Friday, July 16, 2010

Mass Electoral College Battle: Back to the House

The Massachusetts State Senate passed the National Popular Vote plan late at night last night. The vote was 28-10. A top Senate source tells me that the bill will next have to return to the House for a vote on enactment, and then go back to the Senate for another vote for enactment before it goes to the desk of Governor Deval Patrick.

The State House News Service reports on an interesting detail:
Senators turned back through a 17 to 21 vote a Republican amendment to add a non-binding ballot question on the issue to the November ballot. Democrats said that it would be too late to add it to the ballot.
This was a close vote. I suppose there's some irony in the the fact that the advocates of the National Popular Vote plan, who wrap themselves in the mantle of democratic virtue, fought so hard to kill a bill that would actually, you know, allow people to vote on changing the electoral structure of Massachusetts.

It looks like the House and/or the Senate could vote on the amendment again for the enactment votes. And pushing for the referendum could be a viable goal: the Senate's vote on the amendment (17-21) was a lot closer than the final vote on engrossing the bill (28-10). The House still has a chance to give the people a voice in this matter (to use the rhetoric of the NPV), and the Senate could still move for a referendum. If the NPVers are so confident that the public will support their plan, why the anxiety about a referendum?


  1. A survey of 800 Massachusetts voters conducted on May 23–24, 2010 showed 72% overall support for the idea that the President of the United States should be the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states.

    Voters were asked

    "How do you think we should elect the President: 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 was 86% among Democrats, 54% among Republicans, and 68% among others. By gender, support was 85% among women and 60% among men. By age, support was 85% among 18-29 year olds, 75% among 30-45 year olds, 69% among 46-65 year olds, and 72% for those older than 65.

  2. 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 in 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.

  3. Massachusetts has exercised its power to change its system of awarding its electoral votes on 10 different occasions. In 1789, the Massachusetts legislature, in effect, chose the state’s presidential electors. In 1792, the voters were allowed to elect presidential electors in four multi-member regional districts. Then, the voters picked electors by congressional districts (with the legislature choosing the state’s remaining two electors). Shortly thereafter, the legislature took back the power to pick all the presidential electors (excluding the voters entirely). Later, the voters picked electors on a statewide basis using the winner-take-all rule. Then, the legislature again decided to pick the electors itself, followed by the voters using districts, followed by another return to legislative choice, followed again by the voters using districts, and, finally, the present-day statewide winner-take-all rule. None of these 10 changes required an amendment to the U.S. Constitution because the Founding Fathers and U.S. Constitution gave Massachusetts (and all the other states) exclusive and plenary power to award their electoral votes.