Iowa Senate Studies "Tyranny of the Majority"

When the Constitutional Convention met in 1787 there was almost immediate conflict between delegates from the large, heavily populated states and the smaller, less populous ones.

How should the national legislature be constituted? The big states proposed The Virginia Plan which assigned Congressional representation based upon population. The smaller states favored The New Jersey Plan, which assigned an equal number of representatives to each state. Ultimately, both sides accepted the “Connecticut Compromise,” wherein there would be two houses of Congress. In the Senate, each state would get an equal number of Senators and the House of Representatives would be allocated by a state’s population.

Another (somewhat cobbled together) compromise was the “Electoral College” for electing the president. Some delegates thought the president should be elected by Congress, others preferred a popular election. In the end, the Constitution allowed each state to assign a number of “electors” equal to that state’s Congressional delegation, to vote for the president.

Most people don’t really understand the electoral college (myself included). As it is now practiced, each state still gets one elector for each representative and Senator it has in Congress. All but two states instruct their electors to vote for whichever presidential candidate got the most votes in that state. These 48 states, Iowa included, are “winner-take-all,” giving all of their elector votes to the highest vote getter in that state.

It seems unduly complicated and a lot of people don’t like it. That may be why the Iowa State Senate is currently studying a bill that would alter Iowa’s participation in the electoral college.

Pushed by a national group called “National Popular Vote,” Senate Study Bill 1128 would change the instructions that Iowa would give to it’s electors. They would be instructed to vote for whichever candidate got the most votes NATION-WIDE. The new law would be an interstate compact, an agreement, with other states who pledge to do the same thing. It would go into effect as soon as enough states to collectively field 270 electoral votes have signed into the agreement. So far only Maryland, New Jersey, Illinois and Hawaii have signed into the pact.

Critics charge that such a system would create an “urban-centric” presidency. Candidates would focus their time and energy on areas where they could rack up the most popular votes quickly, places such as New York and California, rather than having to focus on winning in various sectors of the country. Once elected, the President would tailor all policies toward appeasing these areas, often at the expense of less populated states.

“National Popular Vote” (NPV) responds to allegations that their plan is an “end run” around the Constitution by correctly pointing out that the Constitution allows states to appoint electors “in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct[.]” NPV might want to read the rest of the Constitution, however, particularly Article One, Section 10, Clause 3 which says, “No State shall, without the Consent of Congress […] enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power[.]”

Let’s look at NPV’s plan using Iowa as our model. Iowa has 7 electoral votes, one for each of our five Congressional districts and two Senators. Suppose Candidate A gets 60% of the popular vote here in Iowa. However, Candidate B sweeps LA, New York, Chicago, etc… and gets 51% of the popular vote nation-wide. All of Iowa’s electoral votes would go to Candidate B, who voters in Iowa soundly rejected. If we take this example to the extreme, it would be possible for all 7 of Iowa’s electoral votes to go to a candidate who did not get a single person in Iowa to vote for him.

It’s easy to see how less populous states like Iowa would quickly become mere spectators of presidential elections, allowing other, more populated states to vote FOR us. No thank you. If the electoral college needs reformed, perhaps, like our forefathers in 1787, we can find a mutually-equitable compromise.

I think a better plan would be to adopt the “Congressional District Method” currently used by Maine and Nebraska. Rather than award all of the state’s electors to one candidate, an electoral vote is given to the popular winner in each Congressional district. The two remaining electoral votes, representing the state’s two Senators, are given to whichever candidate had the most votes statewide.

It is a “winner-takes-most” system, rather than the current “winner-takes-all” system. This would ensure that voters in a conservative district of liberal California, for instance, would not be wasting their votes. Nor voters in a liberal district of conservative Texas. In 2008, John McCain carried conservative Nebraska, but Barack Obama still got one electoral vote from the state for winning in it’s 2nd Congressional District.

The “Maine-Nebraska Method” would be more democratic than the current system without completely relegating rural states to political irrelevance. Also, since it would be implemented individually by respective states, it would not run afoul of the Constitution’s “Compact Clause,” mentioned above. Perhaps history books will call the adoption of this plan “The Iowa Compromise.”


13 thoughts on “Iowa Senate Studies "Tyranny of the Majority"”

  1. 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. 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.


