Rep. Dennis Richardson: National Popular Vote Or Electoral College?

Electing The President:
National Popular Vote Or Electoral College?

By State Representative Dennis Richardson,

As a small town lawyer for thirty years and a State Legislator for six, I approach my legislative duties as if I were the citizens’ attorney. Years ago I had a business practice and there were times when I would need to explain alternative solutions to my clients, obtain their input, then act accordingly. Such an issue has arisen here in the legislature. I would like to discuss it with you and receive your input.

Issue. Oregon, along with 40 other states, is struggling with the question of whether we should change the way we elect our President and Vice President. The alternatives are to either retain the current Electoral College system or change to an election by national popular vote. I would like your opinion, and before deciding, please consider the bill, background information and arguments in favor of and opposing this proposition. Then cast your vote in the one-question survey that follows.

Bill. The Oregon House of Representatives yesterday approved House Bill 2588. It would require Oregon’s seven electoral votes to be given to which every candidates win the national popular vote for President and Vice President. If HB 2588 passes the Senate and is signed by the Governor, Oregon will join an agreement with other states that could break 220 years of national election tradition and change the way we elect our President and Vice President. Before the national popular vote act would take effect, enough states have to pass it to control 270 electoral votes””enough to determine who will be elected to the most powerful position in the world, the President of the United States of America.

Background. Currently, the United States President and Vice President are not elected by the general vote of the people. The President and V. P. are elected under the Electoral College system. This unique system is part of the “checks and balances” contained in the U. S. Constitution. The Electoral College is composed of 538 “presidential electors” determined by adding the number of each state’s U.S. Senators and Congressional Representatives, and adding three votes for the District of Columbia. Since every state has two Senators and at least one Congressional Representative, the eight least-populated states have three electors, while the most populated states have many more””California has 55, Texas 34, and New York 31. Oregon has two Senators and five Congressional Districts, for a total of seven presidential electors. Thus, since there are 538 total electoral votes, the first Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates to obtain a majority of them (270 votes), wins the presidential election.

The U. S. Constitution provides that each state will determine how its electoral votes will be allocated. Two states (Maine and Nebraska) cast their electoral votes based on how their state’s Congressional Districts vote. The remaining states, including Oregon, have a winner-take-all system, where the winner of the statewide presidential election receives all of the state’s Electoral College votes, regardless of how individual Congressional Districts may have voted.

Arguments In Favor of National Popular Vote.

1. The largest 1/3 of states control Presidential elections and effectively disenfranchises the smaller 2/3 of the states. Presidential campaigns focus there time, attention and money on the most states with the most electoral votes and not the less-populated states that have fewer electoral votes.

2. The winner-take-all system for allocating a state’s electoral votes effectively nullifies all votes for the opposing Presidential and V.P. candidates. In states such as Oregon where one party dominates, the votes for the other party’s candidate are of no consequence since all of the state’s electoral votes go to the candidates who win the statewide presidential and vice presidential elections.

3. The winner-take-all system results in candidates ignoring states where they are certain to win or certain to lose, since they will either receive all or none of that state’s electoral votes. Since candidates have a good idea which states they will win and which they cannot win, their time and resources will be spent on the swing states that could go either way.

4. The national popular vote means every vote counts and the new President and Vice President will be elected by a majority vote of the people””in other words, democracy in action. The current system has resulted in four elections where the candidates who were elected by the Electoral College failed to receive a majority of the popular vote””1824, 1876, 1888 and 2000. The closeness of elections in recent years has exacerbated the problem. In 2000, Al Gore received 537,179 more votes than the Electoral College winner, George W. Bush. In 2004, George W. Bush received 3.5 million more votes than John Kerry, yet Sen. Kerry would have won the election if the close race in Ohio had tipped in his favor””60,000 Ohio votes would have changed the 2004 election’s outcome.

5. American voters want to elect their President and V. P. by a national popular vote and states have the ability to enact the national popular vote by merely passing a law awarding their electoral votes to the candidates who win the national election.

For additional information supporting the national popular vote, click here.

Arguments Opposing the National Popular Vote.

