The Arkansas Legislature does something right

By Ethan Nobles on 11:41 PM

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Whenever the Arkansas General Assembly is in session, the best advice for those of us in the Natural State is to pray hard that they don't screw anything up too badly.

The Legislature, as usual, made its typical array of tax-levying, budget surplus-wasting decisions. However, it did do one thing right -- HB 1339 got hung up in a Senate committee and never emerged. The legislators have all gone home now, so the session is over and it appears HB1339 is finished, too.

What is (or, actually, was) HB 1339? Part of the national movement by that National Popular Vote bunch to do away with the Electoral College. Under the terms of HB1339, Arkansas would be required to cast her votes in the Electoral College for the presidential candidate that won the popular vote.

The Arkansas House passed the bill (no surprise, really -- that group would pass legislation to build reeducation camps for conservatives if the national Democrats said it was a good idea), but got nowhere in the Senate. Yay for the Senate!

This most recent move to render the Electoral College moot goes directly back to the Bush/Gore election in 2000. It seems a lot of people are upset because Al Gore won the popular vote, but George W. Bush carried enough Electoral College votes to get in office.

The funny thing about all that outrage is that it's pretty circumstantial. John Kennedy (the secular saint of the Democrats) lost the popular vote back in 1960 but wound up in office, anyway. Yes, Richard Nixon carried the popular vote but couldn't hack it in the Electoral College. Was that result fundamentally unfair? I can't help but think the folks pushing for abolishing the Electoral College would find some rationale for that election being fine and dandy while the Bush/Gore one was an outrage in that the will of the people was flaunted.

Frankly, I'm fine with both of those contests and any presidential election resulting in the winner of the popular vote not getting in office. Why? Because abolishing the Electoral College dilutes my vote. That rotten old Electoral College was developed in the first place to give those of us in more rural states at least some ability to keep from getting run over by people in larger, urban areas.

Look at it this way. Every state sends two senators to Washington, D.C., and a number of representatives based on population. The purpose of limiting the number of senators to two per state rather than tying the number of senators a state could elect to strictly population was the notion that their is merit in a system that protects local interests. California and New York, for example, have much more sway in the House of Representatives than does Arkansas, whereas the field is leveled considerably in the Senate.

The Electoral College was developed along those same lines. Further, presidential candidates do bother to show up in smaller states such as mine and campaign and concentrate instead on those states that have larger populations.

The Electoral College, then, brings a bit of balance to the system -- larger states do have more influence in electing presidents, but the rights of voters in smaller states are protected, too. The system has worked out very well in most elections.

Is it worth throwing out the Electoral College in favor of going strictly with the principal of "majority rules" rather than recognizing those of us in smaller areas ought to have some influence, too? What Arkansan wants a law that states his or her state will simply cast Electoral College votes in favor of the majority regardless of how we actually voted?

I have a feeling this wouldn't be an issue at all had the tables been reversed in 2000 and Gore lost the popular vote but carried the Electoral College. I'm sure this issue will come up again and again until it passes the Arkansas Legislature. When that days come, those of us living in smaller states will come to regret that decision.

10 comments for this post

Strike one for the little man. Glad to see not all legislators are idiots. The system has worked fine so far, its the one thing they don't need to change.

Posted on April 11, 2009 at 12:33 AM  

Well, I've always been in favor of only letting white male landowners who have attained the age of 25 elect our President.

Posted on April 11, 2009 at 9:29 AM  

A fine explanation. Reminds me of the map showing, by area, how much of the US Obama carried in 2008. It was very little, as his support was so heavy in urban areas.

Posted on April 12, 2009 at 10:42 PM  

Silent Majority -- If it ain't broke...

Blanca -- Come on. You can do better than that.

Da Old Man -- Yep. I'm glad my state hasn't gone alone with the notion that the larger population centers ought to have absolute power over the rest of us. They've got enough as it is.

Posted on April 13, 2009 at 8:50 AM  

The major shortcoming of the current system of electing the President is that presidential candidates concentrate their attention on a handful of closely divided "battleground" states. Arkansas is not one. 98% of the 2008 campaign events involving a presidential or vice-presidential candidate occurred in just 15 closely divided "battleground" states. Over half (57%) of the events were in just four states (Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia). Similarly, 98% of ad spending took place in these 15 "battleground" states. Similarly, in 2004, 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. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or worry about the voter concerns in states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. The reason for this is the winner-take-all rule enacted 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.

Another shortcoming of the current system is that a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide. This has occurred in one of every 14 presidential elections.

In the past six decades, there have been six presidential elections in which a shift of a relatively small number of votes in one or two states would have elected (and, of course, in 2000, did elect) a presidential candidate who lost the popular vote nationwide.

Posted on April 13, 2009 at 3:08 PM  

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Every vote would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections.

The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes--that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

The Constitution gives every state the power to allocate its electoral votes for president, as well as to change state law on how those votes are awarded.

The bill is currently endorsed by 1,512 state legislators in 48 states.

In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). The recent Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University poll shows 72% support for direct nationwide election of the President. This national result is similar to recent polls in closely divided battleground states: Colorado-- 68%, Iowa --75%, Michigan-- 73%, Missouri-- 70%, New Hampshire-- 69%, Nevada-- 72%, New Mexico-- 76%, North Carolina-- 74%, Ohio-- 70%, Pennsylvania -- 78%, Virginia -- 74%, and Wisconsin -- 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): Delaware --75%, Maine -- 71%, Nebraska -- 74%, New Hampshire --69%, Nevada -- 72%, New Mexico -- 76%, Rhode Island -- 74%, and Vermont -- 75%; in Southern and border states: Arkansas --80%, Kentucky -- 80%, Mississippi --77%, Missouri -- 70%, North Carolina -- 74%, and Virginia -- 74%; and in other states polled: California -- 70%, Connecticut -- 73% , Massachusetts -- 73%, New York -- 79%, and Washington -- 77%.

