Irrelevant State vs. Electoral College

2008 Electoral Map

2008 Electoral Map

No, it’s not my 2009 Humanitarian Bowl dream match up.

Republicans are giving Iowa Senate Democrats a lot of guff over proposed legislation that would allow us to join a compact of states trying to short-circuit the Electoral College.

The bill would seek to hand Iowa’s 7 electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, regardless of whether that same candidate wins Iowa’s vote. The change wouldn’t kick in until legislatures in a critical mass of states approve it.

Many Democrats like the idea, sensing that it’s their presidential nominees who are most likely to end up like Al Gore, popular vote winners but Electoral College losers. They voted 8-7 to send the bill out of the Senate State Government Committee Monday. Two Democrats, including Sen. Wally Horn, D-Cedar Rapids, joined the GOP in voting no.

Republicans charge that the change would make Iowa far less relevant in presidential general elections. Under the current structure, Iowa’s seven, soon to be six, electoral votes matter as candidates try to piece together a winning combination to reach 270.

The GOP has dubbed the bill the “Iowa Voter Irrelevancy Act” Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Paul McKinley, R-Chariton, say Iowans should be outraged:

“Democrats must really want voters in urban centers like Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, Miami or Boston having more say in the process than the voters in our communities all over the state,” said McKinley. “During last year’s election, groups like ACORN were out meddling with voter registrations and tampering with our elections. Do we really want to give them more opportunity to steal our legitimate right to determine who becomes our country’s president?”

 Founding Fathers vs. Acorn. Good stuff.

That said, I think the Electoral College has outlived its usefulness. We don’t need an archaic mechanism to protect the nation from the ill whim of the rabble. The popular vote should count, period.

I know that may mean fewer tarmac rallies at The Eastern Iowa Airport every fourth September, but so be it. I’m a small state guy who loves politics, but I’m not sure the country is best served by the current system. I know many will disagree.

But here’s something we can agree on, I think this bill is a really bad idea. It’s an ill-advised end-run around  the U.S. Constitution. This is not how you change the constitutional ground rules in America.

If you think the Electoral College has to go, you push for a constitutional amendment ending it. Yeah, that’s much tougher than passing this goofy bill, but it should be tough. That’s why the document endures, because people can’t take a scissors to it anytime they want.

It’s a good, healthy debate to have, but this is not the way to have it. I hope committee passage is as far as it goes.

And with all the major problems facing Iowa, why are our legislators messing around with this issue now? This is the sort of partisan issue that burns time and political capital. Shelve it.



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21 responses to “Irrelevant State vs. Electoral College

  1. terry

    What about it’s effect on the nomination process? So far I’ve heard no one make the point that people will no doubt apply this same logic to our nomination calendar arguing the point: why should Iowa remain first in choosing each party’s nominee when we support the idea of a national popular vote?
    Supporting this idea is shooting us [Iowa] right in the foot and will make us null and void in all future presidential elections.

  2. Actually what we should do is just take away the voting rights of the entire country except for the states that are on the coasts, Illinois, and Minnesota.. I suppose we can throw Ohio in there as well.

    … this makes me want to say bad words. The author of this bill and those that are sponsoring it need to be removed from office during the next election. Thats all there is to it. If these people are not capable of abiding by the Constitution and the process that is laid out to change the Constitution then they have no reason to be in public service.

    I have a real problem letting the Urban population determine the course of this nation. No one would be complaining about the Electoral College if we could just get some good people to run for President. Instead we are stuck consistently voting for the lesser of two evils. This is NOT a problem with our election process it is a problem with the people we are trying to elect and a fundamental lack of political eduction of the electorate.

  3. Here are links to the relevant legislative documents. I dont know why all of the newpapers and bloggers in Iowa have failed to include this information.

    Senate File 227
    Senate Study Bill 1128

    House Study Bill 98

  4. tdorman

    Thanks, Zach. I was remiss in not including bill numbers.

