Massachusetts Legislature Passes National Popular Vote Bill

Ballot Access News reports:

On July 27, the Massachusetts legislature gave final approval to the National Popular Vote Plan bill. Governor DuVal Patrick is expected to sign it. Massachusetts will be the sixth state to approve the plan. The others are Hawaii, Washington, New Jersey, Maryland and Illinois.

According to BAN comments that brings the plan up to 73 votes. The states which have passed it have pledged to allocate their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote once they reach 270 electoral votes, enough to carry the electoral college.

If this plan passes, it would no longer be possible for alternative parties and independent candidates to win electoral votes. For example, the Libertarian Party would not have been able to get its one electoral vote in 1972, which propelled it to national attention when it had very little money or organization. Regionally based parties (such as the American Independent Party in 1968) would also not be able to carry electoral votes based on carrying certain states.

One alternative plan that has been proposed is to allocate electoral votes proportionally within each state. This would allow smaller parties and independents to get electoral votes in some states – in California, for example, it would take less than 2% of the vote to win an electoral vote.

Both plans are designed to address the problem that under the existing system candidates are free to ignore the “safe” Republican and Democratic states. Critics of the National Popular Vote plan have pointed out that it could lead to a similar problem, in that candidates would be free to ignore “flyover country” and focus all their attention on the largest media markets. Under the existing system, lower-population states get some extra attention because they are allocated two electoral votes each for their two US senators, giving voters in lower-populations states proportionally more influence over the electoral college than voters in higher-population states. Proponents of the national popular vote plan see that as inherently unfair.

18 thoughts on “Massachusetts Legislature Passes National Popular Vote Bill

  1. pete healey

    This whole “Electoral College” business is quite useless and attempts to reform it are worse. Let’s please get back to the discussion about direct popular election of the president with a 50% plus 1 mandate?

  2. paulie Post author

    That’s basically what the National Popular Vote plan is, bypassing the more difficult route of constitutional amendment to achieve the same result.

    I prefer the proportional allocation of electoral votes within states myself. It’s a much better system for alternative parties and independent candidates, makes all the states important to the overall outcome of the election, and ensures that areas outside a few major media markets and regional concerns would not be ignored.

  3. disappointed

    This is so disapointing. We are losing our country at breakneck speeds. Now how many states votes will be ignorable. Take TEXAS for example – Houston alone has 2.3 million people. That’s just less then the whole states of Maine and New Hampshire. Low population states need to scream bloody murder if they want to vote.

  4. Nate

    “If this plan passes, it would no longer be possible for alternative parties and independent candidates to win electoral votes. For example, the Libertarian Party would not have been able to get its one electoral vote in 1972, which propelled it to national attention when it had very little money or organization. Regionally based parties (such as the American Independent Party in 1968) would also not be able to carry electoral votes based on carrying certain states.”

    Wrong, wrong, wrong. I don’t even know where to start.

    First of all, the lone libertarian vote in 1972 was by a faithless elector. Nothing in the National Popular Vote Bill prevents faithless electors.

    Secondly, only those states passing the bill will send electors based on the popular vote, the other states will continue to send their electors as per that state’s laws. So while Massachusetts might well never send Libertarian electors – as if the odds of that happening without the National Popular Vote Bill were any higher – there is nothing stopping, say, Alaska from doing so.

    Thirdly, Ross Perot received almost 19% of the popular vote in 1992 but zero electoral votes. Was he less successful than the Libertarians in 1972?

    And finally, who says no alternative party or independent can win the popular vote?

    @disappointed:
    Yeah, cause it’s states that vote, not people, right? And it’s completely fair and obvious that if a Californian moves to Wyoming, his vote should be worth almost 4 times as much. Why not get rid of the House of Representatives while we’re at it, two votes per state should be plenty.

  5. Nate

    Oh, and I should have stayed with Texas: Currently a vote for president in Wyoming is worth *more than* 4 times as much as a vote in Texas.

    Insane.

  6. paulie Post author

    Oh, and I should have stayed with Texas: Currently a vote for president in Wyoming is worth *more than* 4 times as much as a vote in Texas.

    Insane.

    It’s only insane if you think of the US as a single state.

    The federal system is designed to preserve a role for the states in deciding our government. That’s why each state gets two Senators, regardless of population. Is that insane as well, in your view?

    The electoral college is a legitimate compromise between election by States and election by population.

  7. paulie Post author

    “If this plan passes, it would no longer be possible for alternative parties and independent candidates to win electoral votes. For example, the Libertarian Party would not have been able to get its one electoral vote in 1972, which propelled it to national attention when it had very little money or organization. Regionally based parties (such as the American Independent Party in 1968) would also not be able to carry electoral votes based on carrying certain states.”

    Wrong, wrong, wrong. I don’t even know where to start.

    First of all, the lone libertarian vote in 1972 was by a faithless elector. Nothing in the National Popular Vote Bill prevents faithless electors.