  2. 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 1,246 state legislators — 460 sponsors (in 48 states) and an additional 786 legislators who have cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.The National Popular Vote bill has been endorsed by the New York Times, Chicago Sun-Times, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant, Miami Herald, Sarasota Herald Tribune, Sacramento Bee, The Tennessean, Fayetteville Observer, Anderson Herald Bulletin, Wichita Falls Times, The Columbian, and other newspapers. The bill has been endorsed by Common Cause, Fair Vote, and numerous other organizations. 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 Arkansas (80%), California (70%), Colorado (68%), Connecticut (73%), Delaware (75%), Kentucky (80%), Maine (71%), Massachusetts (73%), Michigan (73%), Mississippi (77%), Missouri (70%), New Hampshire (69%), Nebraska (74%), Nevada (72%), New Mexico (76%), New York (79%), North Carolina (74%), Ohio (70%), Pennsylvania (78%), Rhode Island (74%), Vermont (75%), Virginia (74%), Washington (77%), and Wisconsin (71%). The National Popular Vote bill has passed 23 statelegislative chambers, including one house in Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Washington, and both houses in California, 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.See


  3. The people vote for President now in all 50 states and have done so in most states for 200 years. So, the issue raised by the National Popular Vote legislation is not about whether there will be “mob rule” in presidential elections, but whether the “mob” in a handful of closely divided battleground states, such as Florida, get disproportionate attention from presidential candidates, while the “mobs” of the vast majority of states are ignored. In 2004, candidates spent over two thirds of their visits and two-thirds of their money in just 6 states and 99% of their money in just 16 states, while ignoring the rest of the country. The current system does NOT provide some kind of check on the “mobs.” There have been 22,000 electoral votes cast since presidential elections became competitive (in 1796), and only 10 have been cast for someone other than the candidate nominated by the elector’s own political party. The electors are dedicated party activists who meet briefly in mid-December to cast their totally predictable votes in accordance with their pre-announced pledges.


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


  5. The 11 most populous states contain 56% of the population of the United States and that a candidate would win the Presidency if 100% of the voters in these 11 states voted for one candidate. However, if anyone is concerned about the this theoretical possibility, it should be pointed out that, under the current system, a candidate could win the Presidency by winning a mere 51% of the vote in these same 11 states — that is, a mere 26% of the nation’s votes. Of course, the political reality is that the 11 largest states rarely act in concert on any political question. In terms of recent presidential elections, the 11 largest states include five “red” states (Texas, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Georgia) and six “blue” states (California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New Jersey). The fact is that the big states are just about as closely divided as the rest of the country. For example, among the four largest states, the two largest Republican states (Texas and Florida) generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Bush, while the two largest Democratic states generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Kerry. Moreover, the notion that any candidate could win 100% of the vote in one group of states and 0% in another group of states is far-fetched. Indeed, among the 11 most populous states, the highest levels of popular support were found in the following seven non-battleground states:● Texas (62% Republican), ● New York (59% Democratic), ● Georgia (58% Republican), ● North Carolina (56% Republican), ● Illinois (55% Democratic), ● California (55% Democratic), and ● New Jersey (53% Democratic). In addition, the margins generated by the nation’s largest states are hardly overwhelming in relation to the 122,000,000 votes cast nationally. Among the 11 most populous states, the highest margins were the following seven non-battleground states: ● Texas — 1,691,267 Republican ● New York — 1,192,436 Democratic ● Georgia — 544,634 Republican ● North Carolina — 426,778 Republican ● Illinois — 513,342 Democratic ● California — 1,023,560 Democratic ● New Jersey — 211,826 Democratic To put these numbers in perspective, Oklahoma (7 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 455,000 votes for Bush in 2004 — larger than the margin generated by the 9th and 10th largest states, namely New Jersey and North Carolina (each with 15 electoral votes). Utah (5 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 385,000 votes for Bush in 2004.


