higher voter turnouts would be underrepresented in the Electoral College because despite the high percentage of actual voters, no additional electors would be provided to reflect these additional voters. At the same time, states with lower voter turnouts would be overrepresented in the Electoral College because despite the lower voter turnout, the state would still be able to send the same number of electors to the Electoral College to cast votes.

Perhaps the biggest impediment to the adoption of a Proportional voting method is the fact that the first few states to try this may lose significant clout in the Electoral College, especially if these states are battleground states. Candidates looking for gold (all the electors in a state under a winner-take-all method) will quickly come to the realization that the best that they can do in a proportional voting state is to win over just one or two electors. This would not be much incentive for campaigning in that state, and thus would not be much incentive for a state to switch from a winner-take-all system to a proportional voting system.

While at first glance a proportional voting system seems like a great idea that would result in fairness, in the end it would neither be great nor result in fairness. The apparent value of proportional voting in the Electoral College is a mere illusion. However, as we have recently seen, this method would not guarantee that the will of the American people would prevail. In the 2000 Presidential election, under a proportional allocation scheme employed throughout the country, the election would have been tied at 269 Electoral votes for both major candidates, George W. Bush and Al Gore. The election would have then been thrown into the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives, resulting in a political solution rather than a solution reflecting the will of the American people. In the case at hand, the Republican-controlled House would have given the Presidency to the Republican nominee George W. Bush, despite the fact that Democratic candidate Al Gore won the popular vote by 537,179 votes.

In the end, there is still only one system that can reflect the will of the American people in the Electoral College and that is the method proposed by the National Popular Vote Plan. That Plan “guarantees” that the winner of the popular vote actually wins the Presidential election. Perhaps more importantly, under the method proposed by the National Popular Vote Plan, every vote will be equal, and every vote will count. This is not true under a proportional voting system and this is also not true under the winner-take-all system which we are presently living with.

Make Every Vote Equal: What a Novel Idea

For the majority of American voters, this election season is a mere spectator sport. Under the winner-take-all electoral system, only about 10 states receive laser-like attention from the Presidential nominees. The rest of the states, representing the vast majority of Americans, are relegated to the electoral sidelines.

The practical application of this is that a select group of Americans residing in geopolitically advantageous locations receive special attention, while the concerns of Americans residing in “safe states” are largely ignored. It is not uncommon for Presidents to compromise their ideological objectives just to propitiate voters in battleground states. For example, George W. Bush was a vociferous exponent of free trade. He pledged to work to “end tariffs and break down barriers everywhere, entirely, so the whole world trades in freedom.” Yet in  2003, Mr. Bush uncharacteristically levied tariffs on imported steel, a move that was popular with the domestic steel industry in the critical showdown states of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

By contrast, Mr. Bush put out a full-court press to shepherd through the U.S. Congress the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) in 2005. The administration ignored protests by the sugar industry in the “safe state” of Louisiana. In fact, the state’s former Governor, Mike Foster, a Republican and supporter of George W Bush, warned that eliminating tariffs on foreign sugar would “wipe out the Louisiana Sugar Industry.” Of course, Louisiana is a “safe state” with no electoral leverage.

In an attempt to ameliorate this inherent electoral inequality, there is an effort underway to make every vote equal. The National Popular Vote Plan is an interstate compact, whereby participating states agree to allocate their electoral votes to the winner of the National Popular Vote as opposed to the candidate who secures the most votes in their state. The compact would take effect when enough states (constituting the requisite 270 electoral votes required to win the Presidential election) agree to participate. Currently eight states and the District of Columbia, constituting 132 Electoral votes, have ratified the compact.

Under the current winner-take-all electoral voting scheme, millions of votes across the nation are not being counted in the official national tally. In the 2008 Presidential election, Republican nominee John McCain received more than five million votes in the state of California. Despite this achievement, all 55 electors in California cast their vote for Democrat Barack Obama. This inequity occurred solely because California uses the winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes, meaning that despite how close the popular vote may be, the winning candidate takes home “all” the electoral votes of that particular state. Similarly, more than 3.5 million Texans marked ballots for Barack Obama, yet because John McCain won the state, those 3.5 million votes were disregarded. Again, because Texas also uses the winner-take-all system of electoral voting, the winning candidate, John McCain, was able to take home “all” of Texas’ 33 electoral votes. This all-too-common outcome disenfranchises voters from “safe states” (non-battlefield states) and discourages them from going to the polls. They know that their votes are not likely to even be figured in the final national tally.

