The Misguided “Electoral Compact”

Did this really happen while I was on vacation?

The California State Legislature voted to hand over our state’s electoral votes to whoever wins the national popular vote for president — even if that candidate was rejected by Californians!? Apparently so.

Under the legislation, California would grant its electoral votes to the nominee who gets the most votes nationwide — not the most votes in California. Get enough other states to do the same, backers of the bill say, and soon presidential candidates will have to campaign across the nation, not just in a few key “battleground” states such as Ohio and Michigan that can sway the Electoral College vote.

How does it benefit the Democrats in California — struggling to win a governor’s race — to say “We stand for disenfranchising California voters.” That’s who voted for this thing — Democratic legislators.

The disputed Bush victory in 2000 has deranged the entire political system: the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, the good-government reformers…all of them! The political system is no longer a place for ideas; it’s all about tactical warfare at the elite level. The reformers who proposed this half-baked idea have fallen out of touch with any notion of what voters think is fair. The politicians who have attached their names to it have fallen out of touch with basic common sense.

“But,” a supporter of this legislation might say, “no one’s disenfranchising California voters. Their votes are included in the popular vote that determines where our electoral votes will be directed.” And that’s true in a literal sense.

Nonetheless, this measure — and its underlying goal, the abolition of the Electoral College — reduces the state’s influence on the presidential election. The theory that only the “battleground” states get the focus of presidential politics depends on where the “battleground” states happen to be in any given year. In my lifetime, California has been a “battleground” state many times: 1960, 1968, 1976, 1980, 1988, 1992. Moreover, one or both parties have to consider California’s political composition when selecting their nominees. The size of our state exerts a gravitational influence on all the decisions that lead up to the selection of a nominee, including which candidates fundraisers will back.

Why would Californians listen to any reformer who wanted us to surrender the power our size gives us? We need a bigger voice in the process because as the nation’s largest state we have bigger issues, bigger problems, and make a bigger contribution to the nation’s welfare.

But what’s really stupid about so-called “electoral compact” measure is this: The reformers assume everything else remains static — that the 2000 election will be re-run endlessly, pitting a smart Democrat against a dumb Republican in a contest the smart Democrat will win, just barely, because there are just enough smart people to overcome all the dumb ones. (This is how professional Democrats see the blue vs. red divide.)

It is true that only the flukish nature of the Electoral College kept Gore out the White House. But it is not true that if the 2000 election were re-run without the Electoral College, Gore would have won. Because a USA without an Electoral College would not be a nation of two, large, national parties that aggregate various interests — parties of the size and scope necessary to wage campaigns that will win state-by-state elections. If all you have to do to win an election is gather votes where you can find them, we would see a splintered array of no-compromise parties representing regions, ideologies and countless special interests that can go it alone to muster up blocs of voters.

The “electoral compact” contains no provision for a scenario in which there are, say, five presidential candidates who each get around 20 percent of the popular vote. The candidate who gets a plurality — say 26 percent — might only get 5 percent in California. But under the new state law, California’s electoral votes would all go to that candidate.

(And I think five candidates is conservative. If you could run and conceivably win without the backing of a party, a ballot with 25 names on it is easily imaginable.)

I would consider supporting presidential election reforms that included abolishing the Electoral College; but such reform would have to include a run-off between the two top vote-getters. That can’t happen if the “electoral compact” succeeds, because all the compact proposes to do is end-around the Constitution, not amend it. Absent a Constitutional amendment, there is no way to add a run-off provision. And without a run-off provision, any attempt to nullify the Electoral College would be an extremely dangerous gamble. (Unless you are comfortable with the idea of a candidate who wins 20 percent of the vote becoming president.)

I don’t even see the short-term gain for Democrats in this. What made them think it was a political plus to embrace it? I guess the party pros who instruct our legislators on details like how to vote see 2008 as 2000 all over again. If so — wow. What a lack of confidence in a candidate that hasn’t even been chosen yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s