NPV Moves in N.Y, Mass.

2010/06/08
By

Big money pays off for NPV in Albany

Last week, the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed National Popular Vote (NPV) legislation, part of the attempt to unravel the Electoral College without amending the Constitution. Yesterday, the New York State Senate passed the same bill. In each state, the measure moves to the other legislative chamber for consideration.

So far this year NPV has failed to be enacted in any state. The legislation seeks to create an interstate compact–an agreement among the states–that would take effect if passed by states representing a majority of votes in the Electoral College (270 out of 538). It would direct states to ignore the will of their own voters and instead cast all of the states electoral votes for the presidential candidate who gets the most votes nationwide. This would leave the Electoral College process in place, but manipulate it to ‘rubber stamp’ the raw national vote winner.

NPV’s last success came over a year ago when Washington became the fifth state to enact NPV legislation. However, some constitutional scholars are concerned that NPV might argue that governor’s vetoes do not matter, because the Constitution gives state legislatures power over state electoral votes. Governors in California, Rhode Island, and Vermont have vetoed the bill. Including those states, if NPV passes in Massachusetts and New York it would have gained 166 electoral votes worth of states.

I have talked with several legislative staff in both New York and Massachusetts this year, and NPV”s success in those states is perhaps not surprising. In both states, legislative staff (who reflect their bosses) were disinterested, seemingly unwilling or perhaps unable to understand the scope and importance of the question: how should we elect the President of the United States. State politics is less thoughtful, more a party- and lobbyist-driven machine. The San Francisco-based National Popular Vote organization spends vast sums on lobbying. The most recent records from New York show that NPV spent $67,500 on paid lobbyists there during 2009.

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27 Responses to NPV Moves in N.Y, Mass.

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Diana Cieslak, Tara Ross. Tara Ross said: Anti-Electoral College NPV effort moves in N.Y, Mass: Big money pays off for NPV in Albany http://bit.ly/aIfCRR #tcot @SaveOurStates [...]

  2. Pat Tarzwell on 2010/06/10 at 11:20 AM

    Diana or Trent, You guys may want to do a little repair work up there in Sequim, you may allready be on top of this, but it just came to my attention so I thought I would let you know.

    Pat
    The info I recieved will follow on the next post:

    • Pat on 2010/06/10 at 7:21 PM

      Workshop on Electoral College set Thursday

      Peninsula Daily News

      SEQUIM — Clint Jones believes the Electoral College is unconstitutional, and he will outline his reasons during a workshop Thursday.

      The Sequim man said he has collected more than 200 signatures on a petition requesting a congressional hearing on the Electoral College, the system of 538 electors who, acting as go-betweens for the voters, select the U.S. president every four years.

      During the workshop at 3 p.m. Thursday in the Sequim Library, 630 N. Sequim Ave., he will present his reasons for saying, as he does in his petition, that the Electoral College is "unfair and unbalanced."

      In the system, each individual vote counts differently among the states, said Jones, who took the total number of votes in a state in the 2008 general election and divided that number by the total number of electoral votes for each state.

      • Pat on 2010/06/10 at 7:21 PM

        So he concludes that each Washington state vote counted 0.8835985. In Idaho, he said, each vote counted 1.4896615.

        "The widespread discrimination on the Electoral College violates certain rights as prescribed by the U.S. Constitution, which specifically states that every state must recognize and honor the privileges and immunities of all citizens," Jones' petition reads.

        "Voting is a privilege and as such deserves an equal value for every voter, regardless of where they may reside."

        Jones said he collects signatures in front of the Safeway store in Sequim, standing about an hour or two at a time.

        He also seeks to start a discussion group on the issue and welcomes e-mails at cvjones@olypen.com and phone calls at 360-681-0101.
        Last modified: June 09. 2010 12:52AM

  3. Pat Tarzwell on 2010/06/10 at 7:22 PM

    Thanks for what you guys are doing and keep up the fight.

