One of the most interesting issues I have gotten to work on is National Popular Vote. When I was first introduced to it I heard a presentation on why it was a bad idea, and it wasn’t until several years later that I heard an explanation about why it was a good idea. That began a long (long, long, long) process of learning all about the issue, at the end of which I decided it was an idea of such great merit that I wanted to help pass it here in Arizona. A number of folks have asked me to write why I think it is a good idea, so here goes.
First, our current winner-take-all system (which awards all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state) is completely dysfunctional. The winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes relegates 40+ states (including Arizona) to irrelevant status when it comes to electing the President. These 40 states are decidedly red or blue, they are not “in play”, they are not swing states, and they are ignored by both the Republican and Democrat candidates in the general election. Any system that encourages candidates to ignore 80% of the country is a bad idea. Any system in which 4 out of 5 voters is ignored makes no sense.
Second, you cannot separate today’s perpetual campaign from policy and governing. Once elected, a President’s team is immediately focused on re-election. For example, 36 months before President Bush’s re-election campaign his policy team was polling policy issues in just 18 states. Once re-elected, a President’s focus is on keeping the White House in their party’s hands. That is why swing states take priority. They get more federal largesse, more grants, more waivers, more disaster relief, more visits, etc. That is why federal policy favors key voters in important states (unfunded prescription drug benefits for Florida seniors, No Child Left Behind for soccer moms in Ohio, ethanol for Iowa, steel tariffs for Pennsylvania, etc), while Arizona and the rest of the country get to pay the tab. This problem is not partisan. Both Republicans and Democrats pander to swing voters in swing states at the expense of the country as a whole.
Third, every American, regardless of which state they live in, ought to matter and count the same. The issues that are important to every American ought to be important to our candidates and government. National issues and legitimate functions of the federal government ought to be the issues on which the race for President is run. Instead, they are largely ignored while the candidates focus on moderate swing voters in swing states. That is why you hear so little about national debt, tax reform, national defense, border security, constitutional issues like life or the 2nd Amendment, etc. Sure, you may hear about it during the primary, but you don’t in a general election unless that issue has been identified as something that is important to swing voters in swing states. Instead of electing a President of the United States, our system encourages us to elect a President of the Swing States.
The Founding Fathers never approved the Winner-Take-All system at the Constitutional Convention. In fact, they didn’t even discuss it. Rather, the Founding Fathers sent the state delegations home, with the state legislatures given the power to select the method by which presidential electors would be chosen (“Each State shall appoint in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct a number of electors”). It was their intent that states choose a method that maximized each state’s influence over the election of the President (see Federalist 45). They would be appalled by today’s system, the ignoring of 80% of the country, and the utter lack of relevance that most states have accepted for themselves.
National Popular Vote is an interstate compact that makes no changes to the Constitution or the Electoral College. It is an exercise in state sovereignty that flexes one of the only remaining muscles that states have over the federal government.
It disincentivizes fraud by making it impossible to “steal a state” with a few hundred fraudulent votes and thereby flip a large number of electoral votes that deliver an Electoral College win. It eliminates the existing impact that illegal aliens have on the Electoral College (electoral college votes are based on the census which counts illegal aliens – giving some states more electoral votes than they ought to have). It spares us the potential hijinks of hanging chads deciding who gets to be President.
National Popular Vote encourages the political parties to nominate candidates who are best equipped to speak to the whole nation and motivate the base of each party, instead of the current system which places a priority on where candidates are from. I have no desire to support a Bush/Kasich ticket because the GOP can’t win without Florida and Ohio. Opponents of National Popular Vote repeatedly testify that one of the benefits to the current system is that it moderates politics by forcing the parties to nominate moderate candidates who can appeal to moderate swing voters in moderate swing states. No wonder you can barely tell Democrat and Republican candidates apart come September and October of a Presidential election year (or often after they’re elected for that matter). Our opponents consider this a plus. I disagree. Our nation would be better served with candidates who offer clear distinctions and two different directions for our country.
The current system also forces flyover states to export millions of dollars every four years. During the 2012 campaign, Arizona donors contributed more than $14.6 Million to the Democrat and Republican presidential candidates, receiving almost nothing in return. That money should remain in Arizona, building strong parties and connecting with Arizona voters.
Most importantly for Arizona, the current system makes states like Florida, Ohio and Virginia reign supreme, while Arizona simply doesn’t matter at all. The Founding Fathers would be offended at states being ignored by Presidents, and so should the states themselves. Maintaining the status quo and preserving the disproportionate influence of a small number of voters in a shrinking number of battleground states is a tragic misuse of Arizona’s 11 electoral votes. The Arizona Legislature will debate an easy fix to this problem. Passing National Popular Vote is a simple act of legislation that can be reversed just as easily should a better solution emerge in the future. It is Constitutional, it preserves the Electoral College, it preserves state control of elections, and it is very much in keeping with the spirit of original intent. Of paramount importance, implementation of a National Popular Vote will immediately ensure that every voter, in every state, matters in every election. As they should.