  5. susan


    A survey of 800 Iowa voters showed 75% overall support for a national popular vote for President. The question was “How do you think we should elect the President when we vote in the November general election: should it be the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states, or the current electoral college system?

    By political affiliation, support for a national popular vote for President was 82% among Democrats, 63% among Republicans, and 77% among others.

    By age, support was 76% among 18-29 year olds, 65% among 30-45 year olds, 76% among 46-65 year olds, and 80% for those older than 65.

    By gender, support was 82% among women and 67% among men.

    By race, support was 75% among whites (representing 93% of respondents), 65% among African Americans (representing 2% of respondents), 86% among Hispanics (representing 1% of respondents), and 58% among others (representing 4% of respondents).

    The survey was conducted on February 17-18, 2009, by Public Policy Polling.


  6. Susan, that is all well and good, but we have a process to make changes like this and it does not include circumventing the Constitution. If such widespread support for a “popular vote” system actually exists then their should be no problem completing the Constitutional Amendment process.

    Todd, I didn’t mean to suggest that you were negligent in leaving out the bill numbers etc. I commented in a rush. But I do find it interesting that I read about this stuff in several publications early this morning including a message from the RPI and no one included links to the bill.

  7. susan

    The normal way of changing the method of electing the President is not a federal constitutional amendment, but changes in state law. The U.S. Constitution gives “exclusive” and “plenary” control to the states over the appointment of presidential electors.

    Historically, virtually all of the previous major changes in the method of electing the President have come about by state legislative action. For example, the people had no vote for President in most states in the nation’s first election in 1789. However, nowadays, as a result of changes in the state laws governing the appointment of presidential electors, the people have the right to vote for presidential electors in 100% of the states.

    In 1789, only 3 states used the winner-take-all rule (awarding all of a state’s electoral vote to the candidate who gets the most votes in the state). However, as a result of changes in state laws, the winner-take-all rule is now currently used by 48 of the 50 states.

    In other words, neither of the two most important features of the current system of electing the President (namely, that the voters may vote and the winner-take-all rule) are in the U.S. Constitution. Neither was the choice of the Founders when they went back to their states to organize the nation’s first presidential election.

    In 1789, it was necessary to own a substantial amount of property in order to vote; however, as a result of changes in state laws, there are now no property requirements for voting in any state .

    The normal process of effecting change in the method of electing the President is specified the U.S. Constitution, namely action by the state legislatures. This is how the current system was created, and this is the built-in method that the Constitution provides for making changes. The abnormal process is to go outside the Constitution, and amend it.

    What the current U.S. Constitution says is “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors . . .” The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the state legislatures over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as “plenary” and “exclusive.”

  8. susan

    The major shortcoming of the current system of electing the President is that presidential candidates concentrate their attention on a handful of closely divided “battleground” states. 98% of the 2008 campaign events involving a presidential or vice-presidential candidate occurred in just 15 closely divided “battleground” states. Over half (57%) of the events were in just four states (Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia). Similarly, 98% of ad spending took place in these 15 “battleground” states. Similarly, in 2004, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their money and campaign visits in five states and over 99% of their money in 16 states. Two-thirds of the states and people have been merely spectators to the presidential elections. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or worry about the voter concerns in states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. The reason for this is the winner-take-all rule enacted by 48 states, under which all of a state’s electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state.

    Another shortcoming of the current system is that a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide. This has occurred in one of every 14 presidential elections.

    In the past six decades, there have been six presidential elections in which a shift of a relatively small number of votes in one or two states would have elected (and, of course, in 2000, did elect) a presidential candidate who lost the popular vote nationwide.

  9. susan

    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 would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections.

    The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, 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).

    The Constitution gives every state the power to allocate its electoral votes for president, as well as to change state law on how those votes are awarded.

    The bill is currently endorsed by 1,246 state legislators — 460 sponsors (in 48 states) and an additional 786 legislators who have cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.

