Sometime late last week, I saw something that caught my attention as I was scrolling through my Twitter feed. The governor of California, Jerry Brown, apparently signed into law his state’s intention to abide by the National Popular Vote Bill. At the site http://www.nationalpopularvote.com/, the header reads:
The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the entire United States. The bill preserves the Electoral College, while ensuring that every vote in every state will matter in every presidential election. The National Popular Vote law has been enacted by states possessing 132 electoral votes — 49% of the 270 electoral votes needed to activate it.
At first glance, I became a bit alarmed, as I’ve always assumed that such an initiative would (a) seriously compromise the integrity of the Electoral College and (b) always throw a national election in favor of the Democrats, based on the size of certain states that always vote down the left side of the ballot and the corresponding number of electoral votes. While I’ll still maintain that the current system that we employ is the better of the two, I was somewhat surprised–as I believe many of the usual America’s Right readers may be–and interested with what I found.
The actual reason that led me to looking into this issue a bit more deeply was that after having read the article about California’s dropping its name into the popular vote hat, I immediately went on to Facebook to post a warning about the act’s possible consequences. Two of my lifelong friends responded to my post, both of whom are great guys but unfortunately do lean left.
One of those life-long friends, a very politically-astute buddy named Chris, provided a quite detailed response. While I read it several times and still wasn’t convinced, being a common-sense guy, I always want as much information on a subject before I come to a definitive decision. For that reason, I went to another friend of mine, one of the erstwhile American history teachers at the school at which I teach and a man who, quite honestly, knows our real history and the Constitution cold.
In the course of explaining my conundrum, I explained that Chris had provided a pretty lengthy and detailed opposing argument, which I presented. After reading over the Facebook back-and-forth several times, my colleague said, “unfortunately, he’s correct — constitutionally, that is.”
I suppose, as conservatives who revere the Constitution as a static document, we would normally end the conversation there and then. What I’ve discovered, however, is that there is, in fact, another way to view this issue through the “static” prism.
My colleague provided me with additional information to consider, as well as a copy of Federalist No. 68, written by Alexander Hamilton, which defends the use of the electoral college in selecting the president of the United States. As I’ve said in previous articles here at AR, Hamilton–almost universally considered the most brilliant of the Founding Fathers–scares the hell out of me. After all the reading that I’ve done about the Founders, the only way that I can accurately characterize Hamilton’s intellect is to call it “ferocious”; he was a brilliant man, no doubt, but I think he was a bit scary, too. His reputation during the Revolution also spoke volumes about that ferocity.
While I feel that I know a lot more about our Constitution than I did a decade ago, I am by no means a scholar on the subject; certainly, both Jeff Schreiber and my academic colleague know a lot more than I do. My friend, Chris, may even find some interesting points here, especially when I say that in the truest sense of the debate he is both right and wrong.
First, let’s start with one thing that I feel most conservatives already know — those politically-active people in our country who consider themselves Liberals or even far-Leftists know that their ideas are almost always universally rejected by mainstream Americans, as we are by and large a people who put great value in personal freedom, personal responsibility, and self-reliance. Consequently, Liberals have always had a very difficult time getting their ideas to pass Congress in the form of laws, as the Constitution–that big, ugly roadblock that restrains government power and “negatively liberates” the American people, according to our current president–generally does not allow for the federal government’s becoming the caretaker of the people; rather, it calls on the federal government to protect the people’s individual rights to call their own shots in life.
Concurrently, since Liberals have a very difficult time “getting their way” via the Constitution, they usually attack it in one of two ways, or both: they either claim it to be a “living,” malleable document that changes with the times, or they try to circumvent it and go around it. The latter of the two is, I feel, what the Left is attempting to do in a very quiet way with regard to the Electoral College (after all, how many Americans are really aware that this is beginning to pick up a bit of steam?), simply because the real and honorable manner of bringing about such a fundamental change–an amendment to the Constitution–would more than likely never gain the requisite support of three-quarters of the House and Senate.
So, if you can’t get your way, find a way – I suppose.
Of course, any discussion here has to start with Article II of the Constitution, which reads as follows:
1.2 Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States, shall be appointed an elector.
Clearly, the Founders’ intentions ring loudly and clearly here and, according to my colleague, provides the firm basis for Chris’s being constitutionally correct. If a state signs into law its intention to award its electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, then so be it. That’s the right of the individual state.
