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Scripps Howard News Service

 

Should States Choose Own Rules For Electing President?

September 15, 2011

By Ben Boychuk

In Pennsylvania, the Republican-run legislature is considering a proposal to alter the age-old practice of electing president.

Now, all of the Keystone State’s electoral votes are awarded to the winner of the statewide popular vote -- the same system that’s used in all but two other states. Under Pennsylvania’s proposal, electoral votes would be allocated instead to the winner of the vote in each of state’s congressional districts.

Should Pennsylvania change its rules? Should other states go the more popular route? Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, grapple the question.

BEN BOYCHUK

On this question, the Constitution is clear: With certain specified exceptions, the states get to say how they run their elections.

Whether winner-take-all or proportional representation, as long as the plan fits within the federal constitutional framework -- comply with the civil rights amendments, and no religious tests, please -- it’s the state’s call.

Every decade or so, we see these grand plans to “reform” the way Americans vote. After the 2000 election, when George W. Bush lost the popular vote but barely won the Electoral College, Democrats clamored for an amendment to the Constitution.

When the amendment went nowhere, a bipartisan group devised the National Popular Vote Compact. If enough states sign on -- the goal is 270 electoral votes, or enough to elect a president -- compact members would direct their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote in a presidential election. Nine states have adopted the compact, including California with its 55 electoral votes.

Such voting schemes are amazingly shortsighted. Suppose President Barack Obama wins California but loses the popular vote nationally. Under the compact, California would be required to instruct its 55 electors to cast their ballots for the Republican. Does anyone really think that’s fair or right or stands half a chance of surviving an onslaught of lawsuits?

The same could be said for Pennsylvania’s partisan exercise. Do Pennsylvania Republicans control both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office? They do-- today. And as Obama’s supporters were so fond of saying in 2009, elections have consequences.

But will Keystone Republicans remain in control after next year or in 2014? Even with gerrymandered districts, nothing is ever guaranteed.

If this plan helps derail Obama’s reelection campaign next year, a President Perry or Romney could find his fortunes reversed in 2016 for the same reason.

Instead of tinkering with the mechanics of elections, Republicans would do well to concentrate on giving voters good reasons to elect them.

JOEL MATHIS

When it comes to presidential voting, anybody with a democratic bone in his body knows that the Electoral College is a patently unfair way of electing a president. Eleven years later, the elevation of George W. Bush to the presidency -- even though he lost the popular vote -- rankles mightily.

A pure popular vote would be great, but is unlikely. The Congressional district scheme proposed by Pennsylvania Republicans might actually be the next best thing -- though, oddly, experts calculate it would’ve given Bush a wider margin of Electoral College victory in 2000 had it been used nationally -- since it somewhat mitigates the abilities of big states to dominate voting: Each district has roughly the same amount of voters, and just the one electoral vote.

But presidential voting rules should be uniform, the same law adopted by all 50 states. That won’t happen. Each state gets to decide how it casts its Electoral College votes -- and now we see, thanks to Pennsylvania, that the system lets politicians game the presidential campaign system in favor of their party. The motive here is transparent political hackery.

And it reveals federalism to be a chump’s game. To some extent, federalism -- with its emphasis on the states as a counterpart to the national government -- treats the states like quasi-independent nations who govern themselves and just happened to be in alliance, like NATO or the United Nations. That hasn’t been functionally true since at least the Civil War. The president is the chief executive of a single big country, not 50 little nations. There’s no reason a candidate should face 50 different sets of rules in order to be elected.

We are one country. We have one president. We should have one clear, democratic set of rules for electing that president. We don’t. That makes the system vulnerable to corruption and the un-democratic desires of party elites. It’s a lousy way to run a country.

Original Source: http://www.scrippsnews.com/content/should-states-choose-own-rules-electing-president

 

 
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