  6. When presidential candidates campaign to win the electoral votes of closely divided battleground states, such as in Ohio and Florida, the big cities in those battleground states do not receive all the attention, much less control the outcome. Cleveland and Miami certainly did not receive all the attention or control the outcome in Ohio and Florida in 2000 and 2004. Under a national popular vote, every vote is equally important politically. There is nothing special about a vote cast in a big city. When every vote is equal, candidates of both parties know that they must seek out voters in small, medium, and large towns throughout the state in order to win the state. A vote cast in a big city is no more valuable than a vote cast in a small town or rural area. Another way to look at this is that there are approximately 300 million Americans. The population of the top five cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia) is only 6% of the population of the United States and the population of the top 50 cities is only 19% of the population of the United States. Even if one makes the far-fetched assumption that a candidate won 100% of the votes in the nation’s top five cities, he would only have won 6% of the national vote. Further evidence of the way a nationwide presidential campaign would be run comes from the way that national advertisers conduct nationwide sales campaigns. National advertisers seek out customers in small, medium, and large towns of every small, medium, and large state. National advertisers do not advertise only in big cities. Instead, they go after every single possible customer, regardless of where the customer is located. National advertisers do not write off Indiana or Illinois merely because their competitor has an 8% lead in sales in those states. And, a national advertiser with an 8%-edge over its competitor does not stop trying to make additional sales in Indiana or Illinois merely because they are in the lead.


  7. Dividing a state’s electoral votes by congressional district would magnify the worst features of our antiquated Electoral College system of electing the President. What the country needs is a national popular vote to make every person’s vote equally important to presidential campaigns. If the district approach were used nationally, it would less be less fair and accurately reflect the will of the people than the current system. In 2004, Bush won 50.7% of the popular vote, but 59% of the districts. Although Bush lost the national popular vote in 2000, he won 55% of the country’s congressional districts. The district approach would not cause presidential candidates to campaign in a particular state or focus the candidates’ attention to issues of concern to the state. Under the winner-take-all rule (whether applied to either districts or states), candidates have no reason to campaign in districts or states where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind. In North Carolina, for example, there are only 2 districts the 13th with a 5% spread and the 2nd with an 8% spread) where the presidential race is competitive. In California, the presidential race is competitive in only 3 of the state’s 53 districts. Nationwide, there are only 55 “battleground” districts that are competitive in presidential elections. Under the present deplorable state-level winner-take-all system, two-thirds of the states (including North Carolina and California and Texas) are ignored in presidential elections; however, seven-eighths of the nation’s congressional districts would be ignored if a district-level winner-take-all system were used nationally.


  8. The National Popular Vote plan is an interstate compact — a type of state law that is explicitly authorized by the U.S. Constitution that enables otherwise sovereign states to enter into legally enforceable contractual obligations with one another.Each state belongs to thousands of interstate compacts, including some compacts that have been enacted in the form of statutory law by the state legislature and numerous additional compacts that have been entered into by various boards, commissions, authorities, and the executive branch under the authority of the state’s constitution or statutes. Examples of interstate compacts include the Colorado River Compact (allocating water among seven western states), the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (a two-state compact involving New York and New Jersey), the Multi-State Tax Compact, and the Multi-State Lottery Compact (which operates the Power Ball lotto game in 20-some states). There are numerous compacts that include all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Interstate compacts existed under the Articles of Confederation, and the U.S. Constitution explicitly continued compacts that were in existence when the Constitution came into force.Interstate compacts are legally enforceable on the states because the U.S. Constitution requires a state to honor all commitments that it makes in an interstate compact. The Impairments Clause of the U.S. Constitution (Article I, section 10, clause 1) provides:“No State shall … pass any … Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts.”The Council of State Governments summarizes the nature of interstate compacts as follows:“Compacts are agreements between two or more states that bind them to the compacts’ provisions, just as a contract binds two or more parties in a business deal. As such, compacts are subject to the substantive principles of contract law and are protected by the constitutional prohibition against laws that impair the obligations of contracts (U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 10).“That means that compacting states are bound to observe the terms of their agreements, even if those terms are inconsistent with other state laws. In short, compacts between states are somewhat like treaties between nations. Compacts have the force and effect of statutory law (whether enacted by statute or not) and they take precedence over conflicting state laws, regardless of when those laws are enacted.“However, unlike treaties, compacts are not dependent solely upon the good will of the parties. Once enacted, compacts may not be unilaterally renounced by a member state, except as provided by the compacts themselves. Moreover, Congress and the courts can compel compliance with the terms of interstate compacts.”


  9. “The National Popular Vote bill has been endorsed by the New York Times, Chicago Sun-Times, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant, Miami Herald, Sarasota Herald Tribune, Sacramento Bee, The Tennessean, Fayetteville Observer, Anderson Herald Bulletin, Wichita Falls Times, The Columbian, and other newspapers. The bill has been endorsed by Common Cause, Fair Vote, and numerous other organizations.” Well, judging by those who support it, I’m against it.


