Sunday, July 25, 2010

Electoral Pluralisms

Tara Ross has an incisive column up detailing some of the logistical problems of the National Popular Vote plan. Here's the core of her argument:
The compact has at least one fundamental flaw that should bother even those who are otherwise opposed to the Electoral College: It does nothing to address the 51 sets of currently existing state election codes (all states plus Washington, D.C.). These codes will remain in place and cause confusion and litigation after the bill is enacted.

Today, each state conducts its own presidential election in partial reliance on its own set of local election laws. These laws may differ from those of sister states, but the differences are irrelevant at the national level. At the end of the day, voters in Massachusetts don’t care about the laws governing California’s election. They are voting with (or against) other Massachusetts voters in a contest for Massachusetts’ electors. Similarly, California will hold its own contest. NPV changes this practice. It continues to rely on 51 existing sets of local laws, but it pretends that it can cram all these differing processes into one coherent national outcome. It can’t. The result will be utter chaos.

As one small example, NPV could prevent full recounts from being held. No recount could be conducted, for instance, if no individual state statute was triggered — even if only a few hundred votes separate the top two contenders. Or perhaps a few states could conduct recounts while the rest of the states watch from the sideline. Recounting states may not agree on logistics, such as how to tally a hanging chad. NPV claims that it’s trying to make “every vote equal.” It will not achieve that goal by throwing voters into one pool for election purposes, then allowing their votes to be tallied differently.

These are not the most minor objections. Say different states have different standards for what counts as a vote or not (one thinks of the Florida recount of 2000 here). Under the current order of the Electoral College, as long as those standards are applied consistently within the state, those standards will remain locked within that state.

Under the National Popular Vote plan, however, the standards of one state will bleed into those of another. States with looser standards for what counts as a vote (e.g., a dimpled chad or whatnot) will have their votes count for more than states with more rigorous standards.

Through balancing the diverse structures of each state, the Electoral College does not seek to create a specious uniformity. Through federalist pluralism, it offers a decentralized method of electing the president.

1 comment:

  1. The Founders gave the states exclusive control over the manner of electing the President so as to provide a check on a sitting President who might try to manipulate the rules for his own reelection in conjunction with a possibly compliant Congress. The genius of our federalist system is that no one political party is ever in a position to impose its approach on all the states. Congress has the power now over counts (and recounts).

    Under the Constitution and existing federal laws, all counting, recounting, and judicial proceedings must be conducted so as to reach a “final determination” prior to the uniform nationwide “safe harbor” date — 6 days before the uniform nationwide day when the Electoral College meets in mid-December.

    Current federal law (Title 3, chapter 1, section 6 of the United States Code) requires the states to report the November popular vote numbers (the "canvas") in what is called a "Certificate of Ascertainment." You can see the Certificates of Ascertainment for all 50 states and the District of Columbia containing the official count of the popular vote at the NARA web site at

    Neither the current system nor the National Popular Vote compact permits any state to get involved in judging the election returns of other states.

    Presidential elections have been 51 separate state-level elections -- 2,084 elections, with 5 litigated state cases out of 56 presidential elections. In 7,645 statewide elections in the 26-year period from 1980 through 2006, in which the winner was the candidate who got the most votes, the chance of a recount was less-than 1-in-300. So in the case of presidential elections determined by national popular vote, we could expect a recount once in about 1,200 years.

    If fear of recounts is a reason to choose an election system, then a national popular vote minimizes your fear.

    The possibility of recounts should not even be a consideration in debating the merits of a national popular vote. No one has ever suggested that the possibility of a recount constitutes a valid reason why state governors or U.S. Senators, for example, should not be elected by a popular vote.

    A single national pool of votes is the way to drastically reduce the likelihood of recounts and eliminate the artificial crises produced by the current system.