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segdeha's avatar

What do Flutherites think of the National Popular Vote initiative?

Asked by segdeha (1707points) February 19th, 2008

Here’s the background on it:

Do you think this would make government more responsive to voters? Do you think it would get more people involved in presidential politics? Or, do you think it’s a waste of time?

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13 Answers

cwilbur's avatar

Imagine a solidly Democratic place, like Cambridge, Massachusetts, where there are few Republicans. Right now, it doesn’t do any good for Democrats to stuff the ballot box; once the Democrats carry the state, it doesn’t matter whether they carry the state by 100 votes or 10 million. Under a national popular vote system, the Democrats in Cambridge have a significant motivation to inflate the numbers by several thousand votes, or several hundred thousand votes, depending on what they think they can get away with.

(And this is not anti-Democrat specifically; replace “Cambridge, MA” with “Salt Lake City, UT” and “Democrat” with “Republican” and you get the same result.)

Further, it will change the style of campaigns, because instead of targeting the swing states, candidates will target the population centers. There’s no point in campaigning in Vermont or Wyoming when campaigning in New York or California reaches an order of magnitude more people.

So no, I don’t think it’s a good thing. It’s a knee-jerk solution to one of the problems with the electoral college; it doesn’t solve the problem it sets out to solve sufficiently well, and it gets rid of the good points of the electoral college.

Zaku's avatar

I think it’s noise in the way of more meaningful vote reform.

In this day and age, I should not have to choose the lesser of two candidates chosen by the two very similar monopolistic political parties. I should be able to express my actual support for any range of candidates, without sacrificing my ability to express which of the two big-party/media favorites I dislike more.

There are many proposals for how to achieve that. A simple one is to allow many more candidates, and change the vote to approve or disapprove for each one of them. That way, for example, if there were three candidates: the democrat, the republican, and the guy everyone secretly wanted to win, they could still vote against their least favorite party candidate, and still vote for the guy they really wanted to win, and the guy everyone wanted to win would win. Currently in that scenario, the generic parties win, as they almost always have…

P.S. Oh, and cwilbur’s answer reminded me: The other problem with the popular vote proposal is that it further erodes the already-weak issue of states’ rights.

cwilbur's avatar

You reminded me of that, too, Zaku.

Imagine being able to rate candidates on a preference system—eliminating the problem of “A vote for Nader is a vote for George Bush!” that turns elections into guessing about which of the candidates you find minimally acceptable will be most popular. You could rank Nader as your #1 choice, if you were so inclined, and Gore as your #2 choice, and then when Nader didn’t receive a plurality of the votes, your vote would be cast for Gore.

Indeed, because elections are handled on the basis of states, it would be entirely possible under the current system for a state like Vermont to try out such a voting system. The only federal requirement is that states certify their electors; requiring national popular vote means that the voting procedures in the states are dictated by the federal government.

Zaku's avatar

Very much agreed, cwilbur. And, that’s a great idea for a way to gain leverage for a more democratic system (and another good argument against the national popular vote proposal).

bob's avatar

A national popular vote might give people in red and blue states more incentive to vote. Their votes would actually mean something!

segdeha's avatar

@Zaku, You said one thing that should happen is “allow[ing] many more candidates.” It’s already perfectly legal for a zillion candidates to be on the ballot. If what you’re arguing against it the lack of meaningful candidates, then wouldn’t a national popular vote actually make meaningful “third party” candidates more likely? I mean, if Nader or whoever could get a sufficient number of votes nation wide, then his candidacy would be treated more seriously by the MSM because he could have a bigger effect on the outcome than just swinging a few counties one way or the other. Am I missing something?

cwilbur's avatar

In the 2000 elections, someone in Massachusetts could safely vote for Nader, expressing his true opinion as to the best candidate, because it was a safe bet that Gore would carry the state; and once Gore has carried the state, it doesn’t matter what margin he wins by. (This is the root of bob’s “Their votes would actually mean something” remark, and the root of the grassroots effort to trade votes in “secure” states—people in swing states who would have voted for Nader, but wanted Gore to win if Nader couldn’t, agreed to trade their votes with people in solidly Democratic states.) In a hypothetical similar election, where the national popular vote determines the winner, the same voter has to vote for Gore if he doesn’t want Bush to win, because all the votes for Democrats nationwide are counted against all the votes for Republicans.

So you’d see fewer third-party candidates, and they’d have an even harder time with the “a vote for a third party candidate is a vote for the heartless plutocrat!” or “a vote for a third party candidate is a vote for the liberal terrorist sympathizer!” meme.

Zaku's avatar

@segdeha: No, I don’t think a national popular vote would make a third party candidate any more meaningful. What I think you’re missing is that I want to be able to vote more meaningfully than giving one positive vote for one candidate. I want to be able to express at least which candidates (plural) I support and which ones I do not support. With only one positive vote, I can’t express that accurately if there are more than two candidates. Even better is cwilbur’s suggestion, where I could even express my preference amongst the candidates.

(For example, of four candidates I might prefer Gandhi to Jefferson, and have no support for Stalin, but prefer him to Hitler, so I could vote 1,2,3,4 (or in an even more sophisticated system, 1,2,-1,-2). However in the current US system, I’d need to decide between voting for Gandhi or Jefferson, and hope that the humanists were more agreed upon one candidate than the absolutists.)

vanguardian's avatar

driving & on my iPhone, so I’ll keep it short for now…but I believe in George Washingtons farewell speech he eluded to the fact – stay away from a party system, as it will ruin the country.

I will try to link his speech later, but the last time I read it, it was a very interesting read, if you like that kind of thing.

soundedfury's avatar

I’m absolutely against a move towards a popular vote model that would eliminate the Electoral College. Yes, we need reform. However, the Electoral College ensures that we have truly national candidates. Here’s an example:

In 1888, Grover Cleveland carried all southern states by a wide margin, but lost nearly every northern or western state. He won the popular vote by about 1% due to that overwhelming southern support. However, he lost the Electoral College vote by a significant number. This is an excellent example of what the college was designed to do: prevent regionalism and narrow-issue candidacies.

The mistake people make is thinking we vote for the President. The states vote for the president. All states have made that process democratic, but the Constitution does not dictate how the states determine those electoral votes.

I’d like to see it move towards a more proportional model. The winner-takes-all model that 48 states have adopted is flawed. In the proportional model, each congressional district within a state votes to allocate it’s electoral college vote, while the winner of the statewide popular vote gets the remaining 2 electoral college votes. This would mean the electoral college votes would more accurately reflect the nationwide popular vote, but still force candidates to address issues across the divides.

The problem isn’t the electoral college, it’s that states have chosen to use the winner-take-all method. They can fix that.

segdeha's avatar

Wouldn’t proportional apportionment of electoral votes be roughly equivalent to a national popular vote?

soundedfury's avatar

Roughly but not exactly. The relative value of each vote would be weighted heavier in more sparsely populated states. For instance, there is one electoral college vote per 703,070 voters in Texas, but it takes only 174,277 voters in Wyoming. It would continue to weight smaller states favorably.

Absent that kind of weighting, it would be possible to run for office by campaigning in only a handful of populous states (like California, Texas and Florida) rather than a true national campaign.

JackAdams's avatar

The Electoral College doesn’t need to be “reformed;” it needs to be TOTALLY ELIMINATED.

It never should have existed,

September 2, 2008, 5:11 AM EDT

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