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Posted at 3:00 PM ET, 02/ 3/2011

Big money, small issues

By Dylan Matthews

PH2011020303322.jpg

Tom Golisano isn't a particularly big name with people who aren't New York political junkies. He's basically Ross Perot writ small. He's a billionaire who founded a third party (the Independence Party), ran for governor a few times and did surprisingly well, and holds idiosyncratic but generally center-right views.

His latest project has more national ramifications. He's apparently bankrolling efforts to implement the National Popular Vote plan, a work-around meant to abolish the Electoral College without amending the Constitution. The idea is to have states representing the 270 electoral votes needed to win a presidential election pledge to assign their votes to the winner of the popular vote. A good number of states have passed laws implementing the plan already, but several more would need to sign on for it to take effect.

Golisano hasn't explained how he plans to push for this, but I suspect it'll involve spending on behalf of state legislators who support the plan. That's actually one of the most interesting results I could see coming out of the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling. Obviously, congressional and presidential elections are higher profile, but they're also very expensive, which limits the bang wealthy or corporate donors can get for their buck. State and local races are small enough that a decent-size expenditure by an outside party could be decisive. This has already happened to some degree in West Virginia, where coal mogul Don Blankenship spent a few million dollars to get a pro-coal state Supreme Court.

So instead of seeing wealthy donors spend millions to get "their man" elected to the Senate or House, I expect projects like this, in which the donor cares about a single issue and the cost to back each candidate is low, so electing enough allies to pass the pet bill in question is affordable. This is a pretty benign case, in that the National Popular Vote plan is both a good idea and not in Tom Golisano's personal self-interest, but I could see, say, agricultural companies ensuring pro-corn statehouses using the same methods.

Photo by Mike Groll/Associated Press.

Dylan Matthews is a student at Harvard University and a researcher at The Washington Post.

By Dylan Matthews  | February 3, 2011; 3:00 PM ET
 
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Comments

Actually, how is "pro-corn" statehouses different than the current arrangement in pro-corn states, such as Iowa? The implicit understanding in such states is that the state's "best interests" depend on corn prices and only pro-corn legislators are elected. The advantage, dubious as it is, under Citizens United, is that "implicit" can become "explicit".

Posted by: ctown_woody | February 3, 2011 3:39 PM | Report abuse

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

The bill preserves the Electoral College, while assuring that every vote is equal and that every voter will matter in every state in every presidential election.

Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. Elections wouldn't be about winning states. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps. Every vote, everywhere would be counted for and directly assist the candidate for whom it was cast. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states.

In the 2012 election, pundits and campaign operatives already agree that only 14 states and their voters will matter under the current winner-take-all laws (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in each state) used by 48 of the 50 states. Candidates will not care about 72% of the voters-- voters in 19 of the 22 lowest population and medium-small states, and big states like California, Georgia, New York, and Texas. 2012 campaigning would be even more obscenely exclusive than 2008 and 2004. In 2008, candidates concentrated over 2/3rds of their campaign events and ad money in just 6 states, and 98% in just 15 states (CO, FL, IN, IA, MI, MN, MO, NV, NH, NM, NC, OH, PA, VA, and WI). Over half (57%) of the events were in just 4 states (Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia). Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or care about the voter concerns in the dozens of states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. Voter turnout in the "battleground" states has been 67%, while turnout in the "spectator" states was 61%. Policies important to the citizens of ‘flyover’ states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.

The bill would take effect only when enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes-- enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for president. It does not abolish the Electoral College. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action, without federal constitutional amendments.

www.NationalPopularVote.com

Posted by: mvymvy | February 3, 2011 3:58 PM | Report abuse

1,922 state legislators (in 50 states) have sponsored and/or cast recorded votes in favor of the National Popular Vote bill.

