Mr. Smith Can’t Be Heard in Washington

by Tara Ross

When asked by a Philadelphia matron what the Constitutional Convention had produced, Benjamin Franklin famously responded, “‘A Republic, if you can keep it.’” Increasingly, Americans face difficulties in keeping it. To the contrary, many today seem determined to destroy the constitutional republic that the founding generation worked so hard to create. Ultimately, individuals and families across our great nation will bear the brunt of this unfortunate trend.

The latest front in this war is an effort to eliminate the Electoral College. Such a goal was once a far-fetched dream for many liberals, but now a California-based group thinks that it has come up with a way to avoid the otherwise challenging constitutional amendment process. National Popular Vote, Inc. (NPV) argues that it can radically change America’s presidential election process at the behest of a handful of states.

NPV’s idea is seductively simple: States should change the way that they allocate their electoral votes. Rather than awarding electors to the winner of states’ elections, they should give the electors to the winner of the national popular vote. If this bill had been in effect in California in 2004, the state would have awarded its 55 electors to George W. Bush, despite his loss in California, because Bush won the national tally. In 2008, California would have awarded its electors to Barack Obama. States that approve NPV’s plan are not committed to it until participating states control at least 270 electoral votes (a majority). In that way, NPV can ensure that the national popular vote results dictate the outcome of the presidential election.

NPV is gaining momentum. To date, five states have approved the plan—Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey and Washington (61 electoral votes).

  Three other state legislatures approved the plan, but the states’ governors vetoed it—California, Rhode Island, and Vermont (62 electoral votes). The legislation has made significant progress in states such as Colorado, Nevada, Massachusetts, and New York.

Elimination of the Electoral College would be disastrous. It will diminish your representation in the national government.

First, NPV will make elections easier to steal. No system can completely eradicate the tendency of some dishonest individuals to lie and cheat. But the impact of fraudulent behavior can be minimized. With the Electoral College, it is difficult to predict where stolen votes will matter—and if one person can make such a predication, then so can many lawyers, politicians, and poll watchers! Without the Electoral College, any vote stolen in any state will make a difference. Perhaps dishonest Democrats would steal votes in a loyal California precinct. Perhaps some Republicans would do the same in Texas. When elections become easier to steal, the entrenched ruling class always benefits. Individuals and families suffer.

Second, the strategy of presidential candidates will change. Today, candidates must win a majority of state electoral votes, rather than individual votes. Thus, piling up votes in one large state is unproductive. It is more effective to create a cross-country coalition of voters. If the focus changes to individual votes, then candidates will adjust their strategies accordingly. They won’t care where they get votes. They will care only about the total number of votes. Making matters worse, the bar for winning presidential elections will get lower. Today, concurrent majorities across states are necessary for victory. With NPV in place, no majority would ever be necessary. Instead, a mere plurality of 15 or 20 percent would be sufficient. Potentially, a candidate could gain such a plurality by catering to a few large urban areas or a large special interest group. Unless this region or special interest group happens to be one that you and your family care about, you will suffer.

The Founders did not create a pure democracy, despite notions to the contrary in the mainstream media. Instead, the Founders created a Constitution that combines democratic, republican and federalist principles. They sought to create a system that would respect the right of the people to govern themselves, even as it protected large minority groups from the tyranny of a bare or emotional majority.

NPV turns the Founders’ beliefs on their head. It respects the right of pluralities (not even majorities!) to rule, even if the voices of sizable portions of the country are drowned out in the process. It dismisses the importance of the Electoral College in incentivizing presidential candidates to listen to the voices of many individuals and families across our great nation. And it forgets that the Electoral College is vital in protecting our freedom.

NPV’s misguided plan must be defeated if America is to thrive.


Editor’s Note: Tara Ross is the author of Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College

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