    The National Popular Vote bill has been endorsed by the New York Times, Chicago Sun-Times, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant, Miami Herald, Sarasota Herald Tribune, Sacramento Bee, The Tennessean, Fayetteville Observer, Anderson Herald Bulletin, Wichita Falls Times, The Columbian, and other newspapers. The bill has been endorsed by Common Cause, Fair Vote, and numerous other organizations.

    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). The recent Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University poll shows 72% support for direct nationwide election of the President. This national result is similar to recent polls in Arkansas (80%), California (70%), Colorado (68%), Connecticut (73%), Delaware (75%), Kentucky (80%), Maine (71%), Massachusetts (73%), Michigan (73%), Mississippi (77%), Missouri (70%), New Hampshire (69%), Nebraska (74%), Nevada (72%), New Mexico (76%), New York (79%), North Carolina (74%), Ohio (70%), Pennsylvania (78%), Rhode Island (74%), Vermont (75%), Virginia (74%), Washington (77%), and Wisconsin (71%).

    The National Popular Vote bill has passed 22 state legislative chambers, including one house in Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, and Washington, and both houses in California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland. These four states possess 50 electoral votes — 19% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.


  10. susan

    The small states are the most disadvantaged of all under the current system of electing the President. Political clout comes from being a closely divided battleground state, not the two-vote bonus.

    Small states are almost invariably non-competitive in presidential election. Only 1 of the 13 smallest states are battleground states (and only 5 of the 25 smallest states are battlegrounds).

    Of the 13 smallest states, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Alaska regularly vote Republican, and Rhode Island, Delaware, Hawaii, Vermont, Maine, and DC regularly vote Democratic. These 12 states together contain 11 million people. Because of the two electoral-vote bonus that each state receives, the 12 non-competitive small states have 40 electoral votes. However, the two-vote bonus is an entirely illusory advantage to the small states. Ohio has 11 million people and has “only” 20 electoral votes. As we all know, the 11 million people in Ohio are the center of attention in presidential campaigns, while the 11 million people in the 12 non-competitive small states are utterly irrelevant. Nationwide election of the President would make each of the voters in the 12 smallest states as important as an Ohio voter.

    The fact that the bonus of two electoral votes is an illusory benefit to the small states has been widely recognized by the small states for some time. In 1966, Delaware led a group of 12 predominantly low-population states (North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Kentucky, Florida, Pennsylvania) in suing New York in the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that New York’s use of the winner-take-all effectively disenfranchised voters in their states. The Court declined to hear the case (presumably because of the well-established constitutional provision that the manner of awarding electoral votes is exclusively a state decision). Ironically, defendant New York is no longer a battleground state (as it was in the 1960s) and today suffers the very same disenfranchisement as the 12 non-competitive low-population states. A vote in New York is, today, equal to a vote in Wyoming–both are equally worthless and irrelevant in presidential elections.

    The concept of a national popular vote for President is far from being politically “radioactive” in small states, because the small states recognize they are the most disadvantaged group of states under the current system.

    The National Popular Vote bill already has been approved by a total of seven state legislative chambers in small states, including one house in Maine and both houses in Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermont. It has been enacted by Hawaii.

  11. susan

    Most of the medium-small states (with five or six electoral votes) are similarly non-competitive in presidential elections (and therefore similarly disadvantaged). In fact, of the 22 medium-smallest states (those with three, four, five, or six electoral votes), only New Hampshire (with four electoral votes), New Mexico (five electoral votes), and Nevada (five electoral votes) have been battleground states in recent elections.

