Monthly Archives: September 2019

Are the news media manufacturing consent for Elizabeth Warren?

By Kent R. Kroeger (, September 27, 2019)


Warren is a business law and policy expert, as she has demonstrated in the debates

Warren’s deep knowledge of economic and financial policy makes her a formidable presidential candidate, particularly on a debate stage. Bernie Sanders’ own senior economic adviser, Professor Stephanie Kelton, better known for her advocacy of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), praises Warren for her ability to explain why Sanders’ signature proposal — Medicare for All — would likely result in a net decrease in the financial burden of healthcare for the vast majority of U.S. households.

“Warren does an extremely good job keeping the focus on total costs,” Kelton tweeted recently. “We already pay more than anyone in the world, and we pay more than we will end up paying (collectively) under Medicare for All.”

Not all candidates benefit from more media coverage — but Warren does

Despite a concerted effort from some progressives to stunt the Warren surge in the polls, the reality is that she is rising faster than any other candidate for the Democratic nomination.

Data Sources: and The GDELT Project
Data Sources: and The GDELT Project
Data Sources: and The GDELT Project
Data Sources: and The GDELT Project
Data Sources: and The GDELT Project
Data Sources: and The GDELT Project

Manufacturing consent or evidence Warren is the best candidate?

If Warren were the “best” candidate to challenge Biden, wouldn’t we expect some causal flow from public support to cable news coverage, as that would indicate an independent basis for Warren’s growing popularity?

And since we get our information through the mass media, it is the mass media that can make or break anybody running for president (except, apparently, Donald Trump — a media creation that got out-of-control).

The Electoral College and National Popular Vote Interstate Compact are bad ways to elect a president (Part 2)

By Kent R. Kroeger (, September 20, 2019)


The following is the second of two essays about the Electoral College and the initiative to replace it with the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). The first essays focused on arguments by the Founding Fathers in support of the Electoral College — particularly the writings of James Madison and Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist Papers. The second essay focuses on the NPVIC and details some of its problems (and virtues) relative to the Electoral College and suggests a compromise system — the congressional district method — already employed in Nebraska and Maine. 


The Electoral College (EC) was not embraced by the Founding Fathers as a way to encourage the broad geographic support for an elected president. Had that been the case, they would have given each state an equal number of electors.

They did not do that. Instead, they allocated electors based on population size with a small compromise to smaller states by giving them at least three electors.

Yet, today, one of the justifications for keeping the EC is that it encourages presidential candidates to pursue broad, geographically-dispersed support. Hillary Clinton’s failure in 2016 was largely due to her inability to do exactly that.

Independent of the Founding Fathers’ intentions, it is an admirable goal to expect presidential candidates to appeal across a broad section of American society and not simply win the presidency predicated on an attraction to an urban and coastal constituency. Middle America deserves a president’s attention and loyalty.

On the the hand, Middle America should never be able to hold the rest of the country hostage to its specific interests. This is the heart of the EC versus popular vote debate.

Democrats may want to reconsider eliminating the Electoral College

These two facts are often mentioned first when political scientists and commentators discuss the Electoral College: The Electoral College (EC) gives disproportionate weight to low-population states (see Figure 1), and the EC’s state-level, winner-take-all method (with the exception of Nebraska and Maine) frequently distorts the popular vote difference.

Figure 1: Population per Electoral Vote (2010 Census Data)

A third characteristic of the EC is less frequently mentioned: it is impossible for a coalition of low-population states to impose their will on the rest of the country. If every small state were to allocate their electoral votes to one candidate, that candidate would still need Washington, Virginia and New Jersey to secure an electoral victory. Those are hardly small, rural states.

Conversely, large states could impose their will on the country if California, Texas, New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, North Carolina and New Jersey were to stand behind the same candidate. Hopefully, it is not lost on the Democrats that they electorally dominate in four of those states (CA, NY, IL, NJ) and are highly competitive in five others (Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and North Carolina).

And if demographic trends continue, Georgia and Texas will both be majority-minority states by 2036 and more politically competitive than they are now.

The irony of the current push by Democrats to abolish the EC is that, if there is a partisan advantage in the Electoral College, it is with the Democrats.

