Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Make Every Vote Equal. Really?

Make Every Vote Equal. Really?
P. Schultz
March 5, 2013

            The following are parts of a debate I am having with a former student, Rich Rubino, who is supporting what is called the National Popular Vote Plan which is intended to guarantee that the candidate with the most popular votes for president, nation wide, is actually elected president. It does this by having states pledge to award their electoral votes to that candidate who receives the most votes nationally, regardless of how any particular state voted.

            Rich has published a book which he describes as follows on Amazon.

“Make every vote equal: What a novel idea. I published this book to promote the National Popular Vote Plan. I am convinced that the current method of electing a U.S. President is not appropriate for the times, and more importantly, fails to comport with the will of the American people. Under the current system, Presidential nominees are forced to allocate almost all of their time, energy and resources to only about ten states, the “Battleground States.” The other forty states, which represent approximately 80% of the American electorate, are largely ignored because the electoral outcome in these forty states is almost a forgone conclusion. This unfortunate situation is solely the result of the “winner-take-all” method of awarding electoral votes. Safe States (non-battleground states) “get no respect” in the Presidential election process. Presidential campaigns will from time-to-time drop into these states to do some fundraising, but the Presidential nominees rarely make an appearance in these states to discuss the issues with the voters. Trips to safe states are like trips to an ATM machine. The campaigns grab cash and flee these states as fast as they can. The quaint coffee-shop news clips that permeate the American airwaves during the election process nearly always occur in the ten battleground states, resulting in a situation wherein certain voters and constituencies get preferential treatment. This “voter bias” is detrimental to most American voters and to the reputation of our Presidential election process. For example, Presidential candidates have an electoral incentive to address the concerns of the Cuban Americans in Florida, steel workers in Ohio, and ethanol producers in Iowa, yet there is no electoral incentive to address the “catch share” regulations affecting the Massachusetts fishing industry, to address safety issues affecting coal miners in West Virginia, or the proliferation of gang violence in Chicago. Even once a President has been elected, the winner-take-all method of electoral voting still survives to maintain this biased playing field. For example, in 2011, when President Barack Obama went on a three-day bus tour to promote his Jobs Bill, he barnstormed Virginia and North Carolina, which “coincidently” are two critical battleground states. Corroborating this fact, the Washington Post reported that either President Obama or Vice President Biden has appeared in Ohio (a battleground state) during their first term in office about every three weeks since they took office. In short, it is grossly unfair and insulting that certain states garner VIP treatment simply because of their electoral geopolitical status. This outcome was “never” envisioned by the Founding Fathers who wrote our Constitution, struggling over the various elements to include.”

            Here is my response on Facebook:

“Congratulations, Rich! This is quite an accomplishment.

“BUT: [you had to suspect that was coming] Unfortunately, the plan does not, because it cannot, make every vote equal. Every election scheme favors some votes more than others and so does this one. For example, this plan would make the votes in those states currently known as "safe" more important than the votes in tightly contested states because a large margin of victory adds more to a candidate's national vote total than a narrow margin of victory in tightly contested states. So, the votes, the outcomes, in "safe" states like Massachusetts and Texas would be more important than, say, the votes, the outcomes, in Virginia or Florida because winning a contested state by a small margin would contribute less to a candidate's overall victory than winning by a huge margin in a "safe" state.

“As near as I can tell, the "electoral college" never operated as Publius argued it would, leaving aside the first two elections whose results were foregone conclusions. Everyone knew Washington would be the first president. It serves certain purposes now, both positive and negative. But so does any election scheme. There is no way to create an election scheme that is unbiased or equal, just as there is no way to create a political order that is unbiased or that treats all equally.”

            And here is Rich’s response, followed by my last response.

“Peter, This method is not perfect, but it comes closer to electoral equality as any I have seen and will certainly end the disproportionate influence of 10 states simply because of their geopolitical status. Every vote would actually matter. We can use the state as a microcosm here. Each state uses the popular vote. The result is that candidates try to cultivate every possible vote. A vote in Peru, Massachusetts is commensurate with a vote in Boston, Massachusetts. Candidates do not discriminate as to where the voters are.