What must also be considered here, though, is not only the constitutionality of the law but the spirit of the Framers’ intentions. The Founders went to incredible lengths and degrees to find that very fine balance between federal and state power and to reduce the abstract concept of “power” down to its smallest component parts. If they wanted a national popular vote to decide the presidential election, it would have been very easy for them to do so. They deliberately went out of their way to ensure that that would not be the case. Obviously, what we’ve seen from the current administration is that their true intention is to consolidate as much power at the federal level as possible.
Let’s take a look at the election over which most liberals seemingly still lose sleep, the hotly-debated 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Most people will recall that the result of the election came down to contested votes in a certain county in Florida, a county that ended up tipping the electoral vote to Bush, since by narrowly taking Florida by hundreds of votes he was awarded all of that state’s 27 electoral votes. Bush won the election by a count of 270 electoral votes (the minimum number required for victory) to Gore’s 268. Had there not been a controversy–which, if I remember, centered on the placement of Pat Buchanan’s name on the butterfly ballot–Gore might have taken Florida and won electorally by 295-243 in addition to having already won the popular vote (certainly, the Almighty must have intervened; otherwise, we’d all have Franklin stoves in the center of our one-room flats). The electoral map of that election, however, reveals something very, very interesting. Have a look at this:
Even if Gore had turned Florida blue, what is beyond the shadow of a doubt the tenor–or the overall “voice” of the country, if you will–calling for? See, that’s what the electoral college does: it provides a safeguard against “true democracy” (which can lead to mob rule) and preserves the true nature of our Constitutional Republic.
Let’s take yet another example. The electoral results of the 2008 election were a landslide, as Barack Obama defeated John McCain 365-173, which is by every measure a landslide. The electoral map, however, looked like this:
Obama did win the popular vote as well, but not by much. The “voice” of the country was much, much more divided than the seemingly conclusive electoral count.
Those on the Left maintain–and to a certain strong extent, they’re correct–that as the electoral process currently stands, presidential candidates are never going to exhaust their resources in states with a very small number of electoral votes, such as my state, Rhode Island, which only has four. Presidential candidates are much more likely to concentrate their efforts and resources in the “battleground” states, those states that usually don’t always vote along strict party lines (unlike California or Texas) and have the number of electoral votes that could conceivably swing an election. Liberals consistently maintain that the votes in states such as Rhode Island amount to nothing in the final tally. They argue that if there were a true popular vote, each person’s vote would count the same as everyone else’s nationwide. As I stated earlier, they’re both right and wrong.
If the National Popular Vote were enacted, Presidential candidates would still restrict their resources, but they would more than likely concentrate their efforts in the biggest states rather than the battleground states. Further, they would probably do this contrary to the reason that you might initially think. If all states awarded their electoral votes to the national winner and everyone’s vote counted the same, that might become an inducement for more Republicans in California, for example, to come out to vote. It’s a pretty good bet that a lot of Republicans in California don’t even bother venturing out to an election site on the first Tuesday in November, because they understandably feel that their one vote isn’t going to amount to anything.
Under this new system, they might still lose the popular vote in California but, based on the national results, the Republican candidate could “steal” all of California’s 55 electoral votes. Likewise, a liberal Democrat in Texas might now make the effort to vote for the very same reason. In Rhode Island, more Republicans might vote — which would, as my friend Chris stated, result in my vote truly meaning something.
If the California scenario were ever to happen, though, I’m sure we’d then hear those on the Left howling that the results weren’t fair, that California’s or Washington States’s electoral votes should go to the Democrat, when in fact it would have been their own law that led them to defecating in their own oatmeal.
As the National Popular Vote bill currently stands, there are enough states on board to have accrued 132 electoral votes. According to the initiative, once that number reaches 270, it becomes law. As I stated at the outset of this piece, it is apparently a constitutionally-allowable movement. In the end, though, let me offer two observations:
- If enacted, this may in fact benefit Republicans more than the Left thinks; I wonder if they’ve truly thought this through. One thing we know for certain is that the Left can never be accused of considering of looking before they leap. I’m betting that many of them simply see this as a vehicle around the Constitution that will result in a more clean, ”democratic” vote.
- In Federalist No. 68, Hamilton himself said, “I venture somewhat further, and hesitate not to affirm that if the manner of it be not perfect, it is at least excellent. It unites in an eminent degree all the advantages the union of which was to be desired.”
In a word, it results in balance between state and national concerns. Let us not forget the “spirit” of our laws as well as their specific legalities.