Writer Jim Baron wrote a column for the Times (A Newspaper which serves the Blackstone Valley of Massachusetts): Revisiting an old friend – the Electoral College (http://bit.ly/JPL5NY.) He begins the column by pointing out that the Founding Fathers “viewed the president as ‘chief magistrate’ carrying out the will of Congress, not the powerful head of government we recognize today.” This is a fact few Americans appreciate today. In fact, Edmond Randolph, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1787, clearly saw the danger in a unitary executive, calling it: “The Foetus of Monarchy.” His fellow conventioneer, Patrick Henry, feared the office: “squints toward monarchy.”
After expressing sympathy with the objective of the National popular Vote movement, and asserting: “electing a president by popular vote is probably the Right Thing To Do,” Mr. Baron argues that the National Popular Vote Plan is the wrong way to achieve this goal.
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 8 states and the District of Columbia, constituting 132 Electoral votes, have ratified the compact.
Baron goes on to argue that: “if this bogus “compact” had been in effect in 2004, when 259,760 Rhode Islanders voted for Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and only 169,046 of us voted for President George W. Bush, all four of Rhode Island’s electoral votes would have gone to re-elect President Bush.”
Despite Mr. Baron’s assertion, Rhode Islanders overwhelmingly support the National Popular Vote Plan. In fact, more than 70% of Rhode Island voters support supplanting the winner-take-all electoral regime with a National Popular Vote process.
When a national election is decided against a voter’s chosen candidate, the voter is not likely to take solace in the fact that the candidate captured their state. A supporter of John Kerry from Rhode Island in 2004 was probably not reveling in the fact that the Democratic nominee won the Ocean State. The national election is what counts for the voter, and Kerry lost.
Similarly, at the state level, few voters in Cumberland, Rhode Island took umbrage at the fact that Lincoln Chaffee won the Gubernatorial election, despite losing in their municipality.
Mr. Baron rightly points out that the National Popular Vote Plan “isn’t exactly a Constitutional violation.” However, he then argues that the National Popular Vote Plan would “circumvent the Constitution” and that the proper method for supplanting the winner-take-all electoral system is to “amend it.” 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.
To his credit, Mr. Barron has a good understanding of the original intent of the Presidency, and sees the benefits of a National Popular Vote. However, he is mistaken in believing that the National Popular Vote Plan represents an underhanded end-run, whose purpose is to achieve this electoral result. Again, there is no provision in the U.S. Constitution mandating or even suggesting that states employ a winner-take-all electoral system.
States have changed their method of awarding electoral votes over time. In fact, Massachusetts has altered its method 11 times. Maine in 1969 and Nebraska in 1992 supplanted their winner-take-all system with the Congressional Allocation Method.
The winner-take-all approach of awarding electors was a scheme devised by partisan parochial interests to maximize their political advantage. It was not the grand design of the Founding Fathers. In fact, there is no mention at all of the winner-take-all system in the Federalist Papers and no mention of it at the Constitutional Convention.