Is there a conservative case for National Popular Vote?

posted at 4:30 pm on August 15, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

A few days ago, I got an invitation from my friend Laura Brod to discuss the National Popular Vote initiative.  Laura served several terms in the Minnesota legislature, rising to assistant GOP leader in her last two sessions (majority, then minority), and she has organized and served conservatives for her entire public career.  Given that, I was a little surprised to hear that Laura backed the NPV.  The proposal gets a lot of mischaracterizations; it doesn’t bypass the Electoral College, for instance, and since it relies on states voluntarily deciding to change how they allocate their Electoral College votes, it doesn’t violate the Constitution, either.  My skepticism rests mainly on my perception that an NPV arrangement would mainly serve the interests of high-population, mainly coastal states — and solve a problem that has only arisen twice in the preceding 134 years.

After meeting with Laura and Pat Rosenstiel from Red Cap Strategy, I was still skeptical, but at least intrigued by their argument that NPV would benefit smaller-population states and limit the kind of pandering that helped create Medicare Part D, for instance, and other big-ticket federal programs.  Laura wrote a brief essay for Hot Air introducing their case that conservatives should support NPV, and I’m curious to see how Hot Air readers respond.  I’ll have more to say at the end of the essay.

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Don’t Rush to Judgment: There is a Conservative Story to be told about the National Popular Vote

Recently there has been a lot of discussion in the news and blogosphere about the National Popular Vote Plan to guarantee the awarding of state electors to the candidate who wins the National Popular Vote in all 50 states.  Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of misstatements and rhetoric surrounding the issue.

I have recently read, due to passing of the bill in Massachusetts, that this is a “partisan” or even “liberal” effort.  This could not be further from the truth.  Just look at the experience and support of this legislation throughout the country with over 1935 supporting legislators from all political points of view across the political spectrum. In my home state of Minnesota, some of the most conservative members of our legislature are co-authors of the National Popular Vote Bill.  In the recent New York Senate vote on the legislation; Conservative Party endorsed Republicans favored the bill by a 20-3 margin.

The National Popular Vote Bill is not a Democrat or Republican bill.  It is not even a liberal or conservative bill.  The National Popular Vote Bill is a bill for Americans interested in both preserving our Electoral College and reforming the shortcomings of our current “winner-take-all” system that awards all the electors of one state to the candidate who wins in that particular state and which has led to a concentration of efforts in few states at the expense of many.

Like many conservatives, I view most ‘election reforms’ through a skeptical eye.  I share a reverence for the Constitution and our founding documents. In fact, when I first saw the National Popular Vote Plan, I defaulted to a “No” position on the concept.  But, I was curious enough to read the legislation, re-read the Constitution, and re-read some relevant Federalist Papers.  After evaluating the pros and cons of the current winner-take-all approach, I moved toward a position of support of both the concept and the legislation.  This plan rightfully utilizes the states’ rights, as explicitly spelled out in the Constitution, for full authority to award their electoral votes as they see fit.

Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution says:

“Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors… “

These words in the Constitution point out an important states’ right that the National Popular Vote Plan recognizes and, as a conservative, a right which I support.

Let’s be clear.  The National Popular Vote legislation being voted on and supported by legislators across this great nation does NOT abolish the Electoral College that is crucial to the stability of our republic – it preserves the Electoral College and each state’s right to award their electors.

I am one of a growing number of conservatives who support the National Popular Vote legislation because, contrary to what some folks suggest in rhetorical opposition, the many conservative supporters of the idea know that the National Popular Vote Plan is not in conflict with the Constitution and not an end run around the Constitution.  In actuality, the legislation is an exercise of power by the states that is explicitly granted through the Constitution.

Legislators across this great country—in red states and blue states, large states and small states— support this legislation because they are bound by one thing: the fact that their states are ‘flyover’ states.  When 98% of all presidential campaign spending and visits occur in only 15 states, the great majority of states are effectively ignored in presidential elections.  Legislators know this is not good for their state, their citizens, or their entire slate of candidates.  Many conservative legislators from across the country have recognized that policies important to the citizens of ‘flyover’ states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.  And, over time we have seen too much profligate spending based on what moves electoral votes, rather than a real focus on holding spending and debt in check to ensure economic security and real economic opportunity for Americans.