    Secondly, only those states passing the bill will send electors based on the popular vote, the other states will continue to send their electors as per that state’s laws. So while Massachusetts might well never send Libertarian electors – as if the odds of that happening without the National Popular Vote Bill were any higher – there is nothing stopping, say, Alaska from doing so.

    You may be technically correct, in which case, my apologies; but why would anyone care about the electoral college vote is if the NPV plan passes? The only reason anyone pays any attention to the electoral college now is that it can come up with a different result than the popular vote.

    Thus, had the NPV been in place in 1972 and the LP got its one faithless elector, would anyone have noticed or cared?

    Thirdly, Ross Perot received almost 19% of the popular vote in 1992 but zero electoral votes. Was he less successful than the Libertarians in 1972?

    In one sense, yes. In another, no. The LP’s lone electoral vote in 1972 has led to a more sustained alternative political party than Perot’s 19% in 1992.

    And finally, who says no alternative party or independent can win the popular vote?

    If they did, they would no longer be an alternative party. This is like saying that independents and alternative parties are not harmed by “top two” because they could manage to land in the top two. True, but how often does that happen?

    Yeah, cause it’s states that vote, not people, right? And it’s completely fair and obvious that if a Californian moves to Wyoming, his vote should be worth almost 4 times as much. Why not get rid of the House of Representatives while we’re at it, two votes per state should be plenty.

    Neither whether the states should vote or whether the people should vote is necessarily obvious. One would, as you point out, indicate that we should get rid of the House of Representatives. The other would indicate that we should get rid of the Senate. Do you think we should get rid of the Senate? The popular vote in electing the Senate is skewed more than the electoral college.

  8. kohler

    The current system of electing the president ensures that the candidates, after the primaries, do not reach out to all of the states and their voters. 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. The reason for this is the state-by-state winner-take-all rule (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but now used by 48 states), under which all of a state’s electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state.

    Presidential candidates concentrate their attention on only a handful of closely divided “battleground” states and their voters. In 2008, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their campaign events and ad money in just six states, and 98% in just 15 states (CO, FL, IN, IA, MI, MN, MO, NV, NH, NM, NC, OH, PA, VA, and WI). 19 of the 22 smallest and medium-small states (with less than 7 electoral college votes) were not among them. Over half (57%) of the events were in just four states (Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia). In 2004, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their money and campaign visits in five states; over 80% in nine states; and over 99% of their money in 16 states, and candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their money and campaign visits in five states and over 99% of their money in 16 states.
    Two-thirds of the states and people have been merely spectators to the presidential elections.

  9. paulie

    The current system of electing the president ensures that the candidates, after the primaries, do not reach out to all of the states and their voters. 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. The reason for this is the state-by-state winner-take-all rule (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but now used by 48 states), under which all of a state’s electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state.

    Correct. That is why I support proportional allocation of electors within each state. This would make all the states battleground states, and would be the best system for insuring all the states get attention.

    Under NPV, there would likewise be no reason for a presidential candidate to visit or ctherwise campaign in most states, since just a handful of the largest media markets would add up to a majority vote.

  10. kohler

    For a full analysis of the flaws of wanting a proportional allocation of electoral college votes by states, see
    http://nationalpopularvote.com/pages/answers/m21.php#m21_2

    . . .

    With National Popular Vote, big states, that are just about as closely divided as the rest of the country, would not get all of the candidates’ attention. In recent presidential elections, the 11 largest states have been split — five “red states (Texas, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Georgia) and six “blue” states (California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New Jersey).

    With National Popular Vote, big cities would not get all of candidates’ attention, much less control the outcome.. The population of the top five cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia) is only 6% of the population of the United States and the population of the top 50 cities (going as obscurely far down in name recognition as Arlington, TX) is only 19% of the population of the United States. Cleveland and Miami certainly did not receive all the attention or control the outcome in Ohio and Florida in 2000 and 2004. A “big city” only campaign would not win.

    21% of Americans live in rural areas, where candidates get the most bang for their buck/voters for TV ads.

  11. Erik G.

    It’s worth pointing out that 9 states comprise over 50% of the nation’s population. I don’t think enough people realize this. California and Texas alone make up nearly 20%, and the top 4 states (including NY and FL) constitute nearly 1/3rd of the country.

    National popular vote? No thank you.

    Also, I pretty much agree with paulie’s arguments here.

  12. paulie Post author

    Kohler, from your link:

    A system in which electoral votes are divided proportionally by state would not accurately reflect the nationwide popular vote and would not make every vote equal.

    So what? I addressed this above.


    Every vote would not be equal under the proportional approach. The proportional approach would disadvantage certain states in relation to other states. For example, Montana and Wyoming each have one congressman and three electoral votes. However, Montana has almost three times as many people as Wyoming.

    Again, so what? The US Senate does not give equal representation per voter to each state, either.

    The US system of checks and balances is not supposed to be direct democracy.

    The electoral college system balances popular vote with state apportionment, much as Congress does. This insures that state and regional interests are not ignored.


