Electoral College system benefits Vermont voters
By ALEXANDER S. BELENKY | April 20,2008
ermont's Legislature favors the National Popular Vote plan, which is opposed by Gov. James Douglas.
Vermont, along with the 16 other states with five electoral votes and fewer, are among major beneficiaries of the Electoral College-based election system, since in electing a president, each of them has a say disproportionate to its population size. Moreover, should the House of Representatives elect a president, each state, including California and Texas, casts an equal vote there. The constitutional principle "one state, one vote" guarantees equal suffrage to all the states in amending the Constitution and in electing a president in Congress.
Though, in close elections, both benefits matter, under the current use of the Electoral College mechanism, Vermont is a "safe" state for the Democratic Party candidate. Also, the "winner-take-all" rule of awarding state electoral votes, employed in 48 states and Washington, D.C., discourages major party candidates from campaigning in a majority of the states, including Vermont.
The originators of the National Popular Vote propose their "remedy" for changing this status quo. They invite the legislatures of all the states to join a "compact" of states that would award electoral votes of their states to the winner of the popular vote plurality (not necessarily a majority!) no matter how voters of their own states voted. In Vermont, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Maine, and other states with small numbers of electoral votes, they "sell" the belief that by joining the "compact," any state would bring to its voters as much candidates' attention as would California and Texas.
But this counterintuitive belief isn't backed up by anything other than the rhetoric of its promoters. In presidential elections, the 12 largest states account for more than half of all cast votes. So under a direct popular election according to the National Popular Vote rules, major party candidates are likely to focus their campaigns in large- and medium-size states, since a candidate receiving any tiny nationwide popular vote plurality wins the presidency. The same amount of money spent, say, in two media markets will likely motivate more voters by the market covering larger population.
Besides stripping the signatory states of their Electoral College benefits while offering them nothing in exchange, the National Popular Vote plan may cause tension among the states and divide American society.
National Popular Votet plan backers suggest that a compact of state legislatures from the states controlling 270 electoral votes combined can de facto dictate to the federation their own rules of presidential elections even if more than one-fourth of its members disagree. They apparently believe that the 1787 Great Compromise, which allowed the nation to be born, should no longer be honored, at least with respect to presidency. They also seem to believe that awarding state electoral votes contrary to the state popular vote — eventually in all signatory states (!) — will not encourage some state electors to vote "faithlessly," giving superiority to the popular will over that of the state Legislature.
Finally, the Supreme Court may find that appointing electors by state Legislature collectively contradicts the Founding Fathers' intent.
Concern of "safe" states regarding candidates' attention in election campaigns can be addressed by an alternative to the National Popular Vote plan, making all 50 states "battlegrounds."
Let a recipient of a majority of the nationwide popular vote and of the popular vote majorities in at least 26 states (or in 25 states and Washington, D.C.) become the next president — even if another candidate won the Electoral College — as long as a majority of all eligible voters cast ballots in the election.
Only if no candidate received the required majorities, or less than a majority of eligible voters cast votes, would the winner of at least 270 electoral votes — automatically awarded by states and Washington, D.C., in the manners chosen by their legislatures — be the next president. If no candidate won at least 270 electoral votes either, the House of Representatives would choose a president, as the 12th Amendment directs.
Introducing the proposed rules by a constitutional amendment would make the nationwide popular vote a decisive factor in determining the election outcome in today's America, where citizens consider themselves Americans first and Vermonters, Californians, etc. second.
Under these rules, major party candidates would likely compete in all large states to win a nationwide popular majority and in all small states to seek to win in at least 26 states. Both candidates would likely compete in medium-sized states as well, especially in the "battleground" ones, since the Electoral College might eventually decide the election outcome.
Thus, all the states would gain the attention of the candidates, and no state would lose, since all the states would retain all their Electoral College benefits.
The support of the National Popular Vote plan by state legislatures in several currently "safe" states owes much to the unfamiliarity of voters from these states with details of the plan and its alternatives. However, once such details are communicated to the electorate, wishful thinking of the NPVP promoters won't be able to prevail over common sense and simple arithmetic.
Alexander S. Belenky holds a Ph.D. in systems analysis and applied mathematics. He is a visiting scholar at MIT's Center for Engineering Systems Fundamentals and the author of several books on U.S. presidential elections.