The National Popular Vote bill has passed 25 state legislative chambers, including one house in Arkansas, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington, and both houses in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland. These four states possess 50 electoral votes -- 19% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.


Posted on April 13, 2009 at 3:08 PM  


A survey of 800 Arkansas voters conducted on December 15-16, 2008 showed 80% overall support for a national popular vote for President.

Support was 88% among Democrats, 71% among Republicans, and 79% among independents.

By age, support was 89% among 18-29 year olds, 76% among 30-45 year olds, 80% among 46-65 year olds, and 80% for those older than 65.

By gender, support was 88% among women and 71% among men.

By race, support was 81% among whites (representing 80% of respondents), 80% among African-Americans (representing 16% of respondents), and 68% among Others (representing 4% of respondents).


Posted on April 13, 2009 at 3:09 PM  

The small states are the most disadvantaged of all under the current system of electing the President. Political clout comes from being a closely divided battleground state, not the two-vote bonus.

Small states are almost invariably non-competitive, and ignored, in presidential elections. Only 1 of the 13 smallest states are battleground states (and only 5 of the 25 smallest states are battlegrounds).

Of the 13 smallest states, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Alaska regularly vote Republican, and Rhode Island, Delaware, Hawaii, Vermont, Maine, and DC regularly vote Democratic. These 12 states together contain 11 million people. Because of the two electoral-vote bonus that each state receives, the 12 non-competitive small states have 40 electoral votes. However, the two-vote bonus is an entirely illusory advantage to the small states. Ohio has 11 million people and has "only" 20 electoral votes. As we all know, the 11 million people in Ohio are the center of attention in presidential campaigns, while the 11 million people in the 12 non-competitive small states are utterly irrelevant. Nationwide election of the President would make each of the voters in the 12 smallest states as important as an Ohio voter.

The fact that the bonus of two electoral votes is an illusory benefit to the small states has been widely recognized by the small states for some time. In 1966, Delaware led a group of 12 predominantly low-population states (North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Kentucky, Florida, Pennsylvania) in suing New York in the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that New York's use of winner-take-all effectively disenfranchised voters in their states. The Court declined to hear the case (presumably because of the well-established constitutional provision that the manner of awarding electoral votes is exclusively a state decision). Ironically, defendant New York is no longer a battleground state (as it was in the 1960s) and today suffers the very same disenfranchisement as the 12 non-competitive low-population states. A vote in New York is, today, equal to a vote in Wyoming--both are equally worthless and irrelevant in presidential elections.

The concept of a national popular vote for President is far from being politically "radioactive"in small states, because the small states recognize they are the most disadvantaged group of states under the current system.

In small states, the National Popular Vote bill already has been approved by a total of seven state legislative chambers, including one house in Maine and both houses in Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermont. It has been enacted by Hawaii.

Posted on April 13, 2009 at 3:10 PM  

Most of the medium-small states (with five or six electoral votes) are similarly non-competitive in presidential elections (and therefore similarly disadvantaged). In fact, of the 22 medium-smallest states (those with three, four, five, or six electoral votes), only New Hampshire (with four electoral votes), New Mexico (five electoral votes), and Nevada (five electoral votes) have been battleground states in recent elections.

Because so few of the 22 small and medium-small states are closely divided battleground states in presidential elections, the current system actually shifts power from voters in the small and medium-small states to voters in a handful of big states. The New York Times reported early in 2008 (May 11, 2008) that both major political parties were already in agreement that there would be at most 14 battleground states in 2008 (involving only 166 of the 538 electoral votes). In other words, three-quarters of the states were ignored under the current system in the 2008 election. Michigan (17 electoral votes), Ohio (20), Pennsylvania (21), and Florida (27) contain over half of the electoral votes that mattered in 2008 (85 of the 166 electoral votes). There were only three battleground states among the 22 small and medium-small states (i.e., New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Nevada). These three states contain only 14 of the 166 electoral votes. Anyone concerned about the relative power of big states and small states should realize that the current system shifts power from voters in the small and medium-small states to voters in a handful of big states.

Posted on April 13, 2009 at 3:11 PM  

And Susan's spammy, automated comment shows up wherever this issue is brought up at all.

Here are two questions for you automated Susan:

1. You "Ohio" example completely skips over the fact that the 11 million voters there have less "pull" than the 11 million people in those 12 "small" states you mentioned due to the fact that Ohio has half as many electoral votes. Why is that? How, exactly, will depriving those smaller states of their advantage in the number of electoral college votes put them on equal footing with Ohio? Spin that all you want, but the fact remains that the smaller state -- individually -- have an advantage. That's my entire point.

2. Aren't you really upset by the fact that Gore would have won had he carried either his home state or the home state of Bill Clinton? Isn't the fact those small states (which you described as disadvantaged) can dig in their heels and determine an election what has the "national popular vote" folks in an uproar? If so, where were you people when Kennedy edged out Nixon in 1960 by doing virtually the same thing that Bush did in 2000?

Posted on April 14, 2009 at 2:06 AM  

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