    Because so few of the 22 small and medium-small states are closely divided battleground states in presidential elections, the current system actually shifts power from voters in the small and medium-small states to voters in a handful of big states. The New York Times reported early in 2008 (May 11, 2008) that both major political parties were already in agreement that there would be at most 14 battleground states in 2008 (involving only 166 of the 538 electoral votes). In other words, three-quarters of the states were to be ignored under the current system in the 2008 election. Michigan (17 electoral votes), Ohio (20), Pennsylvania (21), and Florida (27) contain over half of the electoral votes that will matter in 2008 (85 of the 166 electoral votes). There are only three battleground states among the 22 small and medium-small states (i.e., New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Nevada). These three states contain only 14 of the 166 electoral votes. Anyone concerned about the relative power of big states and small states should realize that the current system shifts power from voters in the small and medium-small states to voters in a handful of big states.

  12. susan

    The 11 most populous states contain 56% of the population of the United States and that a candidate would win the Presidency if 100% of the voters in these 11 states voted for one candidate. However, if anyone is concerned about the this theoretical possibility, it should be pointed out that, under the current system, a candidate could win the Presidency by winning a mere 51% of the vote in these same 11 states — that is, a mere 26% of the nation’s votes.

    Of course, the political reality is that the 11 largest states rarely act in concert on any political question. In terms of recent presidential elections, the 11 largest states include five “red” states (Texas, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Georgia) and six “blue” states (California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New Jersey). The fact is that the big states are just about as closely divided as the rest of the country. For example, among the four largest states, the two largest Republican states (Texas and Florida) generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Bush, while the two largest Democratic states generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Kerry.

    Moreover, the notion that any candidate could win 100% of the vote in one group of states and 0% in another group of states is far-fetched. Indeed, among the 11 most populous states, the highest levels of popular support were found in the following seven non-battleground states:
    ● Texas (62% Republican),
    ● New York (59% Democratic),
    ● Georgia (58% Republican),
    ● North Carolina (56% Republican),
    ● Illinois (55% Democratic),
    ● California (55% Democratic), and
    ● New Jersey (53% Democratic).

    In addition, the margins generated by the nation’s largest states are hardly overwhelming in relation to the 122,000,000 votes cast nationally. Among the 11 most populous states, the highest margins were the following seven non-battleground states:
    ● Texas — 1,691,267 Republican
    ● New York — 1,192,436 Democratic
    ● Georgia — 544,634 Republican
    ● North Carolina — 426,778 Republican
    ● Illinois — 513,342 Democratic
    ● California — 1,023,560 Democratic
    ● New Jersey — 211,826 Democratic

    To put these numbers in perspective, Oklahoma (7 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 455,000 votes for Bush in 2004 — larger than the margin generated by the 9th and 10th largest states, namely New Jersey and North Carolina (each with 15 electoral votes). Utah (5 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 385,000 votes for Bush in 2004.

  13. susan

    When presidential candidates campaign to win the electoral votes of closely divided battleground states, such as in Ohio and Florida, the big cities in those battleground states do not receive all the attention, much less control the outcome. Cleveland and Miami certainly did not receive all the attention or control the outcome in Ohio and Florida in 2000 and 2004.

    Under a national popular vote, every vote is equally important politically. There is nothing special about a vote cast in a big city. When every vote is equal, candidates of both parties know that they must seek out voters in small, medium, and large towns throughout the state in order to win the state. A vote cast in a big city is no more valuable than a vote cast in a small town or rural area.

    Another way to look at this is that there are approximately 300 million Americans. The population of the top five cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia) is only 6% of the population of the United States and the population of the top 50 cities is only 19% of the population of the United States. Even if one makes the far-fetched assumption that a candidate won 100% of the votes in the nation’s top five cities, he would only have won 6% of the national vote.

    Further evidence of the way a nationwide presidential campaign would be run comes from the way that national advertisers conduct nationwide sales campaigns. National advertisers seek out customers in small, medium, and large towns of every small, medium, and large state. National advertisers do not advertise only in big cities. Instead, they go after every single possible customer, regardless of where the customer is located. National advertisers do not write off Indiana or Illinois merely because their competitor has an 8% lead in sales in those states. And, a national advertiser with an 8%-edge over its competitor does not stop trying to make additional sales in Indiana or Illinois merely because they are in the lead.

