Alaska considers popular vote
John Koza has an itch, but will Juneau scratch?
On Friday, Alaska’s Senate Judiciary Committee heard the state’s National Popular Vote bill (SB 92). The measure actually already passed the State Affairs Committee with the support of Senators Linda Menard, Hollis French (who chairs the Judiciary Committee), and Albert Kookesh. (Watch the Judiciary hearing.)
Alaska, the largest state by landmass but with one of the smallest populations, is unlikely to be the key to a presidential contest under any conceivable system. But it stands to lose like every other state if NPV sweeps away the protections of the Electoral College. And at least under the current system, Alaska retains the possibility of becoming a swing state. It gets a boost in the Electoral College and, should it turn out to be evenly divided in a presidential race, campaigns will pay attention. Under NPV, it wouldn’t even have that.
NPV bemoans the existence of swing states and pretends that if voters were more mathematically equal, they would receive more equal treatment from presidential campaigns. There are two problems with that argument.
1. Swing states are actually beneficial. What makes a swing state? The answer is balance. While ‘safe states’ are places where most people already favor one candidate, swing states only swing because of their moderation. The current Electoral College system requires candidates to start with broad national support and then, as the campaign goes on, to focus in on the most evenly divided states. Far from being some nefarious plot, swing states pull American politics toward the center. You might say that the Electoral College, through swing states, recalibrates American politics toward the middle every four years.
One other point about swing states: divided government is accountable government. The Electoral College turns presidential elections into separate elections in each state. Where those elections will likely be the closest and most contested (in swing states) government is also more likely to be divided between both political parties. All of America benefits when our elections are properly scrutinized, and the current Electoral College system does this better than any system that just throws all the votes together for a single, national total.
2. NPV’s voter equality is superficial. According to NPV, it’s a moral failing of American politics when one voter sees more campaign commercials than another. Their slogan is “every voter equal,” yet NPV’s voter equality has nothing to do with the real world of politics. Candidates understand this. Even without an electoral college, political candidates “slice and dice” voters by geography and demographics to figure out who to “target” with campaign advertising and other activities. Campaigns will always allocate scarce resources unequally as they look for the most efficient way to win. The Electoral College simply forces campaigns to focus more on politically diverse areas.
The problem with NPV’s arguments (these and others) is that they simply skim the surface. There is no evidence that anyone involved with NPV has ever sat down and studied the history and theories of political systems (or even thought about such questions). They seem uninterested in history and real-world outcomes. Perhaps this is understandable, since the man who came up with the idea, John Koza, is a computer scientist best known for inventing the scratch-off lottery ticket and then convincing state governments to sell them to the public. While Koza’s state lotto monopolies have made him rich, the tale suggests either a lack of thoughtfulness or a dangerous (to other people) self absorption. How much poorer are many poor Americans because of John Koza?
The most important question about any political system is will it tend to protect liberty and justice or not. The Electoral College helps to stabilize America’s political system in a way that makes liberty and justice possible.