    The proportional approach would disadvantage fast-growing states because electoral votes are only redistributed among the states after each federal census. The proportional approach would penalize states with high voter turnout (e.g., Oregon).

    You could say the same for the US Congress.

    Maybe to solve all these “problems” you see, we would get rid of both Houses of Congress and have a unitary national popular vote elected President with the power to write the laws as well as enforce them?

    Would that be an improvement in your view? Why or why not?

  13. paulie Post author

    With National Popular Vote, big cities would not get all of candidates’ attention, much less control the outcome.. The population of the top five cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia) is only 6% of the population of the United States and the population of the top 50 cities (going as obscurely far down in name recognition as Arlington, TX) is only 19% of the population of the United States.

    LOL. You forgot to count their suburbs.

    See:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Table_of_United_States_Metropolitan_Statistical_Areas

    And the media markets are bigger than those metropolitan statistical areas. For example, #2 (Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA MSA, 12,874,797) and #14 (Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA MSA, 4,143,113) are part of the same media market.

    Rural areas? Fuggedaboutit.

    If you think any campaign will send a candidate, or even a ranking representative, to a rural area ever again if/when NPV passes, think again.

  14. Nate

    Paulie,

    in Congress the bicameral system takes care of checks and balances in the legislative branch and the compromise between states and people, or states with low population and states with high population. If the executive office likewise had two consuls, one chosen by the popular vote, one by the states, I would similarly have no problem.

    So no, I don’t wish to abolish the Senate.

    This compromise between high and low population states on the electoral college was certainly a compromise, whether or not it is legitimate (and what an illegitimate compromise is) remains debatable.

    As for the lone electoral vote for the Libertarian Party in 1972 not being news if the NPV bill had been passed: It wasn’t really – and should never have been – newsworthy. In the incredibly boring aftermath of a presidential election where there wasn’t really anything to write about, the media was willing to grab up anything it could. So a faithless elector gave them something to talk about. He changed the result from a 521-17 slaughter, to the incredibly close 520-17-1 vote that it was. *Gasp*, how newsworthy. If he had voted for Mickey Mouse and Adolf Hitler, would the National Socialist Disney Workers Party now be the largest third party in the US?

    If people gave a rat’s ass about the electoral college vote then, when it was a landslide, why the hell wouldn’t they give a damn with the NPV, when – under normal circumstances – it’ll be a landslide? In fact, if faithless electors are such a great thing for third parties, you should be welcoming this bill with open arms. It’ll create more landslide victories in the electoral college, leading to more frustrated electors given the chance to voice their opinion without spoiling the election. Because, let’s be honest, if 1972 had been a close election, there would have been no vote for the LP candidates.

  15. paulie Post author

    Faithless electors – especially ones who vote for someone other than the top two – are rare enough to be newsworthy regardless of whether the election is close or not.

    However, they would not be newsworthy if the electoral college becomes a powerless formality.

    The point of bringing up the Senate is that in the US federal system we give some power to the people and some to the states. This includes the election of the executive, and it is a legitimate tool to balance the power of the states and the federal government.

    Kohler’s link @ 10 does make one good point, proportional apportionment of electors within states does relatively weaken the states that adopt it first. I’m hoping some states will be unselfish enough to go first, anyway.

  16. Nate

    Paulie,

    “Faithless electors – especially ones who vote for someone other than the top two – are rare enough to be newsworthy regardless of whether the election is close or not.”

    Perhaps.

    “However, they would not be newsworthy if the electoral college becomes a powerless formality. ”

    The electoral college is – and will continue to be – a *powerful* formality.

    It is a formality because everyone knows the day after the vote who will be president. Whether by popular vote or by contrived state/population/winner-takes-all arithmetic.

    And yet it is incredibly powerful, as the final say still remains in the hands of a select few.

    I cannot for the life of me understand why you think the actual vote in the electoral college will somehow be any more meaningless. As I said, the general populace doesn’t care about that vote, they already “know” who the new president is. And as you said, faithless electors are rare enough to be newsworthy. So it’ll be reported if it happens, and nothing will be reported if everything goes as planned: same as now!

  17. George Phillies

    The National Popular Vote is a time bomb waiting to happen. We have in the recent past had an election in which the vote in Florida was so close that a recount was needed.

    Now, suppose we recycle this issue. There is no legal mechanism under which you can compel a recount in a state that elects its own electors and has an unambiguous decision. If the vote is disputed, states that follow this subversive scheme have no way to decide which way to cast their votes.

    There is also the amusing possibility that the unit rule will be activated by some state, so that the vote is counted in secret, and the winner is taken to capture the popular vote of every registered voter in the states and so reported.

  18. paulie Post author

    It is a formality because everyone knows the day after the vote who will be president. Whether by popular vote or by contrived state/population/winner-takes-all arithmetic.

    Although rare, faithless electors create a technical possibility of a surprise. Maybe that’s why the electoral college receives some coverage.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *