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Gimme an N! Gimme a P! Gimme a V!

There is a sad truth about the upcoming election which is this: Our vote will count more than many of yours.

This has nothing to do with who we’re voting for, or the conviction behind our vote somehow measuring up while yours is found wanting. It has nothing to do with those fundamentally democratic things and everything to do with one simple fact of geographical import: We live in Ohio.

Four years ago when we lived in Nashville, we cursed this flaw in our electoral system. We wanted to be at ground zero in the great electoral conflict. We wanted those controversial attack ads playing on our local stations so we could see them with our own eyes rather than read about them in the paper. We imagined passionate, heartfelt debates breaking out in public spaces between differing parties as to the virtues of their candidate and party. Oh, to be in the heart of democracy!

Four years later, we are ambivalent. We try to tune out the ads. We lament that early voting (which began here yesterday, and which we think is a great idea) only stretches out the accusations of voter suppression or fraud from one day to six weeks. We resign ourselves to the fact that most of the country hates us because they are sick and tired of us stealing the spotlight and the candidates and thinking we’re somehow more American than anyone else because we reside in “the heartland.”

There is another, better way. It’s deceptively simple but frequently misunderstood. It’s called the National Popular Vote.

N.P.V.’s most articulate spokesman is probably Hendrik Hertzberg, and we’re tempted to simply repeat everything he has already said. (The official N.P.V. site is here.)

Does this mean we have to abolish the Electoral College? you ask. Wouldn’t we have to mess with the Constitution? Is this some kind of trickery that would give an advantage to one party or another? Isn’t the system we have in place, while flawed, basically what the Founding Fathers wanted?

No, no, no, and no. (Warning: From here on out, this post descends into detailed political wonkery that you may find unbelievably boring. Proceed at your own risk. Tomorrow we pledge to write a post involving poop, cats and US Weekly.)

The N.P.V. would reform the Electoral College but not do away with it. When (if) enough states which represent a majority of the Electoral College (270 votes) agreed to sign on to N.P.V., they would then all pledge their mass of electoral college votes to the candidate with the majority of the national popular vote. This would tweak the current winner-take-all feature of each state’s electoral vote (which contributes to our Ohio vote having the potential to make a difference while your non-Ohio vote means squat, unless you too live in a dreaded “battleground state”) and establish the fairer system of one person, one vote. This is how we already elect our governors and senators.

Enacting the N.P.V. would not “mess” with the Constitution. We lean toward the view that the Constitution, which does not include any mention of the Electoral College, was a framework for democracy rather than a holy document writ in stone. (In Constitutional jargon, we are not originalists. This is another way of saying that we are not on Antonin Scalia’s Christmas card list.) The N.P.V., again, would not abolish the Electoral College but reform it. Once more, we would defer to Hendrik Hertzberg on this point (and why the necessity of a Constitutional Amendment would be unnecessary to install a national popular vote).

The N.P.V. would not favor one party over another. Partisans who suspect it would somehow have altered recent elections (which it would have, in 2000, since Gore had the majority plurality of national votes) should note that it could easily have swung the other way in 2004, when a shift of 60,000 votes here in Ohio would have given Kerry an Electoral College victory despite an even greater discrepancy in the popular vote than in 2000. (Gore won the popular election in 2000 by roughly 544,000 votes. Bush won the popular election in 2004 by more than three million.) What is partisan about every vote across the country counting the same?

Finally, there is the suspicion that arises anytime one pushes to change what is thought of as “tradition.” This is true everywhere (notably in churches, where “tradition” is often code for “God’s will”). Tradition, somebody once said, is the way things were done when you arrived on the scene. Did the Founding Fathers, in their infinite wisdom of how the world would look two centuries after they passed on, really intend for a national election to take place almost entirely in the confines of four battleground states (or, for that matter, for Iowa and New Hampshire to have such sway in the primary process)? Did James Madison, who believed a state’s senatorial representation should be proportional to its population, really think we Ohioans should reside at the center of the electoral universe? Do we count more than you do? We hope not. It’s too late for the N.P.V. in 2008, but 2012 will be here before you know it.

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6 thoughts on “Gimme an N! Gimme a P! Gimme a V!

  1. Ah Ben, if it even hints towards politics, you know I can’t be too far behind. First, a quick correction. Gore did not win a majority in 2000, he won a plurality.

    Secondly, part of the ingenuity of America is the founding framework, which this deviates from. In addition, the NPV represents rule of the masses, and we are a republic, not a democracy. This is a complicated issue with good points on both sides. I’m rather ambivalent, but it’s interesting to think about.

  2. Ah, my esteemed colleague from across the aisle weighs in! Marco, you are indeed correct that Gore won a plurality, not majority, in 2000. (I have corrected the post accordingly.)

    I did gloss over some of the particulars of the N.P.V. proposal for the sake of brevity, but I’m glad you raise the issue of rule of the masses and a republic vs. democracy. The N.P.V. would employ the clause of Article II which calls for states to “appoint” their electors “in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.” This would not be a deviation from the founding framework any more than our current system is. Both the winner-take-all format currently in place and the practice of legislatures delegating the choice of electors to voters evolved after the Founding Fathers packed up and departed Philadelphia. Again, to quote Hertzberg (how sick you must be of that phrase), the framework for states to appoint electors “was meant to be only the opening step in a complicated dance.”

    As you say, this is still a complicated dance — er, issue. May I commend us for the shining example of bipartisanship that we embody by civilly discussing these issues instead of screaming at one another on cable television.

    Disagree with me again, though, and I’ll egg your house.

  3. Damnit, I hate you! I know where you live too!

    Hey, as long as that is done through legislation (even though I am a federalist, I’d prefer at the federal level-the president is sort of a federal position), and not judicial action, it’s fine by me.

    I love the self-commendation. Agreed, we rule.

  4. if it hints towards two d-bags with only faint grasp of the ISSUES, i cannot be far behind.

    npv is ridiculous. simply, it puts way too much responsibility on the voter. i ask, what about the candidates? shouldn’t they have have to prove their worthiness to be in office as opposed to being just passively selected? that is the crux of the problem with this whole democratic process. and we need a CHANGE.

    so i pose a simple challenge that will prove the best candidate. whoever can name the most americans (without a stammer, mind you) wins the presidency. boom, done. it’s both a test of one’s patriotism and one’s ability to know people. and isn’t this what being a president is all about?

    but this is a complicated issue. with a lot of good points on both sides. especially on my side. so let’s all just agree to disagree.

    sorry i call you guys “d-bags.”

  5. Beez,
    If I understand you correctly, you’re saying we need less responsible voters? Your sly, contrarian positions would be perfectly suited for your own cable show. You could insult Lynyrd Skynard (sic) fans too.

    Mark,
    Take no offense at Beez’s name-calling. It’s his term of endearment.

    Emily,
    Thank you for the e-card. It expresses our sentiment as well.

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