Those who want government to run our lives are endlessly frustrated with such “outmoded” ideas as state sovereignty and the Electoral College.
The initial ideas were simple enough: While the federal government would guarantee the residents of each state a republican form of government and refrain from infringing the citizen’s basic rights — the right to speak our minds, to worship and associate as we see fit, to carry firerarms anywhere and any time we want — all but a limited set of federal duties (manning a fleet, overseeing foreign trade, setting the gold or silver weight of the dollar) would be left to the sovereign states.
If one state wanted to ban marijuana or assisted suicide or prostitution or gambling while another state favored “laissez faire” in such matters — if one state wanted to regulate medicine and collectivize the schooling of children with massive tax transfers while another left medical choices and child-rearing entirely the concern of individual parents — Americans would be free to ‘vote with their feet,” moving to the jurisdiction that tolerated the level of freedom they preferred. Time would tell which set of choices worked better.
That’s what they were referring to when they used to say “It’s a free country.”
Note how far this vision is at variance with current practice, with the central government claiming to have some combination of powers and “responsibilities” that allows it — even requires it — to prevent the states from adopting any set of laws at variance with what Washington City prefers.
Your dying parent’s doctor carefully complies with your state’s law on assisted suicide — a matter in which the Constitution vests the federals with no power? Federal prosecutors threaten to jail him. Some local humanitarian acquires all the proper state licenses to dispense medical marijuana to the sick? Federal prosecutors actually do jail him. Your city wants to enact a modest voucher system, allowing parents in poor neighborhoods to move their kids out of dangerous, academically worthless tax-funded schools? Hold on, there — Washington will decide.
Church members move to a jurisdiction where local authorities are unconcerned about their legal gun ownership? Black-clad federal troops will charge that church full of innocent women and children, killing young mothers as they blindly fire military-style weapons into the building from the ground and from Army helicopters, picking off community members who try to return home, eventually burning the place to the ground, holding fire engines a mile away so as to incinerate all the women and children inside …. even though it turned out the residents of the Mt. Carmel Church in Waco, Texas had no “illegal machine guns,” at all.
Pluralism? Multiculturalism? Tolerance? Freedom?
One of the last and strongest vestiges of our original federal contract is the Electoral College. So, needless to say, those who want all power centralized in Washington hate it.
The problem was that the original colonies varied enormously in size and population — as the states still do. If everything in Washington City were to be decided by simple majority vote, the outcome would be foreordained: Any coalition of Virginia planters and New York and Massachusetts merchants would always have things their way, while the concerns of small farmers, fishermen and mechanics in New Hampshire, New Jersey and Georgia could be regularly ignored.
Transposed onto today’s map, direct popular election of the president and/or both houses of Congress would mean candidates and national parties would slant their message and policies entirely to please the giant nests of screeching urban welfare queens and socialist academics in the Northeast and along the far Pacific coast, while freedom-loving voters from Iowa to Nevada, from Idaho to Georgia, would retain the “right” to look on like kids in the Peanut Gallery, casting “ballots” which no one need even bother to count.
To this very moment, the Electoral College system works as intended, making it necessary for today’s candidates and national parties — especially when voter loyalties are so evenly divided — to visit and address issues of concern to “in-play” states even as electorally “tiny” as five-vote Nevada.
Those who want to be rid of the Electoral College could always seek a constitutional amendment. But some now think they’ve now found an easier “end run” around this “outmoded relic.”
Maryland last year became the first state to approve a “national popular vote” compact that would allocate all of its 10 electoral votes to the candidate who wins the most votes nationwide, rather than to the candidate who garners the most votes in the state.
New Jersey, Hawaii and Illinois have since followed suit and passed laws that would allot their collective 40 electoral votes the same way. Identical bills are moving in Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina and Rhode Island, which have a total of 62 electoral votes.
Sponsors say the measures would take effect only when states that collectively command at least 270 electoral votes pass identical measures — that being the number of electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
Under the current system, candidates have no reason to poll, visit, or pay attention to the concerns of states where registrations so favor one of the two major parties that they’re not “in play,” objects Barry F. Fadem, president of the National Popular Vote, the California-based group angling to persuade state legislatures to sign the sovereignty suicide pledge.
For example, presidential nominees have long ignored California because the state is considered a solid “blue” state that will award its 55 electoral votes to the Democratic candidate, regardless.
But California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is among three Republican governors who have vetoed such a bill when it landed on their desks. In his veto message, Gov. Schwarzenegger noted the plan “disregards the will of a majority of Californians,” pointing out that the state’s electoral votes under the new system could be awarded to a candidate most Californians didn’t vote for.
Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle voiced a similar objection as she vetoed the bill twice. (This year, lawmakers overrode her objection.) Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas last month also rejected the measure, saying it would decrease the influence of small states like Vermont.
John Samples, director of Cato’s Center for Representative Government in Washington, D.C., calls the National Popular Vote campaign a “novel gimmick,” warning it’s “asking for a mess” if enacted.
What if a state’s voters file suit after they see the results, complaining their own state’s majority has been disenfranchised? Would the courts step in?
Or what if the electors fail to act as directed, as has happened 156 times in history, as when 1972 Virginia elector Roger McBride — pledged to Richard Nixon after his state went Republican — instead cast his ballot for the Libertarian Party ticket of John Hospers and Toni Nathan, making Ms. Nathan the first woman to receive an Electoral College vote?
Gary Gregg II, director of the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville in Kentucky and a fan of the Electoral College, agrees the “National Popular Vote” would change the way candidates campaign, and not in a good way. Candidates would be drawn to the cities like rats.
“Rural areas would never see a presidential candidate. Small states would never see a presidential candidate,” Mr. Gregg predicts.
Calls to reform or abolish the Electoral College grew louder after the 2000 presidential election, when former Vice President Al Gore won the popular vote, but didn’t have enough votes in the right states to carry the Electoral College. (It’s not that unusual: Look up “Hayes-Tilden, 1876.”)
It’s especially interesting that this “National Popular Vote” outfit is based in California, which could easily bring the presidential candidates scrambling back to visit with an action that wouldn’t require the complicity of any other state.
“It’s not a partisan issue. This isn’t about electing a Democrat president, but electing a president democratically,” contends Maryland Democratic state senator Jamie Raskin, who introduced the measure there.
But the California Legislature — any state legislature — is perfectly free to vote tomorrow to award that state’s electoral votes by congressional district (bestowing the two additional votes to the candidate who wins the statewide majority) as Maine and Nebraska already do.
Candidates might still avoid San Francisco (which wouldn’t vote Republican if an enemy invasion fleet were steaming into the bay) and Orange County (which wouldn’t vote Democratic if so instructed by the ghosts of John Wayne and Charleston Heston.) But plenty of the Golden State’s other districts would be in play, overnight.
So why don’t they try that?
Unless, of course, they like an “always-blue” California just fine, and are only frustrated that the rest of the map refuses to fall into line.