  4. Alex on 2010/06/16 at 6:15 AM

    $67,500 is a ridiculously low total for lobbying, not a "vast amount," as you should well know if you follow politics at all; the NRA has spent well over $25 million over the last decade. And an amendment is not needed because the Founding Fathers intentionally and specifically gave the right to choose how to allot their Electoral College votes to each individual state legislature.
    All the National Popular Vote compact does is make every vote equal, the same way we already elect senators and governors. States where one party has a solid grasp on the Electoral College votes, like Mass. or NY, have absolutely no say in presidential elections. Candidates view it as a sure thing or a lost cause, and instead focus all their time in just a few states.
    In 2008, 57% of campaign visits, by both major candidates, were in Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Pennsylvania alone. That is an unbalanced system.

    • Amy on 2010/06/17 at 5:54 AM

      $67,500 in one year on a single issue in a state legislature is a lot of money even when compared to your NRA example. NPV is a disaster that would render most of the middle of the country politically irrelevant.

    • trentengland on 2010/06/17 at 9:17 PM

      So you're comparing the amount spent to lobby a single piece of legislation for one year in one state by a group (NPV) that has, as far as I can tell, a single-member/donor (John Koza) with the amount spent to lobby on hundreds of bills for ten years nationwide by a group with 4 million members? On your second assertion, you should read my post on NPV and the Constitution.

      To your third point, it's true that NPV attempts to make the country one big single-member district for president, the same as most other offices. But the country is a lot bigger in both population and geography and more diverse than any individual states. And in most states, especially the larger ones, there is great discontent about how that works out in areas of low population density. After all, political organizing costs are lowest as population density increases, so even in a single-member district voters are not, for practical purposes, perfectly equal.

      Your final point leaves me wondering, have you ever worked on a political campaign? Take this down to the local level: a city council candidate targets, first, those who vote. Second, those who are undecided. If a candidate knows that a voter has made up his or her mind, the candidate (if he or she is a smart candidate), avoids contact with that voter because it is a waste of scarce resources, whether time or money. NPV's arguments only fly in their own theoretical political world; in the real world of politics, almost nothing said on behalf of NPV is meaningful.

  5. Alex on 2010/06/17 at 9:15 AM

    NPV has over 70% approval by the public in the entire midwest, and they are already politically irrelevant since as a whole the Republicans assume they have those votes anyway and the Democrats don't make an effort-meaning neither candidate devotes any time or energy to visiting and supporting issues important in those states (unless the state happens to be Ohio). And as mostly irrelevant as those states are now, the minority party voters in them are literally irrelevant. Their votes do not have an impact on the election of the President of the United States. Under NPV, even if their candidate lost in their state, their vote would still actually support him nationally and make their voice matter, meaning he would have to visit those states.

    • Diana on 2010/06/17 at 7:17 PM

      Consider campaign strategy. No candidate–under any election system–could visit every state. Under the Electoral College system, candidates make swing states a priority. You seem to think this is a bad thing. But think about it. Swing states are the most evenly divided states that represent a more diverse range of viewpoints. To win in a swing state a candidate has to bridge political and ideological differences.

      Under a national popular vote, candidates would still have to prioritize. Instead of going to swing states, they would simply go to swing regions where they could come away with the highest numbers. The majority of the country would be obsolete.

  6. Alex on 2010/06/21 at 2:04 PM

    Taken from a different discussion board about this issue:

    Keep in mind that the main media at the moment, namely TV, costs much more per impression in big cities than in smaller towns and rural area. So, if you just looked at TV, candidates get more bang for the buck in smaller towns and rural areas.

    For example, in California 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 California 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 the National Popular Vote bill were to become law, it would not change the need for candidates to build a winning coalition across demographics. Any candidate who yielded, for example, the 21% of Americans who live in rural areas in favor of a "big city" approach would not likely win the national popular vote. Candidates would still 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 voters in Ohio.

  7. Trent on 2010/06/21 at 11:03 PM

    And a stolen vote in some one-party backwater in a state dominated by one party or the other will cancel out a vote cast in a swing state where the presence of both parties fosters accountability and hence integrity.

  8. Trent on 2010/06/21 at 3:08 PM

    The key question though relates to concrete history: How do you think American politics would have developed differently without the Electoral College, particularly in light of the 1888 election?

