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.”