Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Not thinking things through ... as usual

Massachusetts has joined the list of liberal states that have passed the "National Popular Vote" bill. That's the movement to do away with the Electoral College from within. It's awaiting the governor's signature. Under the plan, whoever wins the nation-wide popular vote for president gets all of a state's electoral votes.

For example, if Candidate A wins the popular vote nationally, Candidate A gets Massachusetts' electoral votes, even if Candidate B wins the popular vote in Massachusetts.

And, if enough states do this -- say a group of states that have a combined electoral total of 270 votes or more -- then regardless of what other states do, if someone gets the most votes nationwide, that candidate will become president. Unlike in 2000, where the official tally of counted votes showed Al Gore with a half-million vote lead, but fewer electoral votes than George W. Bush.

Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, and Washington -- states with a total of 62 electoral votes -- have already passed laws like this. Massachusetts, if the governor signs the bill, would bring the electoral total to 74. All voted for Democrats in every election since 1988.

But is this "National Popular Vote" bill a good thing to do? Is it a smart thing to do?

Most of the opposition to this movement focuses on the example I gave earlier. If it had been in place in those six states at the time, the electoral votes in all those states would have been different (in other words, for the Republican) in 1988 and 2004. And for at least one of those states in 1980, 1972, and 1968. In other words, every election won by a Republican in the last 50 years, excepting 1988 (when Reagan won all those states) and 2000 (where the official total gives the Democrat the most popular vote).

But there's another thing wrong with this: it's simply not workable. There are 51 different sets of laws on how to count the votes in each state (and the District of Columbia). If there are irregularities in a state, but the irregularities are so small they won't change the winner of that state's election, the irregularities are not as urgent.

For example, if New York votes for the Democrat by a margin of, say, a million votes, and there are irregularities that could affect a half-million of those votes, what's the big deal? It won't change the outcome, just the details of the outcome. And, in the same election, California is in the same situation. That's a potential of a million votes that could, nationally, throw the total popular to the Republican.

Will Massachusetts law force New York and California to recount so they can be certain who got the most votes nationally? No.

Which means that this whole "National Popular Vote" movement is replacing an imperfect system with another imperfect system.

Is it a better imperfection, though? No. Because, even with all the issues that there have been in some states regarding recounts and uncounted absentee ballots, this idea automatically makes an issue with a few states an issue with 50 states. If one state were to even care what another state wants.

All of the states that are doing this regularly vote for Democrats. Which fits. They didn't think this whole "National Popular Vote" thing through. And they don't think their own votes through. Or they wouldn't vote for Democrats to begin with.

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