Craig Westover: Why I Oppose National Popular Vote (NPV)

OK — In detail, here’s why I oppose the National Popular Vote movement — not in the abstract, but in response to the logical context in which individuals support it. There are compelling political reasons to support NPV, but I do not believe that political reasons are the prima facie reason to compel support for any position. We ought not be about what government can do; we ought be about what government should do irrespective of whether government intervention might produce and outcome that improves upon the status quo.

 

NPV supporters contend the proposed compact is constitutional. As evidence, they cite Article II, Section I of the U.S. Constitution — “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress ….” I find that to be a Chestertonian “Venus de Milo Argument” — what is there is magnificent, but the most important parts are missing.

What the constitution permits, and NPV supporters latch onto, is that the constitution permits state legislatures to choose the manner in which electors are selected; the constitution is silent on the manner in which those electors choose to cast their ballots. While some states formally bind electors to the results of a state’s presidential polling, some, Minnesota among them, have no such requirement.

In Minnesota, each major political party puts up a slate of electors. The elector slate of the political party whose endorsed candidate wins the state’s popular vote is “elected” to cast Minnesota’s electoral votes; however, while it is traditional and accepted practice that electors vote for their party’s candidate, they are not bound to do so. Electors have wavered in the past.

For NPV to have any meaning, electors must be legally bound to vote for the candidate receiving the highest national vote total. Party affiliation of electors becomes irrelevant — in fact, electors themselves become irrelevant. Far from being a “liberty” position, NPV opts for the “perfection” of mandating how electors vote over the messier but freer system in which electors, as individuals duly elected, decide how to cast their ballots.

NPV implements in a national election via bound electors precisely the system the RNC wished to implement with regard to national conventions by taking away the freedom of national delegates to vote for candidates of their choices instead binding delegates to presidential straw polls. I do not recall overwhelming support among Liberty Republicans for that proposal.

Thus, although the NPV proposal is constitutional, implementation requires reducing individual liberty in favor of a more perfect collective election system. Liberty and perfection are conflicting notions, and we must choose one or the other. If we choose NPV (perfection) over the liberty of unbound electors, by what rationale do we choose liberty over perfection in education or health care or retirement planning?

The second point NPV supporters make is that under the current system the presidential election boils down to a few key battleground states; Minnesota is not among them. Thus, Minnesota has little if any influence in presidential politics; in fact, most states have little or no influence. NPV would correct this situation. Eliminating the winner-take-all structure of the electoral college would require candidates to compete for the popular vote even in states that disproportionately voted for one party or another. Democrats, for example, might continue to win Minnesota, but under NPV it might make a meaningful difference if the margin of victory were 4 points instead of 14.

Again, we have a Venus de Milo argument for NPV — it is good as far as it goes. I will not argue with the idea that the status quo presidential election system in Minnesota works to the disadvantage of the state. Nor will I argue with NPV supporters’ myriad examples of how NPV might correct the situation and work to Minnesota’s advantage. They make a compelling case and indeed might prove correct. But as noted above — a compelling argument for what government can do does not trump a compelling argument for what government should do.

The syllogism NPV supporters present is this: The current system works to Minnesota’s disadvantage; NPV would provide Minnesota more influence in presidential politics; Therefore, we ought to implement NPV. Logical? Yes, but it goes wrong by assuming the NPV is the best and only way to fix the problem.

Again, NPV opts for the pursuit of perfection over liberty. Instead of pushing the problem of voter influence down to a more local level, it elevates the problem to higher national level. NPV supporters who talk about “state influence” or “Minnesota influence” in presidential elections lose perspective on the individual voter — “the people, in whom all political power is inherent ….” (Article I, Section 1 of the Minnesota State Constitution, entitled “Object of Government”).

Given the status quo, and assuming it presents a problem, we ought to be looking for a solution that gives more power to individual voters and not more power to state legislators. We ought to be giving more voice to minority Minnesota voters, not more aggregate voice to majority national voters. In short, we ought to be pushing down to provide more liberty and not pushing up to more conformity.

As an alternative to NPV, I propose that in addition to casting a presidential vote, voters in each congressional district cast a vote for a named elector. Electors would campaign just like any other candidate. Their campaigns would be based on how they planned to cast their presidential vote. Two at-large electors would be selected from slates provided by major political parties and as is currently the case based on the state presidential vote. No electors would be bound.

Contrasted with NPV, the latter (or a similar) proposal, pushes power and choice down to the people “in whom all political power is inherent.” It increases the ability to choose, makes each individual vote more meaningful and more significant. That is the first priority of a solution. I submit my proposal would also give Minnesota more national influence with the added benefit of not requiring Minnesota to enter into any compact with any other state nor surrender any of its sovereignty to any other state.

A final note on sovereignty. I agree with NPV supporters that sovereignty resides with the agent and not the action. In other words, it is an exercise in state sovereignty for Minnesota to voluntarily choose to enter an NPV compact, and as a sovereign state Minnesota can withdraw from the compact at any time. That does not make the compact a good idea.

Without getting into a dancing angels and pins discussion, there is a legitimate question of whether or not while the NPV compact is in force Minnesota has effectively surrendered some of its sovereignty. The debate is comparable to the notion of individual “unalienable rights.” Is the NPV compact more like the voluntary contractual agreement I make to sell my property, my car, to another individual, or is the NPV compact more akin to an individual voluntarily agreeing to become a slave to another individual. Indeed, there is disagreement even among libertarians whether or not an individual can surrender the unalienable right to his life to another. Can a state surrender the votes of its people to the voters of other states?

And of course, from a practical perspective, it did not work out too well for those states in 1861 that sought to exercise their sovereignty and withdraw from the compact going by the title “The United States of America.”

In summation, I object to the NPV because I see it as a definitive case of choosing the perception of a more perfect election system through collective control over a messier system based on individual liberty. NPV is focused on state influence in national politics rather than the influence of the individual Minnesotan on state politics. While I agree that Minnesota is at a disadvantage under the current system, I do not agree that NPV is the best or only way to remedy that situation. I believe that if we feel the urge to address the electoral situation, we do so by pushing political power down to individuals and not elevate it to an aggregate national level.

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