The Electoral College nurtures narrow, sectarian interests

But there are other reasons to eliminate or modify the EC, unrelated to partisan bias. The winner-take-all nature of the EC distorts state-level voter preferences and puts too high of a premium on states where the two parties are competitive (battleground states). For any given election, the number of battleground states typically varies between 10 and 15 states.

It is not an exaggeration to say, due to the EC, the U.S. has never had a true national election for president, but only battleground state elections. The other states are irrelevant, as we saw in 2016 by the states Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton spent most of their money and time. Fifty-three percent of campaign events for the Trump and Clinton campaigns in the two months before Election Day were in just four states: Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Ohio.

Battleground states often have their own idiosyncratic interests, independent of a common national interest (assuming that concept exists). Arguably, Trump’s trade war with China is more a function of the interests of working-class voters in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio than of the interests of the nation as a whole. In that sense, the EC may have contributed to current U.S. trade policy towards China.

But candidate appeals to sectarian interests occur in popular vote elections too, right? Successful politicians often offer policies and campaign promises to specific subgroups in the hope of building a winning popular vote coalition.

The difference is, in a popular vote election, every voter is as valuable as any other voter (though some are more expensive to reach or persuade than others — more on that later). At least in theory, in a popular vote election every voter is a potential target for a candidate’s coalition. In a battleground state election, most non-billionaire voters are at the outset eliminated from ever receiving serious attention from the candidates (I’m talking about states like New York and California).

Going forward, an Electoral College victory might be the only path for the GOP

In a report published last year for the Brookings Institute, Rob Griffin, Ruy Teixeira, and William H. Frey segmented the U.S. population into 32 demographic groups. Forecasting county-level compositions for these segments over time, the researchers were able to generate multiple simulations of the presidential vote in future elections (2020, 2024, 2028, 2032, and 2036) using 16 different voter turnout and support scenarios relative to 2016 (e.g., Equal turnout by race, Black turnout or support like 2012, White non-college-educated voters swing to +5 pts. to Democrats, etc.).

They had a remarkable finding for the 2020 election. Of the 16 scenarios they tested, only one resulted in the Republican presidential candidate winning both the popular vote and Electoral College (Scenario: White non-college-educated voters swing +5 pts. to Republicans relative to 2016). All else equal, according to this research, Trump needs to amp up whatever he did to attract White, non-college-educated voters in 2016. [If you follow Donald Trump at all, doesn’t it feel like that is exactly what he is doing?]

There were, however, three other scenarios where the Republicans could lose the popular vote and still win the Electoral College (EC): (a) Hispanic, Asian, and other races swing +7.5 points to Republicans, (b) white college-educated swing +5.0 points to Republicans, and (c) white college-educated swing to Democrats (+2.5D and -2.5R) while white non-college-educated swing to Republicans (+2.5R and -2.5D).

It is no surprise the Democrats are the most eager to scuttle the EC. With the likely demographic and socioeconomic changes in the future, the only way the Republicans win the White House is through the EC.

Write Griffin, Teixeira, and Frey:

“Republicans face a clear need to enhance their appeal to America’s rapidly growing communities of color — especially Hispanics and Asians. If they do not, Republicans risk putting themselves into a box where they become ever more dependent on a declining white population — particularly its older segment. As the simulations show, GOP electoral fortunes could be linked to a strategy where they repeatedly lose the popular vote but, based on larger advantages among white — particularly white noncollege-educated — voters, pull the electoral vote rabbit out of the hat anyway. This could work for a time, though ultimately it, too, would be undermined by shifting demographics. The prudent course may very well be to adapt now, rather than later, to onrushing demographic change. If nothing else, it would give the party more options going forward.”

The EC threatens the legitimacy of our nation’s highest office. We cannot weather another election like 2016 in which the perception was the winning candidate, Donald Trump, won despite losing the popular vote.

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren offered a CNN town hall audience in Jackson, Mississippi perhaps the most common argument against the EC when she told them: “We need to make sure that every vote counts…My view is that every vote matters. And the way we can make that happen is that we can have national voting and that means get rid of the Electoral College.”

That’s really what this debate comes down to: The popular vote counts every vote equally and the EC does not.

If only that were true.

