Split Decision

There has been a lot of discussion recently about a potential split between the popular vote and the electoral college this year. Obama is leading in the polls in several critical swing states while Romney has been holding a lead in the national polls (caveat: Nate Silver points out that the math doesn’t work out. If the state polls are accurate, Obama should have a national lead (and indeed, the RCP average is now tied or has Obama with a very slightly 0.1% lead). One set of polls is likely off. Come Tuesday, we’ll find out which ones).

I’d kind of like to see a split this year since it would weaken the President and create the glorious spectacle of every pundit arguing the precise reverse of what he said in 2000. While it does now appear unlikely, it remains possible. And given that we’ve had two such splits in our history, a third will likely happen at some point.

(There is a very tiny chance of an electoral tie as well, which would throw things to Congress, assuming we don’t have any faithless electors. That would, given the composition, result in a Romney-Biden administration; almost like the worst of both worlds.)

I’ve made it clear that I oppose switching to a national popular vote, but we’ve never really had a discussion. So I want to throw this open before Tuesday’s vote. Should we abolish the electoral college? Should we go to a popular vote?

One of the things that make me hesitate is this: to the best of my knowledge, we have never had a national vote. On anything. All three high offices — the House, Senate and the President — are elected at the state level. Amendements are passed by Congress and state legislatures. In fact, reading the Constitution, you can’t help but be struck by how the Founders went to great lengths to avoid anything approaching a plebiscite.

This wasn’t just because a national election would have been difficult in such a large nation in the 18th century. And it wasn’t just federalism speaking, either. They cleared regarded direct democracy as dangerous (as do I). The beauty of a Constitutional Republic is that the people do not always get what they want. Elections do not give us what we want; elections create accountability.

Because we have never had a national vote, creating one is a lot more complicated that just adding the tallies from the states. Different states have different voting laws and that will create some power disparities. States with stricter voting requirement will lose votes relative to more liberal ones. States that don’t worry too much about counting every single Presidential vote because of the huge margin (e.g., Utah) will have to be more strict. And how do you reconcile the widely varying laws on early voting, absentee voting and electronic voting? What happens if online voting becomes a thing?

No, we’re not just talking about having a popular vote. We are talking, in the end, about federalizing the vote. We are talking about creating uniform voting standards, uniform early voting and absentee policies and, most likely, a national voter registry and ID card. In fact, I can not see that national vote would possible be compliant with Bush v. Gore unless it created uniform standards.

Maybe that’s preferable to the 50-state patchwork we have now. But if so, make the case. Why should we abolish the electoral college? Why should we nationalize the vote?

Comments are closed.

  1. Thrill

    Should we abolish the electoral college? Should we go to a popular vote?

    Absolutely not. The Founders knew what they were doing by limiting direct democracy and letting the states elect the President. We’ve already done enough damage.

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  2. yabkpjo

    My only real problem with the Electoral Collage is the winner-take-all system that effectively disenfranchises Republicans that live in states like California or Democrats that live in states like Texas. I’d be in favor of changing the Electoral College to be more like how the Democrats run their nominating convention, where the electoral votes would be proportionally split based on the statewide popular vote.

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  3. Thrill

    I’d be in favor of changing the Electoral College to be more like how the Democrats run their nominating convention, where the electoral votes would be proportionally split based on the statewide popular vote.

    Individual states can make that choice to split their electoral votes proportionately. In fact, a state can choose to automatically award its electoral votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote. No reason to alter the whole Constitutional system.

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  4. Hal_10000 *

    Nebraska and Maine split their electoral votes up, don’t they? I remember in 2008 Obama got 1 EC out of Nebraska and the rest went to McCain.

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  5. Thrill

    I’m not sure which states do it (too lazy to Google, sorry), but I’m sure a couple do. I also remember hearing that one or two states were moving toward the “give our electors to the popular vote winner” option.

    The states can really do it any way they want to: They could even let the state legislature choose (like they used to do with Senators).

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  6. Mississippi Yankee

    I also remember hearing that one or two states were moving toward the “give our electors to the popular vote winner” option.

    A legislative end run wrapped around a states rights issue. How clever.

    /holds skull aloft/
    Alas America I knew her well

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  7. Kimpost

    Hi, Google here.

    Maine and Nebraska give one vote to the winner of each of their congressional districts, and the remaining 2 to the overall winner of the state, making them the only non-winner take all states.

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  8. Hal_10000 *

    Thrill, if I recall correctly several states have signed onto an agreement that they will give their EC’s to the popular vote winner … but ONLY if enough states sign on that this would represent a majority of EC’s — i.e., Massachusetts won’t do it now, but will if states with at least 270 electoral votes agree.

    One of the reasons I kind of hope for an EC-pop split this year is to watch those states backpeddle as fast as possible on that. It would be hilarious if that law ended up electing Mitt Romney.

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  9. Retluocc1

    One of the reasons I kind of hope for an EC-pop split this year is to watch those states backpeddle as fast as possible on that. It would be hilarious if that law ended up electing Mitt Romney.

    Which it very likely could… My impression is that Romney has the national popular vote lead. How crazy would it be to see California trapped by their own laws and give their 55 electoral votes to Romney?

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  10. Thrill

    … but ONLY if enough states sign on that this would represent a majority of EC’s

    Then what’s the point? That’s just absurd. Why tinker with a system that works?

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  11. HARLEY

    I would LOVE to see all the states do away with the Winner take all electoral votes system. that would probably change the game a bit…

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  12. Mississippi Yankee

    Popular vote aside for a moment;

    1. The election results become “official” on 6 January, 2013. The president of the Senate will then declare the results official to BOTH Houses of Congress.

    2. The winner must have a minimum of 270 electoral votes out of the 538 total electoral votes.Should there be a tie (…269 to 269 e-votes…) the House of Representatives will vote and the majority votes will decide the winner. […note the House of Representatives WILL be a majority of Republicans :^) …]

    Y’all know who the president of the senate is right?

    Now if the popular vote ever becomes the law of the land then we become a ‘true democracy’ which, IMO, is the absolute worse form of government ever devised by man… or 2 wolves and 1 sheep.

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