  14. susan

    Keep in mind that the main media at the moment, namely TV, costs much more per impression in big cities than in smaller towns and rural area. So, if you just looked at TV, candidates get more bang for the buck in smaller towns and rural areas.

    For example, in California, candidates for governor or U.S. Senate don’t campaign just in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and those places don’t control the outcome (otherwise California wouldn’t have recently had Republican governors Reagan, Dukemejian, Wilson, and Schwarzenegger). A vote in rural Alpine county is just an important as a vote in Los Angeles.

    If the National Popular Vote bill were to become law, it would not change the need for candidates to build a winning coalition across demographics. Any candidate who yielded, for example, the 21% of Americans who live in rural areas in favor of a “big city” approach would not likely win the national popular vote. Candidates would still have to appeal to a broad range of demographics, and perhaps even more so, because the election wouldn’t be capable of coming down to just one demographic, such as voters in Ohio.

  15. Scott

    Susan strikes again. She apperantly works for the National Popular vote people. It is a 501c3 out of California. She cut and pasted on another blog that I frequent. 800 Iowans polled. Those stats people can answer this. Is that a big enough sample? Remember there are about 2 million people in Iowa. Where was the sample taken? Can we get the polling questions? So I should form my opinions just because other states have signed on? Newspapers back it (those are sure a good way to make decisions). It is no secret that the dems want this because, the major population centers tend to lean democratic.
    This has to do with IOWA and the strength of the vote. This is just bad legislation. Susan, go peddle your ideas to your own state (which has massive problems anyway) leave us alone here in the heartland. We can handle the debate on our own!! Do search for mvy mvy and check out how many posts she has on this topic.

  16. She (Susan) is correct that the power lies with the states when it comes to the election of the Presidents. However, the system is laid out in the Constitution and calls for an Electoral college system such as we currently use. If they want it to be a popular vote system then the Electoral college system needs to be amended out of the Constitution by way of a Constitutional Amendment.

    We are already fighting a Federal Government that has pretty much abandoned the Constitution we don’t need the States trying to do the same thing especially when we are working on getting more power back into the hands of the States.

  17. Martha Not-Stewart

    I don’t care who Susan works for,but I do want to know why she is able to post so much on this blog. The laws proposed in this state and elsewhere to change the electoral college system are just plain bad!

  18. tdorman

    I pretty much let this be free-wheeling, comment-wise. But I do wish Susan would just leave some links to her lengthy manifesto.

  19. Frank

    I think we should consider what the unintended effects of proposed changes might be. For example, we should consider if an election like the Bush v Gore contest happened again, would we end up with the recount circus in every voting district in the nation?

    Imagine what that would have been like.

    I think there is some advantage to the electoral college in some form, to make some of the results decisive.

    I think Nebraska is one state that awards electors on a proportional basis to the popular vote. Perhaps that would be a good change for Iowa.

    That idea of Iowa awarding electors based on the nationwide popular vote is outrageous. That idea makes curse words come to my mind.

  20. irlandes

    When the nation was being formed, the political brochures, which can still be found in reproduction form, specifically stated the electoral college system was needed to prevent a few large cities from dominating the nation.

    Cities tend to be very far to the left, with the poor wishing to vote themselves benefits at the cost of the productive. That was also why only the rich were allowed to vote, until not very long before universal female suffrage.

    I realize there are those who wish to obfuscate this reality, guess which side of the political spectrum they are on?

    The correct solution as Zach noted is to amend the Constitution. Too often does a bad law or a bad court ruling shove the Constitution aside. The problem with legislators or judges ignoring the Constitution is eventually the public will decide it also need not follow the laws, which are all derived from the Constitution.

    Then, the judges and legislators will bemoan the anarchy — which they started. Anarchy is a terrible thing, even when it is the government which is doing it.

  21. Pingback: Mauro’s a College Man « 24-Hour Dorman

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