A national popular vote is misrepresented by its advocates

New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz mocks EC apologists when he mimics their evidence-free argument: “Abolishing the Electoral College would definitely have this bad effect, for reasons so logically sound I don’t need to provide evidence for them (even though other defenders of the Electoral College insist it would have the opposite effect, which would also be bad).”

Unfortunately, popular vote advocates aren’t much better. Beyond the intuitive logic that ‘every vote should count the same,’ they ignore the inherent problems in implementing a national popular vote when our federal system allows each of the 50 states to implement their own voting laws and procedures.

At least France, a country that employs a national popular vote to elect their president, implements uniform election laws and procedures across its 36,000 communes. The legitimacy of French presidential elections resides, in large part, to the homogeneous nature of their electoral process. The U.S. democracy lacks that essential feature.

Two aspects of a national popular vote are widely misunderstood by its proponents. For one, we’ve never had a popular vote election in this country; therefore, it is not fair to compare the popular vote with the EC result within any particular election. Hillary Clinton did not actually win the popular vote in 2016 — there was no decipherable popular vote in 2016 (or any U.S. presidential election before that).

Campaign strategies and expenditures would fundamentally change in a popular vote election. There is no better example than the 2016 election. California had no competitive statewide races between a Democrat and Republican in that election.

This matters because partisan differentials in voter turnout are affected by the presence (or lack thereof) of competitive statewide races. Unless a California Republican voter had a competitive local or congressional race to draw them into the voting booth, a higher percentage than normal of California Republicans stayed home on Election Day 2016. The data say as much.

Washington Post senior political reporter, Aaron Blake, noted after the 2016 election:

“The Senate race in California featured two Democrats, and there wasn’t another statewide race featuring a Republican, except for president (which was a foregone conclusion). In other words, there perhaps wasn’t as much reason for Republicans to turn out to vote. Did this depress GOP turnout? Maybe. In 2012, exit polls showed Republicans were 27 percent of the state’s electorate; this year, they were 23 percent.”

Besides fundraising, the 2016 EC election offered little incentive for either Clinton or Trump to campaign in California. As money and a candidate’s time is a finite resource in any political campaign, it is a waste of resources to spend to focus on a strongly partisan state.

In a popular vote election, however, the incentives change dramatically, particularly for candidacy like Trump’s, who would have needed to shore up his support in historically strong Republican strongholds in California, such as Orange County.

As it was, Trump and the Republicans did not dedicate serious resources to California in 2016 and the state GOP suffered in the voting booth.

The second misunderstanding about the popular vote is the assumption that since every vote counts the same — that is, offers an identical benefit to a candidate — all votes must therefore be of equal value.

But as economists tell us, an item’s value is its benefit minus its cost. In a popular vote election, some votes will still be more valuable than others to a presidential candidate. Why? Because candidates pay attention to the costs associated with mobilizing and persuading voters. For example, some voters are isolated geographically, requiring significant campaign investments to mobilize them. Voters can also have strong loyalties to another party/candidate, thereby lowering the return-on-investment if a candidate wants to persuade them to defect to a different party/candidate.

While the variation in value across voters might be greater within the EC system, this variation doesn’t go away with the popular vote: Some votes will be more cost-effective to pursue.

This feature of the popular vote was revealed in 2008 research conducted by Stockholm University economics professor David Strömberg, who assessed the impact to campaign strategy if the U.S. we’re to convert to a popular vote.

Using state-level presidential election data from 1948 to 2004, Strömberg estimated the effects on campaign behavior (visits) of a direct national popular vote for president relative to a EC election and his findings are summarized in Figure 2 (below). His findings were revealing.

In Figure 2, states above 1 on the y-axis receive more than average visits per capita under the Electoral College system, whereas states to the right of 1 on the x-axis have more visits per capita than average under the Direct Vote system. Therefore, states in the lower-right-hand quadrant will most likely benefit from candidate increased attention should the U.S. adopt a popular vote system.

Figure 2: Equilibrium visits per capita and advertisements, relative to national average (Electoral College versus National Popular Vote)

One finding from Figure 2 is that a direct popular vote still results in significant variation across states in the amount of attention (visits per capita) they receive from presidential candidates, though less than under the EC.

Nevertheless, some states, such as Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, and New Jersey, will benefit from a popular vote system. According to Strömberg, “Because of their average partisanship, these states are rarely competitive when the national election is close. Consequently, they do not receive much attention under the Electoral College system. Still, these states have quite a few marginal (swing) voters, making them attractive targets under Direct Vote.”

