Tag: Early voting

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?

Vote Early, Vote Often

Now that early voting has officially begun in the election — that shocked you didn’t it? — this article, in which the Daily Caller argues against early voting, is making the rounds. His arguments against early voting boils down to five key points, none of which I find convincing.

First, he argues that it doesn’t boost participation rates. I would agree. But while that was, theoretically, the point of the early voting laws, they have value beyond that. Early voting, like absentee voting, is convenient, especially in our mobile society. When I lived in Baltimore, I had to wait hours to vote. I’ve missed a vote because I had to be in another country on short notice. Early voting is just a fancy way of absentee voting.

He also argues that the voters are poorly uniformed because they are casting ballots before the debates. While this may be true, we have been immersed in this Presidential campaign since … well, since February 2009, really. I doubt early voters are going to persuaded by the debates. Unless Barack Obama opens the debate by killing a seal with a chainsaw, committed Democrats are going to vote for him. And unless Mitt Romney shows up to the debates with a boyfriend, committed Republicans are going to vote for him. Anyone who is going to be persuaded by the debates is going to … wait until the debates.

The third point, cost ($2.6 million for Maryland), seems trivial and is one of those costs the people have decided to shoulder. Ballot integrity, the fourth point, seems a more generalized issue. Votes are sealed until election day and there’s no chicanery with early voting that can’t go on with absentee. And you can imagine what I think of his fifth argument, the “sense of community”. The last thing I need to build my sense of community is to stand in line for five hours with a bunch of Obama voters.

But I want to pivot off this to a larger point. Ever since the 2000 election, many people — mostly embittered Democrats — have argued that we should overhaul our entire electoral process. Proposals include: elected the President off a straight popular vote; making election day a national holiday; embargoing election results until the entire country has voted (including Hawaii?); allowing felons to vote; mandating the vote; etc, etc.

I find none of these persuasive. The electoral college forces candidates to a broad appeal. Making another national holiday won’t affect people who are out of the country and I don’t see that having people standing in line for eight hours instead of working accomplishes anything. And a mandatory vote seems ridiculous. How is harassing, fining or jailing non-voters going to accomplish anything?

In the end, this all seems to be aimed at expanding the franchise, particularly to the poor, who have lower participation rates than everyone else. Maybe it’s my conservative nature, but I don’t find that argument very interesting. I’m dubious of democracy at the best of times. I don’t see why we should worry about the unheard voices of those who have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the polls. We’ve been liberalizing voters laws for years — motor voter, allowing felons to vote, early voting (which was specifically targeted at working poor). All of these were aimed at boosting participation among the downtrodden and all have failed. The Great Liberal Revolution has failed to happen. I don’t think that’s because we’re not making it easy enough to vote.