Saturday, February 21, 2009

Changing the US Constitution by proxy?

It was the year 2000 that saw George W Bush win the presidency of the United States and it was also the same year that saw the Left, from mainstream to extreme decry the Electoral College system in US when placed against the popular vote across the county.

Not only had Bush 'stole' the election with the hanging chad fiasco in Florida - epitomised in the Michale Moore polemic Farenheit 911 - but he had 'stolen' the election because more people in the country had voted for Al Gore than him. The quirk of the college however, which sent votes based on state popular vote results meant Gore lost and Bush won.

I can remember the online discussion boards at the time going into apoplexy at the apparent 'democractic deficit' that meant someone who got less votes nationwide could still make it into the Oval Office and become the most powerful Head of State in the world.

The Electoral College for all its faults of course was, quite rightly set up, to maintain the Federal nature and power balance based on population of the Republic that is the United States of America, and for that reason it does kind of make sense in terms of the institutional construction of the nation. The question is whether the USA is really still that loose Republic anymore.

Arguably it could be considered that it is not. The Federal State does, in many respects, now take precedence over the individual states in many areas. Of course Constituitonalist would argue that the structure of the original remains enshrined in the Constitution and whether it appears the Federal State has more power is meaningless to the reality.

The reason I am writing any of this is the news that the state legislature in Iowa have decided to change the law on how their Electoral College votes will be decided in Presidential Elections. Rather than sending their seven votes to the College on the basis of who wins in the state, they have said they will send their votes based on the nationwide popular vote. They will only do this however when states totalling 270 college votes have changed their own rules too.

There is an interesting dimension to this change. The US Constitution itself is very difficult to change. However, if all the states decide to change the basis on how they send their college votes for the Presidency the Constitution can be changed by proxy.

It is politics at its very best. Whether it will work of course remains to be seen. I would imagine there will be strong opposition from some of those key states that often decide the Presidency. Especially if a large state with a high vote count in the College voted for the person that didn't win the popular vote. Which brings us back to where this post started. Florida in 2000. It's certainly food for thought.


Demetrius said...

What is interesting about this is that it is a real issue, long debated, albeit at a low level, but where one of the smallest population States outside the major political bases can influence the thinking. But that is democracy, and on a basis alien to the UK and most of Europe.

jailhouselawyer said...

Speaking of which...

"The international experience provides a backdrop against which to view the introduction of legislation in Ireland in 2006. During the debates in the Oireachtas (Irish Houses of Parliament), reference was made to the Hirst judgment in the ECtHR and to the situation in the United States. One Parliamentarian encouraged his fellow lawmakers to
‘remember the 2000 presidential election and the actions of George Bush’s brother in Florida. He had many people working for him to disenfranchise all the people who
had a previous conviction. It gave a terrible picture of a democracy .... They were pursued to get them off the electoral register because of their race and political situation’(Fergus O’Dowd, Dáil Debates, 2006, Vol. 624, col. 1987)".

BTW, word verification, I kid you not, is "jacksi", which is what you need to do, as in get off your, on this issue. Forget the social contract theory, it is the here and now and today's thinking not dead philosophy from the past which needs addressing

Oldrightie said...

An inresting take on this would be to have shown how this would have panned out this year.

Anonymous said...

States have always been able to decide how they allocate their delegates according to the vote. Some states do winner takes all, and some distribute their delegates according to the percentage of votes cast within that state.

What Iowa is proposing is new, but considering that states have always had the power to do this, it's not as important as you make out.

Good post though.

Alan Douglas said...

Dizzy, you have attracted the devil's ire ....

Alan Douglas

mvymvy said...

The major shortcoming of the current system of electing the U.S. 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.

mvymvy said...

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 23 state legislative chambers, including one house in Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, 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.


Dave said...

I think this just about sums it up
"El Presidente" from the film "bananas"

Anonymous said...

And it could mean a completely different shape to elections, since the electoral votes could not be tallied till the popular vote had been, so if a significant number of electoral votes go that way, it would be the end of election-night concessions, and conceivably the end of decisive results in any short time period, since there are frequently disputes in elections that might affect whether there *is* a popular vote to split on at all.

There's the glorious prospect of litigation in Iowa to determine the popular vote in another state that brings up a different result to the litigation in that state.

Do we yet know what the *actual* popular vote was in Minnesota? Obama had a clear enough lead that they finally managed to cast their electoral votes on December 15th, but the senate race is still going.

Martin Meenagh said...

I have to write that I think this is just a quick fix for problems that lie elsewhere, and that real democracy in the US would be better sought in more city, county and state sovereignty. I had a go at the idea on my blog, but this was a stimulating post, so thank you