  10. Gosh! So much to answer! I think if we can agree on something, it is that there is general dissatisfaction with the electoral college. Therefore, polls that show dissatisfaction with the present system are not necessarily an endorsement of THIS particular plan.Firstly, neither the GOP nor the Democrats would allow this thing to advance on their watch if it didn’t benefit their party and not the other. That’s why we’re hearing about this now, the Democrats obviously think it would benefit them. That’s probably why the four states that have actually enacted this compact are as blue as Sinatra’s eyes.Another thing I don’t like in the bill, but didn’t mention, says:“If, for any reason, the number of presidential electors nominated in a member state in association with the national popular vote winner is less than or greater than that state’s number of electoral votes, the presidential candidate on the presidential slate that has been designated as the national popular vote winner shall have the power to nominate the presidential electors for that state and that state’s presidential elector certifying official shall certify the appointment of such nominees.”So a candidate, who has not yet officially been elected to anything, may nominate the electors FOR that state and the state gov’t has to snap its heels and comply.The system may need reformed, but I don’t think this is the right plan. It just doesn’t pass the sniff test for state’s rights and federalism.


  11. 75% OF IOWA VOTERS FAVOR A NATIONAL POPULAR VOTE FOR PRESIDENTA survey of 800 Iowa voters showed 75% overall support for a national popular vote for President. The question was “How do you think we should elect the President when we vote in the November general election: should it be the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states, or the current electoral college system?By political affiliation, support for a national popular vote for President was 82% among Democrats, 63% among Republicans, and 77% among others.By age, support was 76% among 18-29 year olds, 65% among 30-45 year olds, 76% among 46-65 year olds, and 80% for those older than 65.By gender, support was 82% among women and 67% among men.By race, support was 75% among whites (representing 93% of respondents), 65% among African Americans (representing 2% of respondents), 86% among Hispanics (representing 1% of respondents), and 58% among others (representing 4% of respondents).The survey was conducted on February 17-18, 2009, by Public Policy Polling.see


  12. Federalism concerns the allocation of power between state governments and the national government. The National Popular Vote bill concerns how votes are tallied, not how much power state governments possess relative to the national government. The powers of state governments are neither increased nor decreased based on whether presidential electors are selected along the state boundary lines, along district lines (as is currently the case in Maine and Nebraska), or national lines.


  13. Again, polls that show dissatisfaction with the present system are not necessarily an endorsement of THIS particular plan. If you ask people if they would support popular election of the prez, most people would assume that means amending the U.S. Constitution to do so. If respondents were given the specifics of THIS interstate compact, I bet support would be much, much lower.By the way, of the four states that have adopted the NPV plan, two currently have bills pending to repeal it.Since others have already copied and pasted half of the “Answering Myths” section of the national popular vote website into the comments above, I hope you’ll forgive me for copying and pasting the following from “The National Popular Vote plan (NPV), introduced in more than 40 states, and adopted by 4, proposes an interstate compact to bring about direct election of the president of the United States. The proposal eliminates states as electoral districts inpresidential elections by creating a national electoral district for the presidential election, thereby advancing a national political identity for the United States. States with small populations and states that are competitive may benefit from the electoral college. Few states clearly benefit from direct election of the president. NPV brings about this change without amending the Constitution, thereby undermining the legitimacy of presidential elections. It also weakens federalism by eliminating the role of the states in presidential contests. NPV nationalizes disputed outcomes and cannot offer any certainty that states will not withdraw from the compact when the results of an election become known. NPV will encourage presidential campaigns to focus their efforts in dense media markets where costs per vote are lowest; many states now ignored by candidates will continue to be ignored under NPV. For these reasons, states should not join the National Popular Vote compact.”(You can read the Cato Institute’s entire critique of the plan at )As for the “Maine-Nebraska Method”(MNM)that I mentioned: What it does, in simple terms, is to not allow the urban areas of a state to speak for the entire state, as the current winner-take-all system does. Under the MNM, Chicago’s electoral votes could go blue while southern Illinois could go red, for instance. (And it might allow a third party candidate to actually win AN electoral vote.) The NPV plan would allow urban areas to speak for the whole country. That’s the worst of the three methods discussed.


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