I believe this is a center-right country and that our conservative ideas and ideals will win the day if we take the argument to all people, not just those in battleground states.  We leave many conservative votes on the table in red and blue states because candidates are not competing for those votes.  We allow greater opportunity for fraud because the cheaters know how and where to cheat to make one illegal vote equal many electoral votes.

I am one of the growing number of conservatives who support the concept of reforming our system through an agreement of the states for a National Popular Vote Plan that keeps the stability of our Republican form of government by preserving our Electoral College, keeps the checks and balances in place to ensure the protection against so-called mob rule, and keeps the states’ rights intended by the Founder’s securely intact.

The National Popular vote plan being discussed by legislatures across the country does exactly that.

As a conservative, I ask you to hold off on making a rush to judgment on this issue and hope you will consider all sides of the issue, judge for yourself, and not allow the rhetoric of the opposition too often lacking in hard facts to stand without question.  Whatever side you come down on, one thing is certain; there is a conservative story in favor of a National Popular Vote to be told.

Representative Laura Brod (R-Minnesota)

Representative Brod has been in the Minnesota House since 2002 and is the Ranking Republican member of Minnesota’s House Tax Committee.

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Laura points out a good article from Rich Bolen, a Constitutional law scholar and a member of the Federalist Society, rebutting arguments against NPV, such as the basis of my skepticism, the impact on smaller states in presidential elections:

Objection: Won’t small states be ignored if we eliminate winner-take-all rules and adopt the National Popular Vote?

Response: No, because even in states that are reliably red or blue a bigger margin of victory or smaller margin of defeat can offset losses in other states. Candidates will work hard in states they will definitely win so they can get out more of their supporters to influence the total number of votes cast for them nationally. In fact, in strongly supportive states, candidates can get a better return for their campaign investment.

During our meeting, we spent quite a bit of time on this question, and I’m still not entirely convinced it will have the intended effect — but I’m more open to the point than I was previously.  States like Utah, South and North Dakota, and Oklahoma are usually so overwhelmingly Republican that candidates don’t bother spending much time or effort there; the same is true for Democratic states like Vermont, Connecticut, and so on.  Their winner-take-all EC policy means that if a candidate is more or less guaranteed to win it all without lifting a finger, then they won’t — because the margin of overall victory doesn’t matter.  In an NPV system, every vote would count, and both parties will be forced to compete in smaller states to either maximize or minimize the eventual margin of victory — and that means every state will get attention.

Also, the NPV system would only “activate” under specific circumstances.  If the popular vote winner doesn’t get the EC victory, then each state would have to fulfill their requirement under the interstate compact to allocate their EC votes to the popular-vote winner, and only if enough states have joined the compact to get to 270 votes.  (Interstate compacts are perfectly legal, by the way, when they involve only powers properly held by the states — and allocation of Electoral College votes is completely a state’s decision.)  But the possibility that an election will hinge on these outcomes will force candidates to campaign in all 50 states, NPV advocates argue.

I’m still at least somewhat skeptical.  Adopting NPV essentially means that all presidential elections are popular-vote contests, which does make the EC less relevant while retaining its form and Constitutional finality.  I’m not sure at all that the NPV will actually get candidates to spend time in smaller states, especially Democrats, who will use their GOTV votes in urban areas to build huge popular-vote leads in New York, California, and other coastal states in a cost-efficient manner that may not be replicable in exurbs or rural areas.  However, the NPV advocates rightly note that the current system means fewer down-ticket resources applied in those areas in both parties because of the perceived lack of need for those votes now in national elections.

It’s worth debating, but given the relative lack of crises in the last 134 years, it will probably be difficult to move states into accepting such a change.


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This entire concept is an illustration of the Grey Fallacy and a deliberate attempt to undermine our Republic by leveraging our very own forms against us.
They’ve tailored their assault with soft words and concepts, then stand back and watch the gaggle of Useful Idiots swarm in to argue the “merits” and compete with each other how to best drink the hemlock.

It’s incredibly stupid and obscene.

