Response to Nathan Benefield on The National Popular Vote Plan

Nathan Benefield of the Commonwealth Foundation calls the National Popular Vote Plan “A radical shift in Elections” and urges the Pennsylvania Legislature to reject the agreement.The National Popular Vote Plan is an interstate compact, whereby participating states would agree to allocate their electoral votes to the winner of the National Popular Vote. The compact would take effect when enough states (constituting the requisite 270 electoral votes required to win the Presidential election) agree to participate.Benefield then warns that the plan “could result in disputes over who won the Presidential election.” Ironically, this scenario is actually more likely to be triggered under the current winner-take-all electoral system. The organization Fair Vote conducted a study of 7,645 statewide elections from 1980-2006. They found that only 23 of these elections resulted in a recount. That is a ratio of just one recount for every 332 elections. Over 90% of these recount elections resulted in the original winner maintaining the win.On the national level, under the current winner-take-all electoral system, there are 51 potential recounts. To date, there have been 2,135 statewide Presidential elections.

Under the National Popular Vote scheme, recounts would occur far less than under the present winner-take-all-system.Benefield incorrectly calls the Plan “a way to circumvent the Constitution.” This is a red herring argument. In actuality, there is no provision in the U.S. Constitution mandating that the President must be selected by a particular electoral method. Accordingly, there is no need for a Constitutional Amendment to change the method that states use for the awarding of electors. The Founding Fathers could not come to a resolution as to how to award electoral votes at the Constitutional Convention. They decided to delegated “plenary authority” to the states to award their electors, as reflected in Article ll, Section 1, Clause 11 of the U.S. Constitution, which states: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors.” Accordingly, each state has autonomy to select electors in any way that they see fit.The Founding Fathers did not advocate or mandate a monolithic method for the states to award their electoral votes. They respected Federalism and delegated the power of awarding electors to the states. In 1789, most states only allowed property owners the right to vote. This gradually changed, not by a constitutional amendment, but through a state-by-state process. The winner-take-all approach of awarding electors was a scheme devised by partisan parochial interests to maximize their political advantage. It was not the grand design of the Founding Fathers. In fact, there is no mention at all of the winner-take-all electoral system in the Federalist Papers and no mention of it during the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention.Mr. Benefield incorrectly argues that the National Popular Vote Plan would supplant the Electoral College. This is a fallacy.

The Electoral College would still exist under the National Popular Vote Plan. On the Monday following the second Wednesday in the December after the election is held, electors representing each state and the District of Columbia will still cast their Presidential ballots. On January 6, the Vice President will declare the winner to a joint session of the U.S. Congress. This process would remain exactly the same.Benefield correctly asserts that the U.S. is “not a pure Democracy but a Constitutional Republic.” However, this point is irrelevant to this issue. The National Popular Vote Plan in no way transforms the U.S. into a Direct Democracy. Wisely fearing unsustainable “mob rule,” the Founders conceptualized a constitutional republic for the colonists based upon the Roman Republic, wherein the American people would only be indirectly involved in the governance process. Under a Direct Democracy, the American people would vote on all of the issues themselves. If the National Popular Vote Plan were to be adopted, Presidents would be elected the same way every other magistrate in the U.S. is elected from Cemetery Commissioners and County Coroners to Governors and U.S. Senators.Benefield states: “The National Popular Vote would allow candidates to focus on regional issues, or votes in population centers, rather than making a broad national appeal.” If Benefield wants candidates to disseminate a nation-wide message, he should support the National Popular Vote Plan. Under the current electoral system, Presidential nominees tailor their messages to voters in only about 15 swing states, relegating the majority of Americans to the electoral sidelines. Under the current electoral system, Presidential candidates spend an inordinate amount of time cultivating support in strategically crucial states. They must appeal to retirees in central Florida, steel workers in Western Pennsylvania, and ethanol growers in Iowa.

Unfortunately, they have no incentive to hear the concerns of New England fishermen worried about the affects of federal regulations on their livelihoods, South Central Los Angeles residents concerned about gang violence, or workers in the Louisiana sugar industry concerned about the affects of lower tariffs on their jobs.Benefield ends his column by branding the National Popular Vote Plan “a radical, dangerous, and ill-conceived shift in our election process.” However, this rather hyperbolic description begs the question about how treating every voter with equal reverence can be labeled “radical, Dangerous, or ill-conceived. In addition, if Benefield actually believes this then He must explain why it is acceptable to support a system where a Presidential candidate has incentive to treat a voter in Marblehead, Ohio as hegemonic to a voter in Marblehead, Massachusetts, simply because of his/her geopolitical location. Ohio is a showdown state, while Massachusetts is a safe state.The National Popular Vote Plan would make every vote equal. Under this plan, it would be foolhardy for a Presidential campaign not to devise a strategy to assiduously cultivate support and get out the vote in literally all regions of the nation.