Despite contemporary belief, the winner-take-all regime was not the grand design of the Founding Fathers. The Founders were deadlocked as to the method of electing the President. They decided to delegate “plenary authority” to the states in awarding their electors, as reflected in Article ll, Section 1, Clause 11 of the U.S. Constitution, which states: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors.” Accordingly, each state has autonomy to select electors in any way they choose.” In 1789, the year of the first Presidential election, voters in only five states were permitted to mark ballots for Presidential electors. The other states granted the power of voting for Presidential electors to their state legislatures. In fact, New York did not even appoint electors because their legislature was stalemated over the issue.

The winner-take-all electoral voting scheme was designed to protect partisan parochial interests. It was not part of a grand design conceptualized by the Founding Fathers.

Contrary to some claims, there is no contradiction between the U.S. being a republic and the states awarding their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. It is sometimes argued that the plan contravenes the nation’s Founding Fathers’ intention to make the U.S. a Constitutional Republic rather than a Direct Democracy. A Direct Democracy is a system where the citizenry assemble and vote directly on laws. In a Constitutional Republic the voters select fellow citizens to represent them. The National Popular Vote Plan would have the President elected the same way Americans elect Cemetery Commissioners. County Coroners, Governors, and U.S. Senators. The person who garners the most votes wins. It’s that simple.

The argument is often made that under the Plan candidates would only focus on securing and solidifying votes in large urban areas while ignoring small states. In actuality, the nation’s top 25 cities comprise only 12% of the electorate, and the nation’s five largest populated cities constitute just 6% of the electorate. Accordingly, to win the national popular vote, a candidate “must” appeal to the large majority of Americans who do not live in these urban centers.

We see the ineffectiveness of this argument at the state level. In 2010, Texas Governor Rick Perry was re-elected by 13 percentage points, despite being overwhelmingly defeated in the state’s two largest cities, Houston and Dallas.

Under the current electoral regime, voters from both large and small states are ignored. The states with the largest populations: California, Texas, and New York, respectively, are used only as an ATM machine, where candidates parachute in, hold a fundraiser, collect money from the state’s financial elite, and leave without meeting the state’s rank-and-file citizens.

Small states are also disregarded by Presidential campaigns. With the exception of New Hampshire, the 13 smallest states are all “safe states” receiving no attention from Presidential nominees. They have no electoral incentive to address issues specific to small states like livestock grazing in Wyoming, the effects of debilitating fishing regulations on Rhode Island fishermen, or the future of Vermont’s diary industry.

Under the National Popular Vote Plan, a vote in Marblehead, Massachusetts will be commensurate with a vote in Marblehead, Ohio. A vote in Dover, Delaware will be just as important as a vote in Dover, New Hampshire, and a vote in Charlotte, North Carolina will be equal to a vote in Charlotte, Vermont. Under the National Popular Vote Plan every vote will be relevant and equal.

Myth of the Week: The Small States oppose the National Popular Vote

The National Popular Vote Plan enjoys enormous popularity in the nation’s small states. For example, A 2010 poll shows 70% of Alaska voters favor a National Popular Vote. A 2009 poll shows 77% of Idaho voters support a National Popular Vote. A 2009 poll shows that 77% of Maine voters are in favor of a National Popular Vote, and a 2011 poll shows that 72% of Montana voters favor the proposal.

Small states are routinely ignored in Presidential elections. Of the 13 smallest states, only New Hampshire is considered a “showdown state.” The other small states are “safe states.” In fact, Wyoming and Idaho are two of the reddest states in the nation. Neither has chosen a Democrat for President since Lyndon B. Johnson swept the nation in a landslide victory in 1964. Neither is likely to be a showdown state anytime soon. In 2008, Republican John McCain won Idaho with a resounding 63.1% of the vote. He won Wyoming with 64.8% of the vote. In addition, McCain won Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota with formidable margins.

In contrast, the other six smallest states are some of the bluest in the nation. In fact, Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama’s best electoral performance was in the District of Columbia, with just 3 electoral votes. His next four best showings were in three of the six smallest states; Hawaii, Vermont, and Rhode Island, respectively. (The last time a Presidential nominee made a campaign stop in the Ocean State was in 1960. Richard M. Nixon had made an electorally dull-witted pledge to visit every state). McCain did not win a single county in any of these states. Obama won the other two smallest states, Delaware and Vermont, by more than 15% of the vote. There is simply no incentive for a candidate to even make an effort to contest these states.

