Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What is Massachusetts thinking?

The Massachusetts legislature voted this past week to climb aboard the National Popular Vote train. This is the plan in which states agree that, no matter how their state votes, they are instructing their Electoral College people to vote for whichever candidate won the popular vote. This will go into effect only when enough states to account for at least 270 electoral votes have signed on to this agreement. Massachusetts joins five other states (Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, and Washington)that have passed bills. According to the NPV website, there also seems to be a a strong move ahead in New York to go forward.

Put aside however you feel about the Electoral College. There are arguments on both sides and reasonable people can disagree. Those who oppose the Electoral College realize that they will never get an amendment through three-fourths of the states since small states get a bonus through the Electoral College since each state, no matter the size, gets at least three votes. So the National Popular Vote scheme is their way to get around the constitutional obstacle.

My main question is why there would be any benefit for an individual state to do this. Notice the states that have signed on. They are all pretty reliable blue states. They would most probably only go for the Republican if it was a pretty big wave election when there wouldn't be a difference between the electoral and popular votes anyway. Think 1980 or 1984. In fact, this would only be important when there is a close election. So the only way that there would be a need for any of these six states to cast their votes electoral differently than the popular vote is if there were a close election and, assuming that these states kept their traditional Democratic majorities during close elections, the Republican won the popular vote. Think 2004.

So what the legislatures of these six states are telling their citizens is, no matter how those citizens themselves vote, their legislators want their state's electoral votes to go to the Republican if the Republican won the popular vote. They're telling the people of Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, Washington, and Massachusetts that their legislature would have wanted their states' electoral votes to have gone for George Bush in 2004. Is that really the stance that these legislators want to be taking? And when their citizens wake up some day in the future and find out that their representatives have done, are they going to be happy? Of course not!

The legislators of these six states might feel all pumped up by how they've found a way around the Electoral College, but in the meantime, they've gone directly against the interests of their own states.