    The Democrats won the popular vote in 1888 based on intense regional popularity but still lost the Electoral College. The incentives of the Electoral College system, emphasized by the 1888 outcome, forced the Democrats to go national, to shift their coalition toward the center and let go some of their most radical Southern support in favor of winning votes in the North. Which of these results would you prefer to have been different?

    Or would you simply plug your ears, close tight your eyes, and drown out all reality saying over and over as loud as you can: "Democracy, democracy, democracy…."

  9. Alex on 2010/06/22 at 5:55 AM

    This is not an exercise in historical what-ifs, just a reflection on how we should move forward from the current point. The debate should center around, based on the current information and the current national situation with regards to presidential elections, what system gives the most agency to the most people in America? What system is the fairest method of giving Americans a say in who their next President will be?

    For the reasons so far listed, I believe that system is NPV-clearly, others are not so convinced, and an open discussion about the merits of each system is valuable. Discussion of what would have happened in a time when abolishing the Electoral College was completely infeasible, while interesting, is not.

  10. Trent on 2010/06/27 at 3:00 AM

    Assuming that the trend you refer to will continue, Alex, NPV would make the situation much worse by allowing even more regional politics.

    As to raising concrete elections as examples of how the Electoral College works and works well, I'll take them any day over purely hypothetical speculations about future elections. Some things change, many things stay the same. There is much to learn from history yet.

  11. Alex on 2010/06/28 at 9:05 AM

    There are 4 times that the election has been won by the candidate who lost the popular vote. That's 1 out of every 14. Counting non-landslide elections (winning margin less than 10% in the popular vote), you cut that number in half, and clearly all 4 of those winEC/losepv elections are included. So, 1 out of every 7 close elections, the time you'd want the system to work best, the winner of the EC loses the popular vote. Those are concrete elections and concrete problems.

    • trentengland on 2010/06/28 at 6:52 PM

      That is the single worst abuse of statistics by NPV. Why not exclude even more elections, then you could tell people it was half? Pure spin, no substance; shameful.

      Alex, you suggested that it is wrong to look to history and here you are drudging it up, so I put the question to you once more, slightly differently: wasn't the outcome of the 1888 election, particularly in terms of what it represented (and continues to represent) about the incentives created by the Electoral College an example of the very best of this system?

      You're question begging and I'm calling you on it. The Electoral College is better than taking the raw popular vote regardless of who gets the most of the latter. That's no less democratic than the Bill of Rights.

      • Alex on 2010/06/28 at 7:08 PM

        How is there no substance? I specifically cited elections with a certain margin of victory to show that it is a less efficient system than we think when it comes to close elections (also shown by the Bush/Gore election and the almost repeat in Bush/Kerry, with Bush on the other side of the equation). I was responding to your point about history so we could move on from it.

        As I mentioned in a post just above, the number of swing states, the states actually in play in Presidential elections, has been steadily decreasing. When was the last time you saw a Republican candidate stumping in Massachusetts, or the Democratic contender taking time to address Texan voters? National Popular Vote would make those votes matter and the candidates would have to move beyond their safety zone regions and the few swing states. What you say the EC protected against in 1888 is now enforced by the EC. NPV can change that.

        • Trent on 2010/06/28 at 7:35 PM

          It's an abuse of statistics to arbitrarily change the denominator. Whether you like NPV or not, it should be easy to recognize that point from their materials as intellectually dishonest spin.

          The EC provides an incentive against regional politics, as demonstrated by the 1888 election. Then, Democrats were forced to reach North and Republicans to reach South. Today, Democrats are actively working to put Texas into play, and have had recent success in Colorado and Virginia; Republicans have done and are doing the same in Michigan, Wisconsin, and West Virginia, just to name some off the top of my head.

          The Electoral College system as now in place includes powerful incentives that force our political parties to be national and relatively moderate coalitions, shift a significant amount of coalition building to pre-election processes (where it works to make actual individual persons involved in politics less rigidly ideological and more willing to compromise), and focuses elections in their final days on the most politically balanced states (thus providing another moderating impulse while also ensuring greater accountability for the election processes in those, the most hard-fought states that generally have the most narrow election outcomes).