In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). The recent Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University poll shows 72% support for direct nationwide election of the President. Support for a national popular vote is strong in virtually every state, partisan, and demographic group surveyed in recent polls in closely divided battleground states: Colorado-- 68%, Iowa --75%, Michigan-- 73%, Missouri-- 70%, New Hampshire-- 69%, Nevada-- 72%, New Mexico-- 76%, North Carolina-- 74%, Ohio-- 70%, Pennsylvania -- 78%, Virginia -- 74%, and Wisconsin -- 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): Alaska -- 70%, DC -- 76%, Delaware --75%, Maine -- 77%, Nebraska -- 74%, New Hampshire --69%, Nevada -- 72%, New Mexico -- 76%, Rhode Island -- 74%, Vermont -- 75%, and Wyoming – 69%; in Southern and border states: Arkansas --80%, Kentucky -- 80%, Mississippi --77%, Missouri -- 70%, North Carolina -- 74%, and Virginia -- 74%; and in other states polled: California -- 70%, Connecticut -- 74% , Massachusetts -- 73%, Minnesota -- 75%, New York -- 79%, Washington -- 77%, and West Virginia- 81%.

Most voters don't care whether their presidential candidate wins or loses in their state . . . they care whether he/she wins the White House. Voters want to know, that even if they were on the losing side, their vote actually was counted and mattered to their candidate.

The National Popular Vote bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers, in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large population states, including one house in Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, The District of Columbia, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, and Oregon, and both houses in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. The bill has been enacted by the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Washington. These seven states possess 74 electoral votes -- 27% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

See http://www.NationalPopularVote.com

Posted by: mvymvy | February 3, 2011 4:01 PM | Report abuse

Problem is that only small, non-swing states really have any incentive to adopt this plan. Big polarized states like California or Texas don't want to change because they don't want to dilute their EVs. Swing states like Ohio and Florida play an outsized role in selection of the President, and they have no incentive to lose that status.

Posted by: DDAWD | February 3, 2011 5:18 PM | Report abuse

There's a difference in incentives for political officials/key persons and for regular persons. Key people would follow the incentives laid out by DDAWD in not wanting their "key" status to be diluted but most individuals of the voting public simply hate the endless commercials if they are in a swing state's swing demographic area. That the literature shows that negative ads makes them hate the ads' targets more than the ads' sponsor is irrelevant to the incentive that they possess to get rid of the ads entirely.

Posted by: ctown_woody | February 3, 2011 5:40 PM | Report abuse

You guys should check out what Missouri's local billionaire, Rex Sinquefield, is doing to our state. First, he single-handedly funded a ballot initiative that might well bankrupt St. Louis and Kansas City. Now he's pushing for the elimination of the state income tax, to be replaced with a sales tax that would be about 15%.

Rich ideologues: the bane of 21st Century American democracy.

I'm waiting for an asteroid to hit Earth: it will be cleaner, quicker, and less painful than what these people are doing to my country.

Posted by: MOmark | February 3, 2011 6:02 PM | Report abuse

Support for a national popular vote is strong in virtually every state, partisan, and demographic group surveyed in recent polls in closely divided battleground states: Colorado-- 68%, Iowa --75%, Michigan-- 73%, Missouri-- 70%, New Hampshire-- 69%, Nevada-- 72%, New Mexico-- 76%, North Carolina-- 74%, Ohio-- 70%, Pennsylvania -- 78%, Virginia -- 74%, and Wisconsin -- 71%; and the largest states: California -- 70%, Michigan-- 73%, New York -- 79%, North Carolina-- 74%, Ohio-- 70%, and Pennsylvania – 78%. Illinois and New Jersey have enacted the National Popular Vote bill.

Posted by: mvymvy | February 3, 2011 6:08 PM | Report abuse

New ways to game the system. Aren't they fun? We'll all be rich, soon, if we can just get past that pesky ol' version of the electoral college. And that filibuster. We just need to get rid of that filibuster thing because it's slowing down all the great ideas that we could force into place if we could just do things with simple majorities. It's hard to be patient when you have so many plans for that money your working neighbor just earned. Gosh.

Posted by: msoja | February 3, 2011 11:02 PM | Report abuse

no, this would leave the presidentcy in the hands of those who live off others...
california, new work and michigan could take the presidentcy

Posted by: DwightCollins | February 4, 2011 4:24 PM | Report abuse

no, this would leave the presidentcy in the hands of those who live off others...
california, new work and michigan could take the presidentcy

Posted by: DwightCollins | February 4, 2011 4:34 PM | Report abuse

An idea is time has come! Sign me up, or on, or for the Plan! Blowhards and syncophants blather on about our country being a republic this, and a republic that to no avail or sanity! This is a Democracy, just like the earlier Roman Empire. One man, er person and one vote is best expressed by those who vote and whom they vote for. It would give this United State citizenry a real and realistic reason to vote in the only inter-state election.