A popular vote election will replace the incentive for candidates to concentrate of a small set of battleground states with an increased incentive to mobilize voters where the population is highly-concentrated, particularly if includes an above average proportion of “swing” voters.

If Strömber is correct, a popular vote system may not significantly impact the amount of attention candidates pay to California, as its swing voter density is not as high as in some other areas. Instead, campaigns will prefer to use their financial resources and candidate time in areas with a higher return on investment.

The Electoral College is vulnerable to error and fraud, but the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact isn’t an improvement

The Founders did not think much of direct democracy, and even if the Republicans do operate a nominating process prone to elevating populist, heterodox candidates, it still doesn’t preclude replacing the Electoral College with something more democratic like the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC).

The NPVIC would require signatory states to cast their state’s electoral votes for the candidate who won the national popular vote, even if a plurality of their voters preferred a different candidate. The compact won’t be invoked until states with 270 electoral votes among them have opted in.

Principally advanced by Democrats in order to circumvent the long process of passing a constitutional amendment, the NPVIC has secured the support of 16 states and two more whose legislatures are likely to pass the NPVIC soon, for a total of 206 electoral votes (see Figure 2). Only 64 electoral votes more to go. Unfortunately for NPVIC advocates, those last 64 will not be easy to secure as it will require all of the remaining states that are not Republican strongholds to pass the NPVIC: Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin. As of today, all have a lower and/or upper legislature controlled by the Republicans.

Figure 2: Population sizes and growth of NPVIC and non-NPVIC states

Also working against the NPVIC is its potential constitutionality, as it ‘trades away’ a person’s vote in one state based on voter preferences in other states. Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 in the Constitution places the power in allocating electors to the states (which is consistent with the NPVIC); but, the 14th Amendment (Section 2) explicitly states that when a vote is “in any way abridged,’ the state’s representation in the U.S. House (and, by extension, the Electoral College) can be reduced proportionately.

The Fourteenth Amendment (Section 2):

“Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the inhabitants of such State, being eighteen years of age, and citizens of the United Statesor in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such citizens shall bear to the whole number of citizens eighteen years of age in such State.”

For example, if the majority of Florida voters vote for the Republican candidate but the Democrat wins the national popular vote, all of Florida’s 29 electors would be given to the Democrat under the NPVIC, thereby abridging the votes of roughly half of Florida voters. At risk could be half of Florida’s 29 electoral votes if a federal court determines 14th Amendment rights were violated under the NPVIC voting trading arrangement.

Adding some perspective might help before we completely upend an Electoral College that has, most of the time, worked as designed.

Since 1789, out of 58 presidential elections, only four (187618882000, and 2016) have produced winners in the Electoral College who received fewer popular votes than another candidate. And the 2000 election is debatable if it should be included on that list. Had Florida captured and counted votes accurately, Al Gore likely would have won both the Electoral College and popular vote in 2000.

The argument can still be advanced, however, that the Electoral College makes U.S. presidential elections prone to manipulation, by foreign or domestic sources. The 2016 election is a testament to our electoral vulnerability to small, concentrated shifts in statewide popular votes. Trump won three states (Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) by a total of 78,000 votes (a half of a tenth of a percent of all votes cast), shifting the Electoral College by 46 electors. A targeted shift of 39,000 votes would have changed the final outcome.

If ever there is an argument for the popular vote, isn’t that it? Well, maybe and maybe not. Where the winner-take-all nature of the Electoral College amplifies the risk for some types of vote manipulation, the popular vote invites others.

Let’s start with the best argument for why the Electoral College needs to be modified or replaced: The 2000 Florida vote. An election where George W. Bush and Al Gore were separated by 537 votes after an incomplete, deadline-constrained recount tally. We will never know the true preferences of Florida voters in that presidential race.

Not only did the vote capturing methodologies in Florida vary by county (some using the infamous “butterfly” ballots, others using “bed sheet” ballots, and still others using computer touch screens.), the recount was limited to a small set of counties and even that process was interfered with by a series of stunts and intimidation tactics by the now infamous Roger Stone of election 2016 fame.

