Former FEC Chairman Evaluates NPV


It is several months old, but a recent paper by Bradley A. Smith, former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission, is well worth reading: Vanity of Vanities: National Popular Vote and the Electoral College.

Smith reviews “Every Vote Equal: A State-Based Plan for Electing the President by National Popular Vote,” the 600-page treatise supporting the NPV/Koza Scheme. He makes several interesting observations. A few are worth highlighting here:

  • The founders of NPV assume that the Electoral College is a bad device. They spend little time actually arguing the point or defending their position. The 600-page treatise devotes 350+ pages to explaining NPV. The appendices and source documents take another 200+ pages. Barely a dozen pages address WHY the Electoral College should be (essentially) abolished or why such a change would be an improvement.
  • NPV often argues that the Electoral College encourages presidential candidates to “pander” to voters in battleground states, at the expense of voters in safe states. But Smith notes that these “battleground” states are a diverse group, representing east and west, urban and rural, minorities and non-minorities. He concludes, “Thus, even on a shrunken battleground, it is likely that pandering too strongly to parochial concerns will be checked by the need to compete in another ‘battleground’ state elsewhere.” And, he adds, NPV has not made a case that their plan will prevent harmful pandering to voters.
  • Smith discusses the many problems that could arise during a national recount under NPV. The plan does not contain a recount provision, leaving those logistics up to individual states. But state statutes governing recounts differ greatly. There would not be a single national standard governing a recount. In the end, each vote would not be weighted equally.
  • Smith notes that NPV does not debate or discuss the impact of its plan on voter turnout and campaign strategies. Campaigns by nature have a finite number of resources and dollars. They have to make decisions about how to use those resources. Those decisions will change as the rules of the game change. As Smith observes, “George Bush might have devoted much more time to assuring a large turnout of Republican faithful in rural Texas. Whether this would be superior to Bush campaigning for the votes of undecided voters in battleground states—for example, the suburbs of Minneapolis, or Franklin County, Ohio, is debatable, but Every Vote Equal again eschews any debate—it merely asserts.”

Smith concludes, “One reads Every Vote Equal with a sense that one is listening in on a group of people who haven’t thought much about what they are doing, and don’t want to be bothered. Thus, Representative Tom Campbell casually and inappropriately uses “voters” and “residents” interchangeably; Senator Birch Bayh casually, incorrectly, and given the subject matter, tellingly mistakes “plurality” with “majority.” Nowhere in Every Vote Equal is there a sense that the authors have thought hard about the effect of a national election on state political parties or the system of state presidential primaries . . . . Mr. Koza and the other contributors to Every Vote Equal seem to have thought of many things, from what to do in the ridiculously slim possibility that the national popular vote should end in an exact tie, to circumventing the difficult procedures for amending the Constitution. Less attention seems to have been given to what will happen after we adopt National Popular Vote.”

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2 Responses to Former FEC Chairman Evaluates NPV

  1. mvymvy on 2009/04/29 at 5:52 PM

    The National Popular Vote bill is currently endorsed by 1,659 state legislators — 763 sponsors (in 48 states) and an additional 896 legislators who have cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.

    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 closely divided battleground states: Colorado– 68%, Iowa –75%, Michigan– 73%, Missouri– 70%, New Hampshire– 69%, Nevada– 72%, New Mexico– 76%, North Carolina– 74%, Ohio– 70%, Pennsylvania — 78%, Virginia — 74%, and Wisconsin — 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): Delaware –75%, Maine — 71%, Nebraska — 74%, New Hampshire –69%, Nevada — 72%, New Mexico — 76%, Rhode Island — 74%, and Vermont — 75%; in Southern and border states: Arkansas –80%, Kentucky — 80%, Mississippi –77%, Missouri — 70%, North Carolina — 74%, and Virginia — 74%; and in other states polled: California — 70%, Connecticut — 73% , Massachusetts — 73%, New York — 79%, and Washington — 77%.

    The National Popular Vote bill has passed 27 state legislative chambers, including one house in Arkansas, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Oregon, and both houses in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island,, Vermont, and Washington. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland. These five states possess 61 electoral votes — 23% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.


  2. mvymvy on 2009/04/29 at 5:56 PM

    Washington state Governor Chris Gregoire signed the National Popular Vote compact. yesterday. Washington is the fifth state to enact the bill.

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