Read about Stanford Prof Koza’s plan to subvert the electoral college -
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/22/us/politics/22electoral.html
and the progressive’s somewhat successful attemps in recent years to have the marxicrat legsilatures of several of the most populous Blue states pass the binding legislation that will FORGE OUR CHAINS. Legislation that is deliberately designed to only kick in when enough stats to ensure a win concur.
One Man, One Vote, ONE TIME. It is the history of marxism and you damned morons are helping it happen with this garbage.

rayra on August 16, 2010 at 7:13 PM

Any details you do know would be fascinating to hear.

MeatHeadinCA on August 15, 2010 at 7:22 PM
Don’t know much but what little I gathered C K was not happy with the blow back from HA commenters..

PS..After the swipe C K took at Mark Steyn I did not think it would be long..:)

Dire Straits on August 15, 2010 at 7:31 PM

HUZZAH! Good riddance to that mush-headed socialist / LIBERAL-tarian sack of excrement.

rayra on August 16, 2010 at 7:16 PM

as few as 10 states could seal the deal.

tim c on August 15, 2010 at 5:23 PM

It’s not even 10 states. It’s something like 17 cities (metro areas) can get you a majority vote.

lorien1973 on August 15, 2010 at 5:26 PM

exactly! Combined wtih the Marxicrat effort to install Donk secretaries of state in the ‘battleground’ states before the Nov08 elections, the rampant criminal voter fraud of ACORN et al, the issue beomes easier and easier to surmount / steal. Until you get to the point of texting children in spain stampeded into reversing an election by a train bombing on its eve. Or crap like the WA Governor winning her seat on a few hundred votes worth of fraud, or that cretin Al Franken holding a key senate post and vote for obamacare on similar frauds – and BOTH of them still retaining their seats even after the frauds are made known and officially noticed / certified.

What have we become when such chicanery as this is allowed to grow and persist even once light is shed on it.
Or this weekend’s presidential claptrap about ‘ok to build a mosque on private property’ when we KNOW the site is half-owned by CON-ED.

Massive fraud and deceit are happening on EVERY political front, right before our very eyes – and STILL we do nothing but chatter about it, and the theiving marxist parasites continue to dig in deeper, appointing more of their fellows to our bureaucracies, KILLING OUR REPUBLIC.

rayra on August 16, 2010 at 7:24 PM

I’m going to emphasize this question one more time. What if a conservative wins the popular vote but not the electoral vote and Masschussets decides to renege on its agreement and keep its votes for the liberal? Who enforces the agreement?

The more I think about this idea the worse it looks.

DaMav on August 16, 2010 at 7:24 PM

I cant beleive this thread is being taking seriously.

Government by major media markets and urban centers. Worst idea ever.

swamp_yankee on August 16, 2010 at 7:48 PM

I cant beleive this thread is being taking seriously.

Government by major media markets and urban centers. Worst idea ever.

swamp_yankee on August 16, 2010 at 7:48 PM

Hammer meet nail! Consider your six covered…

jerrytbg on August 16, 2010 at 8:22 PM

As an alternative proposal. Since each states number of electors is equal to representatives pluse senators, how about the EC must vote as population of their respective district did, and the two extra votes for the senators go to the overall winner of that state.

As in – State Xero has a total of 33 electors, in the popular vote, 16 districts vote for the GOP candidate, and and 15 for the Dem.

The Elector votes would therefore be 18 GOP (16 districts plus 2 senators) GOP, and 15 Dem.

Because I live in PA. Last election, the ‘flyover’ portion of the state ALMOST overturned the big city vote for Kerry. I, for one, sure as Hell Do Not Want My Vote to go to the candidate voted for by the schmucks in Philly, Pittsburgh, etc.

Siddhartha Vicious on August 16, 2010 at 8:30 PM

Siddhartha Vicious wrote:

As in – State Xero has a total of 33 electors, in the popular vote, 16 districts vote for the GOP candidate, and and 15 for the Dem.

The Elector votes would therefore be 18 GOP (16 districts plus 2 senators) GOP, and 15 Dem.

Not bad but this simply has the majority yielding. Not a likely event.

Also, as a minor improvement, while each district could go to the candidate carrying it, the two ‘senator’ votes should go to the statewide majority leader. So in your example, if those 15 Dem districts had wins by larger margins, then it could go 16R-17D.

OBQuiet on August 17, 2010 at 12:10 AM

Is there a conservative case for National Popular Vote?

No.

