Saturday, February 5, 2011

Picking the President

On Monday afternoon when the Assembly comes back into session they're likely to move a bill that will alter how the state awards its electoral votes for the presidential election.
Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz, D-Bronx, has introduced legislation (AB 489) that is basically an interstate agreement between willing states to award their electoral votes to whoever wins the majority of the national vote.
New York's ability to make this change stems from the fact that the Constitution allows each state to determine how it will award its electoral votes. Because of this loop hole, states can circumvent the electoral college system without actually amending the Constitution, which is a cumbersome process.
Dinowitz's proposal argues that the current system is inadequate, as it encourages candidates to focus on battleground states and fosters a dynamic where one state can be the difference. To these points the bill argues:
This interstate agreement would send a clear message to Presidential
candidates that no citizens' vote can be expected based upon party
affiliation alone. An office that is representing all 50 states should
be filled by a candidate who campaigned in all 50 states to gain the
knowledge and support of all citizens.

The legislation wouldn't go into effect until after enough states had committed to the proposal that the new coalition amassed 270 votes, and could therefore guarantee the selection of the presidency.
This idea passed the senate in the recent session, but has always stalled in the Assembly. Most likely this aversion in the Assembly, where the bill hasn't even gotten a vote, stems from the fact that the liberal base there doesn't want to risk awarding New York's electoral votes to a Republican.


  1. State-by-state winner-take-all laws to award electoral college votes were eventually enacted by 48 states AFTER the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution.

    The Founding Fathers only said in the U.S. Constitution about presidential elections (only after debating among 30 ballots for choosing a method): "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors . . ." The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the state legislatures over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as "plenary" and "exclusive."

    Neither of the two most important features of the current system of electing the President (namely, universal suffrage, and the 48 state-by-state winner-take-all method) are in the U.S. Constitution. Neither was the choice of the Founders when they went back to their states to organize the nation's first presidential election.

    In 1789, in the nation's first election, the people had no vote for President in most states, Only men who owned a substantial amount of property could vote.

    In 1789 only three states used the state-by-state winner-take-all method to award electoral votes.

    The winner-take-all method is not entitled to any special deference based on history or the historical meaning of the words in the U.S. Constitution. The current 48 state-by-state winner-take-all method (i.e., awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in a particular state) is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, the debates of the Constitutional Convention, or the Federalist Papers. The actions taken by the Founding Fathers make it clear that they never gave their imprimatur to the winner-take-all method.

    The constitutional wording does not encourage, discourage, require, or prohibit the use of any particular method for awarding the state's electoral votes.

    As a result of changes in state laws enacted since 1789, the people have the right to vote for presidential electors in 100% of the states, there are no property requirements for voting in any state, and the state-by-state winner-take-all method is used by 48 of the 50 states. Maine and Nebraska currently award electoral votes by congressional district -- a reminder that an amendment to the U.S. Constitution is not required to change the way the President is elected.

    The normal process of effecting change in the method of electing the President is specified in the U.S. Constitution, namely action by the state legislatures. This is how the current system was created, and this is the built-in method that the Constitution provides for making changes.

  2. A survey of 800 New York voters conducted on December 22-23, 2008 showed 79% overall support for a national popular vote for President.

    By gender, support was 89% among women and 69% among men.

    By age, support was 60% among 18-29 year olds, 74% among 30-45 year olds, 85% among 46-65 year olds, and 82% for those older than 65.

    Support was 86% among Democrats, 66% among Republicans, 78% among Independence Party members (representing 8% of respondents), 50% among Conservative Party members (representing 3% of respondents), 100% among Working Families Party members (representing 2% of respondents), and 7% among Others (representing 7% of respondents).