Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Circumventing the Rules

When they sat around the table in Philadelphia grappling with what sort of democratic republic was needed to govern an emerging nation, the toughest questions the Founders dealt with were about fair representation with power distributed among the thirteen free and independent colonies. Underlying the issue were concerns with how the emotions of the masses could best be channeled into wise government.

The differences between the states in terms of geographic size, population, economy and industry led to the bicameral legislature. The Great Compromise involved proportional representation in a House and equivalent representation for all states in a Senate. Large population states had many votes in the House while smaller states had just as much say as the big players in the Senate chamber.

But how to deal with emotional democracy and the inevitable tyranny of a majority still had to be dealt with. That's why the Senate would be "appointed" by state legislators, not chosen by popular vote (until the 17th Amendment). Justices of the federal courts would be appointed by the executive and confirmed by the elite Senators. No direct input from the masses there.

And the executive would be chosen by a college of "electors" equal to the number or representatives and senators, but chosen by processes which the states could determine. Nowhere in the Constitution does it make a single reference to a popular vote for President. Not one word!

That, of course, is why the whining of Al Gore in 2000 was so pathetic. The rules of the game were clear and it was completely irrelevant whether or not he won the popular election.

Now we've got this in Massachusetts:

State Would Award All Electoral Votes to National Popular Vote Champ

At first glance, I thought this guy doesn't know that he can't amend the US Constitution in the state legislature. But when I read it, I see that what he proposes and what these other state seem eager to do is well within the authority of the state.

You see, the electors of a state can be chosen by whatever process the state legislature determines.

Currently in some states the legislator chooses the electors. In some places the voters "elect" a slate of electors pledged to their Presidential candidate. In some states the governor has a hand in it. In 38 states the statute mandates en bloc voting for the winner of the popular vote in that state. In the remaining twelve, the vote is cast en bloc by tradition.

Clearly the issue is to "democratize" the Presidential election. A bold emotional appeal which would effectively insure that future elections are won by the candidate who appeals to the largest demographic slices: lower income, lower education, urban, the increasing ethnic minority percentages and those receiving public assistance.

The downside of course at the macro level is that less populous states would lose their voice forever. The downside at the micro level is that this plan is simply disenfranchising the people in their own state. Regardless of who Massachusetts voters preferred, their Electoral College voice would speak independently from the ballot. The people of Kalifornia would be choosing for the Bay Staters in Nantucket.

1 comment:

Ralph said...

Massachusetts government may be dysfunctional, but the politicos are sure creative. One would think that Bay State priorities would include tax reduction (to reduce burdens on citizens and stimulate the local economy), repealing the state’s extremely expensive individual health care mandate and reducing intrusive regulations. Then even Senator Kerry could afford to keep his Friendship Sloop in his home state instead of mooring it in neighboring Rhode Island.

But this could get even better. Suppose the flyover states retaliate by signing up more and more cemetery voters. These post-census additions would not affect the apportionment of Congressional seats, but it could drive up the popular vote. In extreme form, such mischief could result in (e.g.) 350 million votes for our next president, and give the flyover states control of both the popular vote and the country. But there is still hope. As with the Messiah, the political Fortunes of Governor Deval Patrick are in free fall. Tsumani warnings are already being issued for November 2nd. There is still time to save our republic.