It is sometimes argued that the small states are at an advantage under the current winner-take-all system because they are guaranteed at least three Electoral votes. The 13 smallest states cast 3% of the nation’s popular votes. Under the winner-take-all system, they account for 6% of the Electoral votes. However, compared to the lack of electoral attention, that advantage is de minimis. Because of the partisan proclivities of 12 of the 13 smallest states in Presidential elections, Presidential campaigns do not take advantage of this negligible difference.

Under the winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes, voters in small states are ignored by Presidential campaigns. With the exception of New Hampshire, Presidential campaigns see no electoral advantage to contesting the other smallest states. Under the National Popular Vote Plan, every vote will be equal. The vote of a Democrat in Wyoming and a Republican in Rhode Island will actually matter. Their votes will count.

Responding to Paul R. Hollrah on the National Popular Vote Plan

In a column appearing in The New Media Journal on May 29, Freelance writer Paul R. Holllrah warns “Beware of the National Popular Vote.”

The National Popular Vote Plan is an interstate compact, whereby participating states agree to allocate their electoral votes to the winner of the National Popular Vote, as opposed to the candidate who secures the most votes in their state. The compact would take effect when enough states (constituting the requisite 270 electoral votes required to win the Presidential election) agree to participate. Currently eight states and the District of Columbia, constituting 132 Electoral votes, have ratified the compact.

Mr. Hollrah then asserts: “Any scheme for selecting a president and Vice President by national popular vote would clearly violate the intent of the Framers and may very well be unconstitutional.” Contrary to Hollrah’s assertion, delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were deadlocked regarding how to select the President. One proposal had the U.S. Congress select the President. Another proposal was to have the State Legislatures choosing the President. A third alternative was to conduct a direct popular vote. All proposals were rejected. Given this impasse, the conventioneers decided to delegate “plenary authority” to the states to award their electors, as reflected in Article ll, Section 1, Clause 11 of the U.S. Constitution, which states: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors.” Accordingly, the intent of the Framers was for each state to have the autonomy to select electors in any way that it deems fit.

Moreover, the Plan is in fact constitutionally permissible. There is no provision in the U.S. Constitution mandating that the President must be selected by a particular electoral method. The winner-take-all-electoral voting system currently employed in 48 states was not in fact part of the grand design of the Founders. In 1789, the year of the first Presidential election, voters of only five states were permitted to mark ballots for Presidential electors. The other states granted the power of voting for Presidential electors to their state legislatures. The winner-take-all approach of awarding electors was a scheme devised by partisan parochial interests to maximize their political advantage. States have the Constitutional authority to change their means of awarding electors. Massachusetts has done this 11 times. In fact, Maine and Nebraska changed from winner-take-all to the Congressional Allocation method.

Mr. Hollrah incorrectly couples supporters of the National Popular Vote Plan with Electoral College abolitionists. The Plan would not “emasculate the Electoral College.” Participating states would simply alter the way they award their Electoral Votes. The Electoral College will still exist under the Plan. On the Monday following the second Wednesday in December after the Presidential election is held, electors representing each state and the District of Columbia will still cast their Presidential ballots. On January 6, the Vice President will declare the winner to a joint session of the U.S. Congress. This is the process done now, and this is what will be done after the National Popular Vote Plan has been adopted by enough states to take effect.

Finally, Mr. Hollrah asserts that the National Popular Vote “is a liberal scam.” While there are certainly liberal supporters, the Plan also enjoys the support of many contemporary conservatives. They include former Republican Presidential candidates Fred Thompson and Tom Tancredo, former U.S. Senator Jack Garn (R-UT), former Chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, Saul Anuzis, and Ray Hanes, the former Chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC.)

The left does not necessarily stand to gain if the National Popular Vote Plan is actuated. With some polls showing a dead heat between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, but with Obama garnering leads in the preponderance of swing states, it is easy to envisage a scenario where Mr. Obama could win a second term without mustering the most votes.

The National Popular Vote Plan will simply “even the playing field.“ The President will be elected the same way as a Cemetery Commissioner, a Governor, or a U.S. Senator. It will obliterate the dynamic where candidates assiduously cultivate support from voters in only about 15 “showdown states” while relegating the majority of Americans to the Electoral Sidelines.

Mr. Hollrah is a resident of Oklahoma. This is a state which has been ignored by Presidential nominees since 1976, and is becoming increasingly Republican at the Presidential level. It was John McCain’s best state in 2008. Barring an electoral cataclysm, the state will not be contested for many election cycles in the future. Only under the National Popular Vote Plan will Mr. Hollrah’s vote in Tulsa, OK be as sought after as a vote in Tulsa, OH. Under the winner-take-all system, Mr. Hollrah’s vote is futile. It is a forgone conclusion that Oklahoma will award all of its electoral votes to the Republican Presidential nominee.

Myth of the Week: It is Inappropriate for State Legislatures and Governors to consider changing the Method of Electing the President

At the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in1787, the conventioneers were deadlocked as to finding resolution regarding how to award electoral votes. One proposal had the President being selected by the U.S. Congress. Another proposal had the President chosen by the state legislatures. Both proposals were rejected. There were fears that if the U.S. Congress were to choose the President, corruption would ensue, and that if members of the State Legislature chose the President, he might become their martinet. A direct popular vote of the President was also proposed and subsequently rejected. At the time, most citizens of the young nation had little knowledge of the other states. The fear here was that Americans would vote only for candidates from their region or states and that the candidates from the largest states would perpetually hold the Presidency because they would garner the most votes.

Given this impasse, they decided to delegate “plenary authority” to the states to award their electors, as reflected in Article ll, Section 1, Clause 11 of the U.S. Constitution, which states: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors.” Accordingly, each state has autonomy to select electors in any way that it deems fit.

It is well within the Founding Fathers intention for the state governments to change the way they select electors. Contrary to contemporary belief, the winner-take-all electoral voting system currently employed in 48 states was not part of their grand design. This method is not even mentioned in the Federalist Papers. It was a scheme devised by partisan parochial interests to maximize their partisan advantage. States have changed their method of awarding electoral votes over time. In fact, Massachusetts has altered its method of awarding electors 11 times. Maine in 1969 and Nebraska in 1992 supplanted their winner-take-all system with the Congressional Allocation Method.

It is constitutionally permissible and comports with the vision of the Founders to allow the states, not the Federal Government, autonomy in selecting Presidential electors.

Under the National Popular Vote Plan, Mississippi Voters will Finally have their Say

In the 1976 Presidential election, Republican President Gerald R. Ford almost closed a 34-point gap, losing to Democratic nominee Jimmy Carter by just two percentage points in the popular vote. Ford won 27 states, while Carter won 23. In the Electoral College, Ford lost by 47 votes. There were 20 states in that election where the winning candidate won with less than 5% of the vote. Ford made a herculean effort to capture Mississippi, losing it by less than 2% of the popular vote. Ford later lamented that had his primary opponent Ronald Reagan campaigned harder for Ford in the General Election in Mississippi, he would have eked out a victory. Reagan spent more time campaigning for Republican Congressional candidates than for Ford. Republican Political Consultant Ed Rollins maintains that had Ford selected Reagan as his Vice Presidential running-mate, “He would have carried key states like Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, which would have given him the election.”

Four years later, Mississippi was again a showdown state. Ronald Reagan delivered his first speech after securing the GOP Presidential nomination at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Reagan went on to win the state that year by less than two points.

Since then, Mississippi has been on almost no one’s electoral radar. Once a part of the Solid Democratic South, Mississippi did not select a single Republican Presidential nominee from 1876-1964. In 1936, the GOP nominee, Kansas Governor Alf Landon, literally mustered just 2.74% of the popular vote in the state. Today, Mississippi is a rock-rib Republican state at the Presidential level. It garners de minimus electoral attention. Even in 1992 and 1996, with Bill Clinton and Al Gore on the Democratic ticket, both from neighboring states (Arkansas and Tennessee), the Democrats made no effort to capture the state.

Magnolia state voters have no electoral leverage, meaning that Presidential nominees and incumbent Presidents have no electoral incentive to focus on issues specific to the state. Mississippi has the highest poverty rate in the nation, yet the more than 20% of Magnolia State voters who subsist below the poverty line have no voice with Presidential candidates. By contrast, New Hampshire, which sports the nation’s lowest poverty rate, gets a plethora of electoral attention. Presidential candidates barnstorm the Granite state because of its current status as a “battleground state.” Former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar maintains: “people who are in elected office remember what they learned when they were campaigning.”

Presidential nominees do not address issues important to Mississippi voters, like the out-migration of residents from the Mississippi Delta. The state’s working poor, who are unable to procure a living wage, have no voice. Inhabitants of the state’s Gulf Coast, still recovering from Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill, have no voice, and the state’s struggling $7 Billion agricultural industry, worrying about overseas competition, have no voice.

In addition, the state has the nation’s largest African-American Population (37.18%). They regularly reward the Democratic Presidential nominee with over 90% of the vote. Yet their votes are nullified because of the winner-take-all approach that Mississippi employs. In 2008, a record 95% of Mississippi African-American voters marked ballots for the first African-American Presidential nominee of a major Party, Barack Obama. Yet, because Republican John McCain won the state, their votes were not even tabulated in the results. It would be no different had Barack Obama won no votes in the state. All six electoral votes went to McCain.

There is a method to make all Mississippi voters matter in all elections. That is by adopting the National Popular Vote Plan. The National Popular Vote Plan is an interstate compact, whereby participating states agree to allocate their electoral votes to the winner of the National Popular Vote, as opposed to the candidate who secures the most votes in their state. The compact would take effect when enough states (constituting the requisite 270 electoral votes required to win the Presidential election) agree to participate. Currently eight states and the District of Columbia, constituting 132 Electoral votes, have ratified the compact.

Under the National Popular Vote Plan, the state will avoid suffering what could be another generation in the electoral wilderness. Mississippi has partisan divisions: Caucasian voters overwhelmingly voting Republican and African-American voters overwhelmingly voting Democrat. The National Popular Vote Plan would benefit both races: Both races have a common bi-partisan interest in having their voices matter and heard. The alternative is to continue to live in an electoral universe where Presidential nominees allocate almost all of their time and resources to only about fifteen showdown states, while the majority of Americans, including Mississippi voters, are relegated to the electoral sidelines. In the 2008 Presidential Election, 98% of Presidential nominee visits were to just 15 states. This needs to change. A vote in Jackson, Mississippi should be as relevant numerically and as a vote in Jackson, New Hampshire. The National Popular Vote Plan will make every vote equal  and will provide every voter with an equal voice in every Presidential election.

MYTH of the Week: Only the Big States would Matter Under a National Popular Vote.

Barring a monumental landslide, it is hard to envisage the top 11 states voting in unison. The nation’s most densely populated states; California and Texas, are far apart electorally. California has voted for the Democratic Presidential nominee in the last five elections. In 2008, Democrat Barack Obama won the state with 61% of the vote. There was no serious effort by the Republicans to even contest the state. Contrariwise, Texas, the second most populated state, has not voted for a Democratic Presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter won the state in 1976. There has been no serious effort on the part of Democrats to win the state since 1992. In 2008, while Democrat Barack Obama won the Presidency with a comfortable 52.9% of the vote, Republican John McCain won the loan star state with a formidable 55.4% of the vote.

Similarly, Georgia has not voted for a Democratic Presidential nominee since Bill Clinton eked out a victory in 1992, and New York has not voted for a Republican Presidential nominee since Ronald Reagan’s landslide victory in 1984.

To win the National Popular Vote, a Presidential nominee would be foolhardy to focus on only the large states. Under the National Popular Vote Plan, every vote would be equal. The goal of each campaign would be to win a numerical majority regardless of where the votes were cast. That means courting and turning out as many voters as possible. A candidate would be sagacious to deploy resources in as many parts of the country as possible under the National Popular Vote Plan.

Electoral Leverage: Florida has it and Alabama lacks it

They border each other, yet when it comes to electoral influence, no two states could be farther apart. On the west of the Perdido River lies Alabama. The Yellowhammer State was once part of the Solid South, having voted for the Democratic Presidential nominee every year from 1876 to 1964. It is now a Republican citadel, handily electing the Republican Presidential nominee every year since 1980. Consequently, no Presidential nominee has even campaigned in the state since 1996. Accordingly, the state is designated by Presidential campaigns as a “safe state” and has no electoral leverage.

To the east of the Perdido River lies the electoral Ground Zero: Florida. The Sunshine state is arguably the most critically important battleground state in the nation. No Republican has won the Presidency since Calvin Coolidge in 1924 without carrying the Sunshine state. The result is that Florida shapes the political debate and has a disproportionate influence on setting the political agenda in Washington.

In 2000, both Major Party Presidential nominees, Al Gore and George W. Bush, made adding a Prescription Drug benefit to Medicare their flagship domestic issue. Florida has the largest share of voters over the age of 65 and Prescription Drug coverage was extremely popular with this important constituency. As President, Mr. Bush broke with contemporary Republican fiscal austerity orthodoxy, and put out a full-court press to shepherd The Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act into law. This statute is the largest expansion of an entitlement program since Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society.

Furthermore, despite polls showing a majority of Americans favor restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba, Presidential candidates are forced to pledge allegiance to the 50-year-old economic embargo on Cuba because the preponderance of the Cuban-American Community in Florida (especially older Cuban-Americans) strongly support the embargo.

As President, Barack Obama has already visited Florida 16 times. Republican Nominee Mitt Romney predictably will deploy redoubtable resources into the state and make innumerable visits. The state’s Junior U.S. Senator, Marco Rubio, and its former Governor Jeb Bush are speculated as top-tier Vice Presidential selections, chiefly because of their potential to deliver the Sunshine State for Romney. Florida’s economy will likely get a significant economic boost from the entourage of both candidates.

To the west of the Perdido River lies a completely different picture. With Alabama solidly Republican, Presidential nominees see no need to take the concerns of Alabama voters seriously. Campaign tacticians calculate a strategy to win the election based upon appealing to voters in only about 15 swing states, and Alabama does not come close to making the list of states for Presidential campaigns to target. Contrariwise, Florida is at the top of that list. The result is that while the campaigns microtarget constituencies in Florida, they ignore the entire state of Alabama. Once in office, the President, with an eye toward re-election, must focus on the needs of the Sunshine State.

Alabamans are suffering from the economic malaise, yet their voices have little resonance with Presidential candidates. Neither Presidential candidate is likely to visit the state, despite the fact that the state is suffering from a poverty rate of over 17%, and is 49th in the nation in infant mortality. Yet, these are all issues not likely to be addressed merely because of Alabama’s disadvantageous geopolitical position.

There is one way to give voters in Alabama the seat at the electoral table they deserve. That is by adopting the National Popular Vote Plan. The National Popular Vote Plan is an interstate compact, whereby participating states agree to allocate their electoral votes to the winner of the National Popular Vote, as opposed to the candidate who secures the most votes in their state. The compact would take effect when enough states (constituting the requisite 270 electoral votes required to win the Presidential election) agree to participate. Currently eight states and the District of Columbia, constituting 132 Electoral votes, have ratified the compact.

Unfortunately, there is concerted opposition to the Plan by Alabama’s high command, including Secretary of State Beth Chapman. She says it is an “end-run around the Constitution.” This is not true. In actuality, there is no provision in the U.S. Constitution mandating that the President must be selected by a particular electoral method. Accordingly, there is absolutely no need for a Constitutional Amendment to change the method that states use for the awarding of electors. The Founding Fathers could not arrive at a resolution as to how to award electoral votes at the Constitutional Convention. Given this impasse, they decided to delegate “plenary authority” to the states to award their electors, as reflected in Article ll, Section 1, Clause 11 of the U.S. Constitution, which states: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors.” Accordingly, each state has autonomy to select electors in any way that it deems fit.

The National Popular Vote Plan would make every vote equal. With adoption of the plan, Presidential nominees will no longer have an incentive to treat Florida voters like royalty and Alabama voters like serfs. Under the National Popular Vote Plan, a vote in Decatur, Alabama will no longer be less valuable than a vote in Decatur, Florida.

MYTH of the Week: The Electoral College provides a way to replace a President-Elect who dies, becomes disabled, or is revealed to be manifestly unsuitable after the people vote in November, but before the Electoral College meets in December:

The Electoral College will still exist under the National Popular Vote Plan. On the Monday following the second Wednesday in December after the Presidential election is held, electors representing each state and the District of Columbia will still cast their Presidential ballots. On January 6, the Vice President will declare the winner to a joint session of the U.S. Congress. This is the process done now, and this is what will be done after the National Popular Vote Plan has been adopted by enough states to take effect.

Because the winner-take-all system that is employed in 48 states has been in practice for so long, many Americans believe that the Founding Fathers stipulated that the states must employ this system. Actually, the deadlocked Constitutional Convention of 1787 delegated to the states the autonomy to determine the best way to allocate their Presidential electors. The winner-take-all regime was the brainchild not of the Founding Fathers, but of partisan parochial interests.

