On the Matter of the National Popular Vote

I’m on Mrs. Clinton’s e-mail list because I haven’t unsubscribed yet. Today, the list sent me an e-mail about bills currently in the New York legislature to change how the State allocates its Electors. The bills under consideration in New York are A-489 and S-1820.

I don’t think their plea for me to contact my legislators had the result they intended.

New York is generally ignored during presidential campaigns because the results are too predictable. Why should the candidate of any party bother to stop here when it’s obvious that one of the candidates will win by a landslide?

New York is not the only State with this problem. Any State which allocates all of its Electors to the person winning a simple majority of the vote, and then proceeds to vote consistently for one party over another, loses influence. That State is now safe, reliable, the old girlfriend you turn to for brief satisfaction when the one you lust after pushes you away. Sure, she’s good for a screw, but who really cares what she thinks?

While I would like to see changes in how New York State allocates its Electors, I do not support the proposal to give our Electors to the candidate which wins a majority of the national popular vote in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. (What? Puerto Rico and the Territories still don’t count? And you call yourself a democrat!) This particular effort is an attempt to ensure that the person who wins the Presidency is the person preferred by the majority of all voters, but didn’t gain much traction until the supposed wrong done to Mr. Albert Gore in 2000. Because the problem was obviously the system, and not our impatience.*

If we ignore historical curiousities that restricted the electorate, and assume that the voters expressed the Will of the People, it’s rare that the winner of the popular choice has lost the Presidency. There have been 56 elections under the present system. Of those 56, 4 were not won by the winner of the popular vote.** That’s only 7.14%.

I would prefer, instead, that New York allocate its Electors proportionately, rather than in the winner-take-all manner that it does now. And I would like for New York to use the so-called instant run-off ballot, which would allow voters to rank several candidates according to their preferences.

* You want instant gratification? Can’t wait a bit to find out the result? You deserve what you get, you impatient buffoon.

** In 1824, John Quincy Adams won over Andrew Jackson in the House of Representatives as a result of no majority in the Electoral College. In 1876, Rutherford B. Hayes won over Samuel J. Tilden by way of a special commission. In 1888, Benjamin Harrison won over Grover Cleveland in the College. And in 2000, George W. Bush won over Albert A. Gore, Jr., because first Gore gave up, changed his mind, and then everybody was too impatient to wait for a recount in Florida so someone asked the Supreme Court for a summary judgment. These four incidents offer plenty of opportunity for the counter-factual historian.


  1. The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. Elections wouldn’t be about winning states. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps. Every vote, everywhere would be counted for and directly assist the candidate for whom it was cast. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states.

    In the 2012 election, pundits and campaign operatives already agree that only 14 states and their voters will matter under the current winner-take-all laws (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in each state) used by 48 of the 50 states. Candidates will not care about 72% of the voters– voters in 19 of the 22 lowest population and medium-small states, and big states like CA, GA, NY, and TX. 2012 campaigning would be even more obscenely exclusive than 2008 and 2004. In 2008, candidates concentrated over 2/3rds of their campaign events and ad money in just 6 states, and 98% in just 15 states (CO, FL, IN, IA, MI, MN, MO, NV, NH, NM, NC, OH, PA, VA, and WI). Over half (57%) of the events were in just 4 states (OH, FL, PA, and VA). Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or care about the voter concerns in the dozens of states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind.

    Now, policies important to the citizens of ‘flyover’ states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.

    Since World War II, a shift of a handful of votes in one or two states would have elected the second-place candidate in 4 of the 13 presidential elections. Near misses are now frequently common. There have been 6 consecutive non-landslide presidential elections.. 537 popular votes won Florida and the White House for Bush in 2000 despite Gore’s lead of 537,179 popular votes nationwide. A shift of 60,000 votes in Ohio in 2004 would have defeated President Bush despite his nationwide lead of over 3 Million votes.

    The bill would take effect when enacted by states that have a majority of the electoral votes–that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). Then, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support for a national popular vote is strong in virtually every state, partisan, and demographic group surveyed in recent polls in closely divided battleground states: CO – 68%, FL – 78%, IA 7-5%,, MI – 73%, MO – 70%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM– 76%, NC – 74%, OH – 70%, PA – 78%, VA – 74%, and WI – 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE – 75%, ID – 77%, ME – 77%, MT – 72%, NE 74%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM – 76%, OK – 81%, RI – 74%, SD – 71%, UT – 70%, VT – 75%, WV – 81%, and WY – 69%; in Southern and border states: AR – 80%,, KY- 80%, MS – 77%, MO – 70%, NC – 74%, OK – 81%, SC – 71%, VA – 74%, and WV – 81%; and in other states polled: CA – 70%, CT – 74%, MA – 73%, MN – 75%, NY – 79%, OR – 76%, and WA – 77%.

    The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers, in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in AR, CT, DE, DC, ME, MI, NV, NM, NY, NC, and OR, and both houses in CA, CO, HI, IL, NJ, MD, MA ,RI, VT, and WA . The bill has been enacted by DC, HI, IL, NJ, MD, MA, and WA. These 7 states possess 74 electoral votes — 27% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.


  2. Any state that enacts the proportional approach on its own would reduce its own influence. This was the most telling argument that caused Colorado voters to agree with Republican Governor Owens and to reject this proposal in November 2004 by a two-to-one margin.

    If the proportional approach were implemented by a state, on its own,, it would have to allocate its electoral votes in whole numbers. If a current battleground state were to change its winner-take-all statute to a proportional method for awarding electoral votes, presidential candidates would pay less attention to that state because only one electoral vote would probably be at stake in the state.

    If the whole-number proportional approach had been in use throughout the country in the nation’s closest recent presidential election (2000), it would not have awarded the most electoral votes to the candidate receiving the most popular votes nationwide. Instead, the result would have been a tie of 269–269 in the electoral vote, even though Al Gore led by 537,179 popular votes across the nation. The presidential election would have been thrown into Congress to decide and resulted in the election of the second-place candidate in terms of the national popular vote.

    A system in which electoral votes are divided proportionally by state would not accurately reflect the nationwide popular vote and would not make every vote equal.

  3. If a State is ignored now, with winner-take-all, there is no effective reduction in influence through switching to a proportional allocation. The attention paid that State cannot be less than zero.

  4. Frankly, I’m not in agreement with either party, so the fact that someone could win with a simple majority of 50.00000000000000000000000000000000000001% of the populace is not much of an argument for the correctness of the system where one’s only choices are Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

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