Monday, January 14, 2008

He won in our state, but he lost nationwide. So here, take our electoral votes!

From this morning's headlines:

"TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey became the second state to enter a compact that would eliminate the Electoral College's power to choose a president if enough states endorse the idea.

"Gov. Jon S. Corzine signed legislation Sunday that approves delivering the state's 15 electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. The Assembly approved the bill last month and the Senate followed suit earlier this month."

Under this system, if we had a Presidential election where one candidate won the popular majority nationwide, he could become President even if he won only a few states.

It's a bit ironic that this legislation was passed in New Jersey. Look at what happened in the election of 1860:

New Jersey was the only Northern state that didn't go for Abe Lincoln. There were thirty-three states back then; Stephen Douglas won only New Jersey and Missouri. But notice that he still had a very strong showing in the popular vote, with over 1.3 million people voting for him. Notice also that if John Bell had not run, and had most of his support gone to the Democrat, Stephen Douglas would have won the popular vote nationwide even though he carried only five of thirty-three states. Under a "state must give its electoral votes to the national popular vote winner even if the state's own voters preferred somebody else" system--Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, California, and the other thirteen states that went for Honest Abe--would have been obliged to send Douglas to the White House. (I'll bet the South still would have seceded.)

Personally, I don't think somebody should be elected President when he wins only five states for the same reason I don't think we should have Constitutional Amendments ratified if only five states vote in favor of them. This is a federal union; states may not matter as much as they used to but they still DO matter.

And although this will be far more controversial, I'm obliged to point out that while in 2000, Al Gore received a majority of the popular vote--narrowly--Bush won better than three-fifths of the states:

That's nineteen states that went into Gores' electoral college column, thirty-one into Bush's. Even if you think Bush stole Florida, it's still thirty states to twenty. So what, you might say, more people nationwide voted for Gore, he should have won the election. Under the proposed New Jersey plan, Gore would have prevailed.

But just as the Republicans of FDR's era were so outraged that Roosevelt served more than two terms that they successfully championed the Twenty-Second Amendment--and then in 1988 they lamented that their man Ronald Reagan couldn't run again--any Democrat in New Jersey who voted for this plan hoping to prevent a repeat of 2000 may feel anguish when an election goes the other way.

In this regard, it's worth noting how close Nixon came to winning the popular vote in 1960. Nationwide, if only 112,828 voters--out of around seventy million voting--had pulled a lever marked NIXON instead of one marked KENNEDY, New Jersey, under the system they now endorse, would have been obligated to deliver the electoral votes it won for JFK to Tricky Dick instead:

Somehow I don't think that would have gone over well...

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