None.

If we go this way, the most crooked boroughs of the most populous states will pump out the numbers, and the new swing vote will be dead people, kids under five, nursing home coma victims and motor voters

In a parlimentary system, there is some proportional representation for the underdog. Unless we change to that system, winner takes all means crooks take all

entagor on August 17, 2010 at 12:11 AM

Funny. No socialist sycophants come to contest in the last 5 hours? Contemptible cowards.

rayra on August 17, 2010 at 12:14 AM

Seriously. Ed Morrissey at the least needs to come and account for his foolishness about thinking this garbage was one iota of a ‘good idea’.
Are there ANY “conservative” pundits in the blogosphere who have any actual bona fides, who hold to the Founders’ intent and the Constitution AS WRITTEN? Any of you?

I haven’t found any yet and I sure as hell have been looking. All I’ve found are ‘cafeteria catholics’ -variety social liberals who want a few bucks trimmed off their taxes. Not a one of them seems to know the ACTUAL history of this nation pre-dating their adulthoods.
Or worse, Liberal-tarians. Libertarian Socialists (a real category, look it up) who don’t even recognize themselves for what they are. Grasping me-me-ME, MY freedoms, MY dope use, MY anarchic absolute rendition of the BoR. The Constitution as suicide pact. The same sorts of fools that argue it’s ok for the 3rd Jihad to plant their victory nest on top of the CRATER of Ground Zero, ‘because freedom of religion’ says so. Morons.

rayra on August 17, 2010 at 12:23 AM

Seriously, no more changes! I’ve had enough change! Seriously.

redwhiteblue on August 17, 2010 at 12:32 AM

OB, the small change you made to this plan would be acceptable to me, under the condition that voting laws were far more strictly enforced.

Because by the representative district method as listed, I believe fraud would be less likely, simply because why bother to inflate vote totals in a few districts, if it is not going to swing a whole state to your candidate?

Under your change, there would still be some (though obviously much less) incentive for a little fraud to inflate the overall count for one side or the other.

Siddhartha Vicious on August 17, 2010 at 6:46 AM

I think it would be better if the other 48 states simply did what Nebraska and Maine do–award the electoral college votes by congresional districts, with the other two votes represented by the Senate seats going to the candidate who got the most votes in th state at large. That’s why Obama got one electoral college vote from Nebraska; he won the Omaha congressional district. (McCain won the other two districts and got the most votes statewide, so he earned Nebraska’s other four EC votes.

This way, in ’08 McCain actually would have gotten a couple of EC votes in Illinois, even though Obama won the state, while here in Georgia McCain’s victory statewide would stand, but Obama would have picked up the votes from Atlanta’s districts. It would be more expressive of the will of the voters if EC was figured this way.

radjah shelduck on August 17, 2010 at 1:51 PM

No joke, Morrissey et al really need to speak up and state whether they’ve recognized the error in their “conservative” thinking on this issue. Instead of hiding from what they’ve done like it was a fart in church.
Or even an expression of some sort of due diligence to actually study why the Electoral College was put in place and about our actually being founded as a Representative Republic and NOT A FRIGGIN DIRECT DEMOCRACY. The Founders had some very disparaging things to say about ruinous folly of a direct democracy and strongly warned against such. As did Plato.

And CREEPS like Laura and Pat Rosenstiel from Red Cap Strategy and Representative Laura Brod (R-Minnesota) obviously do not understand that historical foundation. All they are looking for is immediate gain. Grasping, the very worst sort of the political class. And Rep Brod should be thrown out on her ass for not understanding what her oath to uphold support and defend the Constitution meant.

From the sixth article (since the creeps want to cite the document they are trying to subvert, as justification) -

“I, [state your name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

Read it again. Internalize it.

rayra on August 17, 2010 at 2:58 PM

The Constitution does not stipulate that each state must award all of its Electoral College votes to the statewide winner, but “shall appoint Electors in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.” Most State Legislatures have adopted the winner-take-all rule, but the Constitution doesn’t prevent any state from changing this.

The current system encourages candidates (from both parties) to ignore states that are lopsided in favor of either party, and only campaign in competitive states. So Democrats take huge states like California and New York for granted, Republicans take Texas and most of the South for granted, while both parties campaign hard in less populous states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Nevada, Missouri, and Colorado. The argument could be made that this disenfranchises millions of minority-party voters in lopsided states, such as Republicans in California and Democrats in Texas.