  12. Alex on 2010/06/28 at 9:09 AM

    And no, NPV removes the influence of that ever decreasing number of disproportionally important swing states. Taking away the significance of their Electoral College votes means they will be less overly weighted. Instead of each vote there being crucial, gaining that vote in ANY of the states would be just as valuable, and thus politicians have an incentive to spread their campaign as widely as possible over the country and not focus in only a few areas, as they do now in Florida, Ohio, etc.

    • trentengland on 2010/06/28 at 6:55 PM

      The only reason campaigns focus down into swing states is that each candidate already has built significant support in the other states. Candidates in singe-member districts do this also, though it is less visible.

      • Alex on 2010/06/28 at 6:57 PM

        That is the point though, under this system that significant support means they need to expend no further effort. With NPV, they could still lose the state total but chip away at the lead of the other candidate, or extend and protect their own lead. Candidates would not have the luxury of totally abandoning a state and focusing only in swing states.

        • Trent on 2010/06/28 at 7:38 PM

          That admits my argument about regional politics. Candidates would have an incentive under NPV to drive up their vote totals in states where they already have 70% support, whereas the Electoral College forces them to those states where they have, say, 45-49% support. The latter system is politically healthier if you care about stability in your political system. And stability is an essential ingredient for both prosperity and liberty.

  13. Alex on 2010/06/28 at 7:42 PM

    Under the EC system, they have an incentive to campaign in one of those areas (swing states) while under NPV they have an incentive to campaign in both (swing and large margin lead/deficit states). Throw in that swing states are 15 out of 50, and the math says that the Electoral College system means more across the board focus. A country that elects its President based on campaigning in all 50 states is healthier and more stable than a country that elects its President on who can win the big issues in 15 swing states.

    • Trent on 2010/06/29 at 12:07 AM

      Again, talk to someone who has put together a serious campaign strategy in a single-member district. Candidates in single-member districts, which is what NPV would turn the entire nation into for the purpose of electing the President and Vice President, often pay consultants a great deal of money to figure out whose votes to pursue and who to ignore. That is, even under NPV, candidates will focus in certain geographic areas and on certain kinds of voters. That is the reality that is ignored by NPV's theoretical machinations. Under NPV, candidates would still treat voters and regions inequally. I guess the comfort some people get from NPV is that the inequalities would be harder to predict and perhaps harder to recognize. But the inequalities would also likely produce destabilizing effects, whereas the Electoral College has produced stabilizing effects.

      In an NPV race for president, the question is how would the campaigns slice and dice the electorate and the geography? One suspicion that I have is that it's probably easier to drive up your vote in areas where you already have high support, rather than to reach down into areas that are dominated by your opponent. Of course, we also understand that the transaction costs of political organizing generally go down as population density increases (less so in the internet era, but the correlation remains).

  14. Alex on 2010/06/28 at 7:45 PM

    The problem is that I go to school in Michigan and watched as McCain abandoned his campaign in Michigan not because it was necessarily lost but because it would leave him more resources to fully focus on the easier swing states. This didn't just abandon voters and officials who had supported him, it abandoned Republican candidates up and down the ballot in Michigan who suddenly had their national support yanked out from under them. There was a clear moment when he gave up, and from that second on Republican voters in Michigan would have literally no say in who won the election. And that was due to their own candidate. That is not a moderate and balanced system.

    • Trent on 2010/06/28 at 11:59 PM

      The Republican Party of Michigan had no claim to the resources of the McCain campaign. Frankly, they exist to coordinate Republican victories at the state level there regardless of how the national candidates' strategies help or hinder them.

      The question of how we elect the "leader of the free world" should not hinge on the experience of a group of Republican partisans in one state in one election. The question is: what system makes justice and liberty more likely? Because some significant measure of political stability is absolutely necessary for liberty and justice, not to mention prosperity, I favor the Electoral College system over and against any national popular vote scheme.

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