The questionable validity of Florida’s 2000 result would have been mitigated in a popular vote election, the 537-vote difference no more than a historical footnote, forgotten within days. That is the irresistible attraction of the popular vote.

Yet, there are modifications to the Electoral College that also could avoid the 2000 Florida fiasco. For example, if presidential electors were earned based on each congressional district vote (akin to what Nebraska and Maine do today), Florida’s incompetence could have been isolated to one congressional district, not the state’s entire slate of electors.

But a popular vote might have its own problems, potentially as paralyzing and contentious as the 2000 result.

If the objective of the popular vote is to capture the precise, unbiased preferences of the voting population, its validity is already compromised if the voting methods and procedures vary across states and, within states, by counties. A national voting methodology would need to be established where state voter registration laws are uniform and vote capture, processing and tabulation standards are consistent, secure, and auditable at the voter-level.

A recount in a national popular vote election would invite chaos and threaten the election’s legitimacy

In a national popular vote election, every vote is counted and weighted the same (a good result), but each vote also becomes contestable (potentially a really, really bad result). One feature of the Electoral College is that it can handle significant amounts of error (e.g. voting machine errors, voter fraud), the 2000 election being an exception. A close vote within a single state only becomes relevant if that state’s electoral votes determines the election’s outcome.

But imagine a close, contested national election under a popular vote system where the losing candidate (or party) calls for a recount. For an instant-gratification society expecting final election results no later than the next day, it could take weeks to complete a national recount. Where one state (Florida) held up the 2000 result for over a month, a recount in 50 states (plus D.C.) could hold up a contested popular vote election for much longer. Do we recount all 140 million votes, or a selection based on fraud complaints, or do we draw a probability sample of votes? Who coordinates the process? Who makes the critical decisions during the recount?

For better or worse, the Electoral College has most likely papered over vote fraud that may have occurred over our nation’s history, in part, because we’ve rarely had presidential elections close enough to warrant much attention to its existence (the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy election being one of the exceptions; though, in that case, it is hard to distinguish myth and reality with some of the alleged stories of vote fraud from that election).

A recount in a popular vote election has other problems too. Instead of one Roger Stone trying to muck up a vote recount in a few counties in Florida, you could have hundreds of little Roger Stones trying to disrupt the recount from coast-to-coast. The presidency is too important and the incentives too great not to expect an extraordinary level of effort, above and below board, by both parties to ensure they get the outcome they want.

Campaign activities, such as ballot harvesting, introduce significant opportunities for fraud

Add one more complication to a national popular vote election. U.S. elections are implemented at the state-level. We are not France. The U.S. has never held a national election. Rather, we hold 50 different state elections — each state with its own rules and procedures.

State laws on voter registration (e.g. registration at DMV, etc.), voting methods (e.g., vote-by-mail, etc.) and the types of allowable campaign activities all vary across states. None more potentially game-changing in a national popular vote than the practice of ballot harvesting — a campaign activity in which party activists/volunteers collect absentee ballots from specific voters and drop them off at a polling place or election office.

Ballot harvesting is illegal in some states (e.g., North Carolina and Texas) and legal in others (e.g., California and on a limited basis in Arizona). Conceptually, the activity sounds harmless. Just another get-out-the-vote (GOTV) practice that facilitates voting for the elderly, chronically ill, and people otherwise unlikely to vote. What could be wrong with that? Getting more people to vote is a good thing. Evangelical Republicans in Iowa have been busing their constituents to polls for decades with barely a complaint from the Democrats. Why should picking up sealed absentee ballots cause a ruckus?

For one, the practice has already become a new partisan battleground — nowhere more so than California where the Democrats have exploited the nation’s most permissive ballot harvesting law and taken it to an industrial scale in the 2016 and 2018 elections.

Speaking at a post-election forum soon after the 2018 midterm elections, House Speaker Paul Ryan said of the California ballot harvesting law: “California just defies logic to me. We were only down 26 seats the night of the election and three weeks later, we lost basically every contested California race. This election system they have — I can’t begin to understand what ‘ballot harvesting’ is.”