“For example, on the last day of campaigning in the hotly contested 2010 Massachusetts Governors race, incumbent Deval Patrick and his Republican nominee Charlie Baker barnstormed both urban and rural areas. Patrick appeared in Boston and Marlborough, a city with a population of under 40,000. Baker made stops in the state’s largest urban centers, Boston and Worcester, as well as Wakefield, and his hometown of Swampscott, both with a population of less than 25,000. Clearly their campaign consultants have done the electoral calculations and realized that elections are not settled in urban areas alone.

“At the national level, by contrast, 80% of voters are relegated to the electoral sidelines. Their votes have little influence. In the 2012 Presidential election, after the nominating conventions, 69% of all campaign visits were in Iowa, Florida, Ohio, and Virginia. Similarly, of the 13 smallest states, only New Hampshire garnered any visits. The others were ignored.

“A vote in Florida or Virginia would no longer have disproportionate influence, but neither would it have less influence. I suspect the campaigns would have field offices in both states and would try to turnout every possible vote, The goal of each campaign would be to win a numerical majority regardless of where the votes were cast. That means courting and turning out as many voters as possible. A candidate would be sagacious to deploy resources in as many parts of the country as possible under the National Popular Vote Plan.”

            And then my response:

“Well, a candidate might be encouraged to campaign widely but if s/he had the opportunity to garner a margin of, say, 100,000 votes while winning one state and only, say, 10,000 votes in winning another state, guess where the candidate goes? All this "reform" does is change which votes are worth more and which less, which as noted is all it or any electoral scheme can do. And I notice a gap in your stats from Mass. as you do not say whether the candidates spent as much time in Peru, Mass. as they did in Boston and its suburbs. As there are more voters in Boston and suburbs than Peru or even Worcester, I don't need stats to know how the candidates behaved or where they spent the most money. Unless they are just politically challenged, candidates always go more often to where they can garner more rather than fewer votes.


  1. 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 everywhere would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections.

    Elections wouldn't be about winning states.

    Every vote, everywhere would be counted for and directly assist the candidate for whom it was cast. States have the responsibility and power to make their voters relevant in every presidential election. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in the current handful of swing states.

    In the 2012 election, only 9 states and their voters mattered under the current winner-take-all laws (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in each state) used by 48 of the 50 states. Those 9 states determined the election. Candidates did not care about 80% of the voters- voters-in 19 of the 22 lowest population and medium-small states, and 17 medium and big states like CA, GA, NY, and TX. 2012 campaigning was even more obscenely exclusive than 2008 and 2004. Candidates had no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or care about the voter concerns in the dozens of states where they were safely ahead or hopelessly behind. Policies important to the citizens of non-battleground states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.

    Since World War II, a shift of a few thousand votes in one or two states would have elected the second-place candidate in 4 of the 15 presidential elections. Near misses are now frequently common. There have been 7 consecutive non-landslide presidential elections. 537 popular votes won Florida and the White House for Bush in 2000 despite Gore's lead of 537,179 popular votes nationwide. A shift of 60,000 voters in Ohio in 2004 would have defeated President Bush despite his nationwide lead of over 3 Million votes.

    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). Support for a national popular vote is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in virtually every state surveyed in recent polls in recent closely divided Battleground states: CO - 68%, FL - 78%, IA 75%, MI - 73%, MO - 70%, NH - 69%, NV - 72%, NM-- 76%, NC - 74%, OH - 70%, PA - 78%, VA - 74%, and WI - 71%; in Small states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK - 70%, DC - 76%, DE - 75%, ID - 77%, ME - 77%, MT - 72%, NE 74%, NH - 69%, NV - 72%, NM - 76%, OK - 81%, RI - 74%, SD - 71%, UT - 70%, VT - 75%, WV - 81%, and WY - 69%; in Southern and Border states: AR - 80%,, KY- 80%, MS - 77%, MO - 70%, NC - 74%, OK - 81%, SC - 71%, TN - 83%, VA - 74%, and WV - 81%; and in other states polled: CA - 70%, CT - 74%, MA - 73%, MN - 75%, NY - 79%, OR - 76%, and WA - 77%. Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.