Posted by: dave_sheehan641 | February 4, 2011 4:57 PM | Report abuse

DDAWD: "Problem is that only small, non-swing states really have any incentive to adopt this plan. Big polarized states like California or Texas don't want to change because they don't want to dilute their EVs."

That's not true. If the idea is to get attention, then big polarized states have a huge incentive to adopt the plan.

Safe states get ignored, regardless of size. Presidential candidates today don't have to play to California or Texas--and they don't. But undecided voters are everywhere, and politicians in a national popular vote system would incentive to sway a voter in California or Texas as they would in Florida or Ohio. So it's in some big states' interests to support the plan.

Posted by: dasimon | February 4, 2011 5:45 PM | Report abuse

msjoa: "it's slowing down all the great ideas that we could force into place if we could just do things with simple majorities."

If you think our system has "simple" majorities, perhaps you should take a closer look. You need a majority in the House. Then you need a majority in the Senate, which is already a non-"democratic" institution in that it violates one person one vote. Then you need a national majority with the president (either through the electoral college or under the proposed popular vote). Those are pretty complex majorities. Isn't that difficult enough?

"It's hard to be patient when you have so many plans for that money your working neighbor just earned."

It is hard to be patient when those who do not represent the will of the people can block legislation. I thought government should be accountable to the people, but that can't happen when a minority bloc in an unrepresentative body can keep things from happening.

Look, if you don't like legislation that's getting through, stop whining and win more elections. That's democracy. I'm afraid I have little patience for those who extol the supposed virtues of minority rule.

Posted by: dasimon | February 4, 2011 5:53 PM | Report abuse

Dwight: If you're worried about big states . . .

The 11 most populous states contain 56% of the population of the United States and a candidate would win the Presidency if 100% of the voters in these 11 states voted for one candidate. However, if anyone is concerned about the this theoretical possibility, it should be pointed out that, under the current system, a candidate could win the Presidency by winning a mere 51% of the vote in these same 11 states -- that is, a mere 26% of the nation's votes.

The political reality is that the 11 largest states rarely agree on any political question. In terms of recent presidential elections, the 11 largest states include five "red states (Texas, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Georgia) and six "blue" states (California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New Jersey). The fact is that the big states are just about as closely divided as the rest of the country. For example, among the four largest states, the two largest Republican states (Texas and Florida) generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Bush, while the two largest Democratic states generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Kerry.

Moreover, the notion that any candidate could win 100% of the vote in one group of states and 0% in another group of states is far-fetched. Indeed, among the 11 most populous states, the highest levels of popular support , hardly overwhelming, were found in the following seven non-battleground states:
* Texas (62% Republican),
* New York (59% Democratic),
* Georgia (58% Republican),
* North Carolina (56% Republican),
* Illinois (55% Democratic),
* California (55% Democratic), and
* New Jersey (53% Democratic).

In addition, the margins generated by the nation's largest states are hardly overwhelming in relation to the 122,000,000 votes cast nationally. Among the 11 most populous states, the highest margins were the following seven non-battleground states:
* Texas -- 1,691,267 Republican
* New York -- 1,192,436 Democratic
* Georgia -- 544,634 Republican
* North Carolina -- 426,778 Republican
* Illinois -- 513,342 Democratic
* California -- 1,023,560 Democratic
* New Jersey -- 211,826 Democratic

To put these numbers in perspective, Oklahoma (7 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 455,000 "wasted" votes for Bush in 2004 -- larger than the margin generated by the 9th and 10th largest states, namely New Jersey and North Carolina (each with 15 electoral votes). Utah (5 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 385,000 "wasted" votes for Bush in 2004. 8 small western states, with less than a third of California’s population, provided Bush with a bigger margin (1,283,076) than California provided Kerry (1,235,659).

Posted by: mvymvy | February 4, 2011 8:05 PM | Report abuse

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