Trump lost the national popular vote to Clinton by 2,868,686 votes in 2016, but lost to her in California by 4,269,978 votes. Take away California, Trump won the popular vote in the 49 other states (plus D.C.) by 1,401,292 votes. Making it more frustrating for Republicans, as Speaker Ryan’s comments suggest, almost all of Clinton’s popular vote advantage occurred in the weeks following the Election Day tally when many of California’s absentee ballots began to arrive in election offices.

As Figure 3 shows, absentee voting has become a significantly larger element in California presidential-year elections since 2008. Absentee voting accounted for 58 percent of all California votes in 2016, up from 42 percent in 2008.

Figure 3: California Absentee Voting Statistics (2008, 2012, 2016 presidential elections)

Regardless, it is not clear (at least at the presidential-level) that the increase in absentee ballots related to a greater vote share for Clinton, who received 62 percent of the California in 2016 compared to Barack Obama’s 61 percent in 2008 and 60 percent in 2012. If anything, third party candidates may have been the primary beneficiaries of the increased absentee voting in California as votes for the Republican presidential candidate fell from 37 percent in 2008 to 32 percent in 2016.

The question remains: Is ballot harvesting an effective way to boost turnout rates or a prime opportunity for ballot fraud? Most evidence points to the former. Yet, Speaker Ryan’s reaction to the practice in 2016 echoed other Republicans who were more direct, suggesting the Democrats are doing something improper. A common concern voiced about ballot harvesting is that the chain of custody for mail-in ballots does not go directly from the voter to election officials — a party activist handles the ballot a significant portion of its journey from the voter to the election office. What could go wrong with that?

A lot.

In 2016, there was one notable case of alleged election fraud involving ballot harvesting. But it wasn’t a Democratic campaign operation, but a Republican one — Republican Mark Harris’ campaign in North Carolina’s 9th District (which was recently recontested because of that fraud). Among the alleged crimes included a Republican operative collecting ballots from historically Democratic areas and discarding them.

Arizona recently passed a law strictly limiting ballot harvesting after one witness testified about finding thousands of completed ballots in a Yuma garbage dumpster, and another detailed a case where poll workers did not properly label collected ballots, thereby circumventing a signature verification step as required by the law at the time. There was even reports of voter intimidation within Arizona’s Vietnamese community by ballot collectors.

In all likelihood, the Arizona law will end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Whatever the legal outcome of the anti-ballot-harvesting law, Arizona’s GOP can be forgiven for having suspicions about the fraud it invites. Their memory is still fresh over Republican Senate candidate Martha McSally losing her election-night vote lead to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema after the mail-in ballots were counted over the subsequent week.

Ballot harvesting, however, has many proponents.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla aggressively defended his state’s ballot harvesting practice to Politico after the GOP complained at how it affected many California races in the 2018 midterms: “It is bizarre that Paul Ryan cannot grasp basic voting rights protections. Our elections in California are structured so that every eligible citizen can easily register, and every registered voter can easily cast their ballot.”

“For some people, this is a question of convenience and some others are more concerned about security,” according to Wendy Underhill, the director of elections and redistricting for the National Conference of State Legislatures, who studies variations in state laws for ballot-collecting.

Large-scale ballot fraud can often be detected using various forensic techniques such as Benford’s Law, particularly when the fraud results in dramatic changes in turnout. What makes ballot harvesting problematic is not just its vulnerability to ballot fraud but its documented impact on voter turnout. If the NPVIC becomes a reality, both parties will have a strong incentive to significantly amp up their GOTV efforts.

Under a national popular vote, a voter turnout arms race will likely ensue and who knows the unintended consequences of that competition.

The Nebraska/Maine elector system should be adopted nationwide

Interest by Democrats in converting U.S. presidential elections to a popular vote is understandable, independent of Trump’s 2016 triumph. But, the NPVIC is a blunt force way of getting there and probably not going to pass enough state houses anyway.

In the meantime, before we impulsively chuck the entire EC system into the circular file in favor of a popular vote, we may want to consider other options that are less disruptive and not as exposed to unintended consequences.

The national debate largely pivots on these two objectives for U.S. presidential elections: (1) representation of the popular will, and (2) a sufficient geographic distribution of voter support to include as many sectarian interests as possible.

The most discussed alternative to the EC and direct popular vote is a method already in use in Nebraska and Maine — the congressional district method — where electors are awarded based upon popular vote totals within each of the 435 congressional districts. It is a not a direct popular vote, but it is a decent approximation. [Note: Trump still would have won in 2016 under the congressional district method.]