    The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers, in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large states. The bill has been enacted by 9 jurisdictions with 132 electoral votes -- 49% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.


    1. Hey,Toto,do you also believe if you click your heels three times you will fly back to Kansas? I stand by my argument: If you want this "reform," fine. But don't confuse your "reform" with anything more than it is: Just another electoral scheme which will replace current inequities with other inequities.

  2. With National Popular Vote, big cities would not get all of candidates’ attention, much less control the outcome.
    The population of the top 5 cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia) is only 6% of the population of the U.S. and the population of the top 50 cities (going as far down as Arlington, TX) is only 15%.

    Suburbs and exurbs often vote Republican.

    A nationwide presidential campaign, with every vote equal, would be run the way presidential candidates campaign to win the electoral votes of closely divided battleground states, such as Ohio and Florida, under the state-by-state winner-take-all methods. The big cities in those battleground states do not receive all the attention, much less control the outcome. Cleveland and Miami do not receive all the attention or control the outcome in OH and FL.

    The itineraries of presidential candidates in battleground states (and their allocation of other campaign resources in battleground states) reflect the political reality that every gubernatorial or senatorial candidate knows. When and where every vote is equal, a campaign must be run everywhere.

    With National Popular Vote, when every vote is equal, everywhere, it makes sense for presidential candidates to try and elevate their votes where they are and aren't so well liked. But, under the state-by-state winner-take-all laws, it makes no sense for a Democrat to try and do that in VT or WY, or for a Republican to try it in WY or VT.

    Even in CA state-wide elections, candidates for governor or U.S. Senate don't campaign just in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and those places don't control the outcome (otherwise CA wouldn't have recently had Republican governors Reagan, Dukemejian, Wilson, and Schwarzenegger). A vote in rural Alpine county is just an important as a vote in Los Angeles. If Los Angeles cannot control statewide elections in CA, it can hardly control a nationwide election.

    In fact, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland together cannot control a statewide election in CA.

    Similarly, Republicans dominate TX politics without carrying big cities such as Dallas and Houston.

    There are numerous other examples of Republicans who won races for governor and U.S. Senator in other states that have big cities (e.g., NY, IL, MI, PA, and MA) without ever carrying the big cities of their respective states.

    With a national popular vote, every vote everywhere will be equally important politically. A vote cast in a big city or state will be equal to a vote cast in a small state, town, or rural area.

    Candidates would need to build a winning coalition across demographics. Candidates would have to appeal to a broad range of demographics, and perhaps even more so, because the election wouldn’t be capable of coming down to just one demographic, such as waitress mom voters in OH.

    With National Popular Vote, every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. Wining states would not be the goal. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in the current handful of swing states.

    The main media at the moment, TV, costs much more per impression in big cities than in smaller towns and rural area. Candidates get more bang for the buck in smaller towns and rural areas.

    In the 2012 campaign, “Much of the heaviest spending has not been in big cities with large and expensive media markets, but in small and medium-size metropolitan areas in states with little individual weight in the Electoral College: Cedar Rapids and Des Moines in Iowa (6 votes); Colorado Springs and Grand Junction in Colorado (9 votes); Norfolk and Richmond in Virginia (13 votes). Since the beginning of April, four-fifths of the ads that favored or opposed a presidential candidate have been in television markets of modest size.”

  3. The National Popular Vote bill preserves the constitutionally mandated Electoral College and state control of elections. It ensures that every vote is equal, every voter will matter, in every state, in every presidential election, and the candidate with the most votes wins, as in virtually every other election in the country.

    Most Americans don't care whether their presidential candidate wins or loses in their state or district . . . they care whether he/she wins the White House. Voters want to know, that even if they were on the losing side, their vote actually was directly and equally counted and mattered to their candidate. Most Americans think it's wrong for the candidate with the most popular votes to lose. We don't allow this in any other election in our representative republic.