Accordingly, under the National Popular Vote Plan, the procedure for supplanting a President-Elect who dies, or cannot assume the Presidency, will not change. The Electoral College will meet and the electors chosen for the deceased or impaired candidate will cast their Presidential votes. This would likely be for the winning Vice Presidential candidate.
There has been only one time in American history where a Presidential nominee died after the General election, but before the Electoral College met to declare the winner. In 1872, Horace Greeley, the nominee of the Liberal Republicans and the Democratic Party, died before the Electoral College met to cast their votes. Greeley had lost the election, mustering just 66 electoral votes. Four non-candidates received the votes of the electors pledged to Greeley. The leading vote getter was the newly inaugurated Governor of Indiana, Thomas Andrews. Ulysses S. Grant was re-elected to a second term.

If the National Popular Vote Plan were operational during the 1872 Presidential contest, the same procedure and results would have occurred. In this respect there is little if any difference between the winner-take-all system of electoral voting and the National Popular Vote system. The Electoral College procedures will not change under the National Popular Vote Plan. The only change will be the way state employ their Presidential electors.

The National Popular Vote Plan has “Real World” Implications

The National Popular Vote Plan is supported by a majority of Americans. Many, however, see it as an intellectual issue to be debated by academicians at the nation’s most esteemed universities. In actuality, the Plan has “real world” consequences on Americans. People’s lives are affected by the winner-take-all electoral system currently employed in 48 states.

The National Popular Vote Plan is an interstate compact, whereby participating states agree to allocate their electoral votes to the winner of the National Popular Vote, as opposed to the candidate who secures the most votes in their state. The compact would take effect when enough states (constituting the requisite 270 electoral votes required to win the Presidential election) agree to participate. Currently eight states and the District of Columbia, constituting 132 Electoral votes, have ratified the compact.

Under the winner-take-all electoral regime, about 15 states receive almost all the attention from Presidential nominees. This means that candidates cultivate support from constituencies in these states while ignoring others. Consequently, the winner of the election has no electoral incentive to focus on issues specific to the majority of states: the states which are not likely to play a competitive role in the Presidential election.

The practical application of this is that a select group of Americans garrisoned in geopolitically advantageous locations receive special attention, while the concerns of Americans residing in “safe states” are subservient. It is not uncommon for Presidents to compromise their ideological objectives just to propitiate battleground states.

For example, George W. Bush was a vociferous exponent of free trade. He pledged to work to “end tariffs and break down barriers everywhere, entirely, so the whole world trades in freedom.” Yet in 2003, Bush uncharacteristically levied tariffs on imported steel, a move that was popular with the domestic steel industry in the critical swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

By contrast, Mr. Bush put out a full-court press to sheppard through the U.S. Congress the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) in 2005. The administration ignored protests by the sugar industry in the “safe state” of Louisiana. In fact, the state’s former Governor, a Republican and supporter of George W Bush, Mike Foster, warned that eliminating tariffs on foreign sugar would “wipe out the Louisiana Sugar Industry.”

Similarly, Southern rice farmers would clearly benefit from the liquidation of the economic embargo in Cuba. Prior to the signing of the embargo by President John F. Kennedy in 1962, Cuba was the nation’s top rice export market. However, of the six states where the preponderance of American rice is grown, only Missouri is a nominal swing state, and it produces the least amount of rice. However, the preponderance of Cuban-American (particularly older Cuban Americans) voters living in the critical swing state of Florida is opposed to lifting the embargo. Accordingly, Presidential candidates put the wishes of these voters ahead of the need of the rice farmers simply because of their geopolitical position.

There are litanies of examples of constituencies having less of a voice simply because of their location. For example, encumbering regulations on “catch shares” continued to be levied against New England fisherman despite their remonstrations. In addition, Utah residents protest the Federal Government barring private development land in the state but to no avail. In 1996, Bill Clinton designated 1.7 million acres of canyon land in the state off-limits to mining. Thousands of coal mining jobs would have been created in the area, and millions of dollars would have been added for school funding. However, Utah is a solidly Republican state with no electoral leverage. The fate of native Alaskans, native Hawaiians, and Native Americans living in the Pine Ridge Reservation of South Dakota, where unemployment is a staggering 80%, are rarely addressed by Presidential nominees simply because they have no electoral leverage.

Although the National Popular Vote Plan may seem like a mere abstract issue, there is a practical application to it. The Plan will make real improvements in the lives of Americans who presently have no electoral voice simply because of their disadvantageous geopolitical location.