One virtue of the congressional district method is its compatibility with the Founding Fathers’ original intent when writing the Constitution. We don’t live in the United Peoples of America. We live in the United States of America. Spurning King Solomon’s wisdom, the Founding Fathers figuratively split the baby in half when they created a federal system where both the central government and the states share sovereignty. The EC is a 230-year-old institution borne from this compromise.

“Federalism goes beyond states’ rights and powers. Its essence is dual sovereignty — the Framers’ ingenious system of shared authority between federal and state governments with each sovereign checking the other,” writes Cato Institute Chairman Robert A. Levy of the CATO Institute. “The purpose of that check is to shield individuals from concentrations of power. Federalism is first and foremost a device to safeguard personal freedom.”

The EC is deeply flawed and threatens the legitimacy of our nation’s highest office. We cannot afford many more presidential elections, like 2016, where the EC result differs from an inherently biased but still widely reported popular vote. A crisis of legitimacy over how we elect our president will undermine the effectiveness of the Office of the President, if it hasn’t already.

At a minimum, the EC needs to be modified to the congressional district method as soon as possible. It is too late for 2020. But a bipartisan effort to adopt this method for most, if not all, states before the 2024 election is possible and should be something both parties can agree upon for once.

  • K.R.K.

Send comments and suggestions to:

About the author: I am a survey and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion (You can contact me at:

The Electoral College and National Popular Vote Interstate Compact are bad ways to elect a president (Part 1)

By Kent R. Kroeger (, September 16, 2019)


The following is the first of two essays about the Electoral College and the initiative to replace it with the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). The first essays focuses on arguments by the Founding Fathers in support of the Electoral College — particularly the writings of James Madison and Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist Papers. The second essay focuses on the NPVIC and details some of its problems (and virtues) relative to the Electoral College and offers a compromise system — the congressional district method — already employed in Nebraska and Maine.


As she has done many times in her short tenure as a U.S. Representative, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) set off a low-grade political storm last month when she followed her Instagram video declaring the Electoral College a “racist injustice breakdown” (what ever that means) with these tweets:

Ocasio-Cortez’ jeremiad against the Electoral College (EC) offers the standard rationale, as in her tweet thread’s first and fifth points concerning the over-representation of voters in small-population states and the subversion of the majority’s will. Her second point, however, is quite flawed and exemplifies much of the misinformation in circulation about the EC’s inherent biases.

The EC does not guarantee that a “handful of states” will determine the president — though, theoretically, a candidate could win the presidency winning the 11 largest states (CA, FL, GA, IL, MI, NJ, NY, NC, OH, PA, TX). But it is the Democrats who would most likely benefit from a large state coalition since they politically dominate four of the 11 largest states (CA, IL , NJ, NY) while the Republican control only two (GA, TX).

In reality, since neither party dominates the majority of large states, the EC encourages (or, rather, demands) the geographic dispersion of voter support, not its concentration, as suggested by the freshman congresswoman from New York.

With that minor disagreement notwithstanding, like Ocasio-Cortez, I also have little affection for the EC. It is an artifact of an old political compromise made by men holding deep biases against some of the political assumptions commonly held today. The Founding Fathers, by creating the EC, commingled their aversion to direct democracy with the unrepresentative nature of the U.S. Senate, itself a compromise necessary to secure support for the creation of the United States and which, in the legislative process, gives disproportionate power to the least populated states.

“Since there now are a greater number of sparsely-populated, mostly-white, right-leaning states than there are heavily-populated, racially-diverse, left-leaning states, the Senate acts to preserve power for people and groups who would otherwise have failed to earn it,” laments GQ political writer Jay Willis. “A voter in Wyoming (population 579,000) enjoys roughly 70 times more influence in the Senate than a voter in California (population 39.5 million).”

Abolishing the U.S. Senate is a bridge too far admits Willis — which is why many critics of the U.S. Senate’s constitutionally enshrined status turn their ire towards the EC, an institution roughly half of American adults support replacing with a popular vote system.

However, preserving the Founding Fathers’ original intentions by keeping at least some form of the EC is worth, at a minimum, an earnest defense, even if we do eventually reform or abolish it.