If the Electoral College is meant to represent the will of House districts (based on the number of electors) and of the states (two additional EC votes per state to represent Senators), a system like that in Maine and Nebraska could be considered fair, where one EC vote goes to each Congressional district voter, and two additional EC votes go to the statewide winner. After all, there are some Republican House members from California and Democrat House members from Texas, despite the statewide tilt toward the other party. In such a system, a Republican candidate might campaign in swing districts in California, and a Democrat might campaign in swing districts in Texas, instead of conceding the entire states to his opponent. Visits from Presidential candidates might give “coattails” to down-ticket candidates for House races.

Opponents of the system giving the EC votes to the overall popular-vote winner may argue that this would have elected Al Gore in 2000. That MIGHT be true, but not necessarily. With the current system, everybody knew that Florida was the decisive state, so all attention was focused on Florida, even though the early “call” of FL for Gore depressed turnout in the Republican Panhandle, where polls were still open when the network “call” was made.

It is estimated that Gore won the national popular vote by about 500,000 votes, but over a million absentee ballots were ignored in California (and hundreds of thousands in other states) because it was determined that there were not enough absentee ballots in any state (except Florida) to swing STATEWIDE results. But if any state had decided to allocate a significant number of EC votes to the national popular vote winner, ALL THOSE ABSENTEE BALLOTS WOULD HAVE TO BE COUNTED. No one cared whether Gore won California by 1 million or 2 million votes, but if the national popular vote mattered, those ballots would have to be counted. This would also encourage turnout by minority-party voters in heavily blue or red states, who ordinarily might be discouraged or only vote in down-ticket races.

IMHO, the Constitution does NOT prevent State Legislatures from allocating Electoral College votes in any way they choose, and there are merits to either a total-popular-vote system or a district-by-district system–both of which would increase voter turnout in politically-lopsided states. The one stipulation that would have to be made is that state legislatures should be prohibited from changing the EC allocation system during a Presidential election year, so that all candidates know the system throughout the campaign, and can adopt appropriate strategies without the rules changing in midstream.

Steve Z on August 17, 2010 at 4:34 PM

It still seems like a bad idea. Winner-takes-all has the advantage of smoothing out the inevitable rough spots, fraud, and irregularities you’ll always have in a national election. Once a given state is tipped toward the winning side it’s beyond dispute, except on very rare instances like the one in Florida. You don’t have to deal with complicated interdependent counts of electors in a dozen states, each with their own internal procedural particularities. As it stands now, you have a national election and 99% of the time everyone knows who won by the next day. That’s very, very important.

It’s a complicated and fragile way to work around a problem that arguably doesn’t even exist. I’d advocate breaking up the largest states into smaller ones before I’d support something like this.

GalosGann on August 17, 2010 at 4:55 PM

I’d rather I sure that non citizens are not voting in our elections

since it is illegal to question someones status when registering to vote I find this as the best place to start

Sonosam on August 17, 2010 at 6:23 PM

You ever notice that LIBERALS will go out of their way to get around the Constitution of The United States of America, instead of trying to change it LEGALLY? Instead of working within the system of laws that (are suppose to) govern our country, they try to do “end runs” around that document. Subversion is the idea, the Constitution is in the way of liberal/socialist and they work tooth and nail to try to find ways around it.

p51d007 on August 17, 2010 at 7:53 PM

You gotta be nucking futs. If we had National Popular Vote in 2000, we’d have had the Crazed Sex Poodle in the Oval Office. Screeching like a revivalist preacher on national TV about global warming, making us all ride bikes to work and molesting massage therapists after hours.

quikstrike98 on August 18, 2010 at 9:54 AM

OK Ed, you have sold me. I will also review the Federalist papers, which I have used successfully as my code book to decipher the Constitution.

Then to educate others that would surly oppose any vote on the matter, just because a conservative supported it.

Of course the biggest hurdle to overcome is the one that States with the largest population, basically in urban areas that hold leftist viewpoint, will tip the scales because they can get to the magic number of 270 quickly.

MSGTAS on August 18, 2010 at 10:30 AM

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