1. Election by national popular vote will reduce further the influence of less populated states. Candidates will spend their time and money where they can get the most “bang for their buck” in large urban areas where advertising dollars reach the most voters.

2. The Constitution was written to ensure states retained an interest in how Presidents and Vice Presidents were elected. The national popular vote essentially removes states from the election process while strengthening federal focus and power. After 56 presidential elections since the U. S. Constitution was ratified, implementation of the national popular vote would change the spirit and intent of the Constitution. Such a drastic change should be enacted by Amendment, not a strategy to avoid facing the amendment process. Having states pass bills like Oregon’s HB 2588 will essentially replace our time-tested republic with an experimental democracy in the vitally important process of electing the President of the United States.

President George Washington in his Farewell Address warned us to “”¦resist with care the spirit of innovation upon [the Constitution’s] principles, however specious the pretexts,” and to be wary of, “”¦Constitution alterations which will impair the energy of the system, and thus to undermine what cannot be directly overthrown.”

Pres. Washington also advised the generations of Americans, who were to carry the torch of liberty that he helped light, to be suspicious of “”¦mere hypothesis and opinion [that expose the Constitution] to perpetual change”¦.” If we are to change the 220 year old system for electing our President and Vice-President, it should be done by Constitutional Amendment, not an agreement among a coalition of states that collectively control a bare majority of 270 electoral votes.

3. Presidential elections by national popular vote makes election outcomes uncertain. Article 2 Section 1 of the Constitution specifically allows states to determine how their electoral votes will be cast. Since the Electoral College does not meet until December in an election year (approximately one month following November’s national election), if the outcome of the national election were to go contrary to the statewide vote, there is nothing to stop a state legislature from convening after the November presidential election and repealing its agreement to participate in the national popular vote initiative. This could be done after the November general election and before the December meeting of the Electoral College. Notwithstanding the bill’s agreement not to renege, a state legislature has the authority to amend any statute except when doing so would violate the state or federal constitutions.

4. The national popular vote greatly enhances the likelihood of voter fraud. History notes the following: In the 1960 election a change of 4500 votes in Illinois and South Carolina would have cost John Kennedy the election. In 2000, concerns over “hanging chads” and newly found ballots placed a permanent cloud over the Florida vote count that resulted in George W. Bush’s election. In 2004, a change of 60,000 votes in Ohio would have cost George W. Bush his re-election. Each of these three elections ultimately were decided””for better or worse””at the state level. When ballot tampering or voter fraud is suspected, recounts are possible and the matter can be resolved at the state level. With elections by national popular vote, the people will have no recourse if vote tampering or voter fraud is suspected. A nationwide recount is unrealistic. The potential for voter distrust and dissatisfaction would be greatly magnified by a national popular vote. Such a change in our voting system will remove the carefully crafted “checks and balances” inherent in the Constitution’s present Electoral College system.

5. The national popular vote bill violates the U. S. Constitution. Article 1, Section 10 states, “No state shall”¦enter into any agreement or compact with another state”¦.” House Bill 2588 states: “The Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote is hereby enacted into law”¦.”

Since the U.S. Constitution forbids agreements among states, and since the national popular vote bill specifically creates an “agreement among the states” the attempt to create a national popular vote without amending the U. S. Constitution is unconstitutional on its face and should not be allowed to proceed in Oregon.

For additional information opposing the national popular vote, click here.

There you have it. Some of the arguments by this bill’s proponents directly contradict those of it opponents. The only thing certain is HB 2588 has passed the Oregon house and now goes to the Oregon Senate for committee hearings and further deliberations. So far, the national popular vote act has been enacted in four states””Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland and New Jersey. Should Oregon be number five? I would appreciate knowing your opinion on whether Oregon should join the movement to institute the national popular vote.

Please answer this one-question survey:

Should Oregon’s seven Electoral College votes always go to the U. S. Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates who win the national popular vote? (Click Here to record your opinion.)

Thanks for taking the time to review this matter of national importance, and for giving me your opinion on it. If you would like to share your feelings with the Senators who will be voting on HB 2588 in the near future, you can find their contact information by Clicking Here.


Dennis Richardson
State Representative