It is unlikely the Founding Fathers would look at the 2016 election and think the popular vote would solve our problems

I generally resist ‘original intent’ arguments as to why any aspect of the U.S. Constitution needs to be preserved. The Founding Fathers never anticipated our present world, making it crucial that the Constitution and its Amendments be subject to judicious review when social evolution demands it. The EC has earned such a re-examination.

The Founders’ original intent in creating the EC is worth considering, in part, because most contemporary commentators fail to appreciate how distrustful the Founders were of direct democracy and its inability to solve what they considered the fundamental challenges of democracy: to stunt the formation of factions and stop the rise of men to the nation’s highest office possessing only “talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity.” The EC is just one manifestation of their wariness of direct democracy.

James Madison expressed in The Federalist Papers (Federalist Paper №10 — The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection) an opinion common among intellectuals at the time regarding direct (or pure) democracy:

“…a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.”

According to Madison, with direct democracy (“one person, one vote”) follows the inevitable rise of factions and a resultant political chaos, particularly within “societies consisting of a small number of citizens.” In other words, people in relatively small groups can’t govern themselves.

But what about big groups?

Madison’s prescription was to establish “a republic…a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for (factions).” The interests of the people would be delegated to elected representatives — some elected directly (U.S. House members) and some elected by the state legislatures (U.S. Senate members until 1914).

But more interesting than Madison’s circumspection about direct democracy was his belief that representative democracy has a sweet spot at the national level where representatives should not represent too many people, nor too few.

Wrote Madison in Federalist Paper №10: “… however small the republic may be, the representatives must be raised to a certain number, in order to guard against the cabals of a few; and that, however large it may be, they must be limited to a certain number, in order to guard against the confusion of a multitude…By enlarging too much the number of electors, you render the representatives too little acquainted with all their local circumstances and lesser interests; as by reducing it too much, you render him unduly attached to these, and too little fit to comprehend and pursue great and national objects.”

However, in establishing the people’s chamber — the U.S. House of Representatives — the U.S. Constitution set no maximum as to how many people (free persons) a House member can represent, but there is a minimum as to how few they can represent.

Set forth in Article I (Section 2) of the U.S. Constitution: The number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty thousand, but each state shall have at least one Representative.

When the U.S. House passed the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929, it fixed the number of House members at 435 (as it stands today), regardless of national population growth. Thus, while the size of a state’s U.S. House delegation depends on its population and can grow with that state’s population growth, there is a theoretical maximum of 386 House members for any given state [Imagine a world where everyone lives in California, except for one person living in each of the other 49 states].

Today, the average U.S. House member represents 750,000 people (adults and children). At the founding of the American republic, that number was about 57,000 people. By their actions, the Founders and subsequent generations of American political leaders have been more concerned about elected representatives representing too few people than too many.

That would seem to be an argument for the popular vote over the EC; after all, the President represents the common interests of 327 million Americans. Not a problem, according to the Founders, if their regard for the U.S. House is any indication.

But that is not how the Founders viewed the election of the President. Not even close.

Enter Alexander Hamilton — a skeptic about the wisdom of the masses.

In Federalist Paper №68 (The Mode of Electing the President), Hamilton explicitly rejected the idea that the selection of the President could be left to the earthly passions of the people. To the contrary, Hamilton felt the decision must be left to an exemplary set of individuals, approved by the people, but not beholden to them.

Wrote Hamilton: “It was desirable that the sense of the people should operate in the choice of the person to whom so important a trust was to be confided. This end will be answered by committing the right of making it, not to any preestablished body, but to men chosen by the people for the special purpose, and at the particular conjuncture…It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station (emphasis mine), and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.”

Hamilton didn’t believe the people, through a popular vote, could make such an important choice as President. In 1789, he was hardly alone in the opinion that a direct election of the President would make the office vulnerable to manipulation and potentially bound to sectarian interests.

“The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications,” wrote Hamilton of the EC’s virtues. “Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States.”

The EC was explicitly designed to prevent someone like Donald Trump from becoming president. Were Hamilton and Madison able to join us in the present, I am certain they would look at the election of President Trump, not as a justification the popular vote, but as evidence that something else is wrong in the political system.

The Founders never intended the Electoral College to give rural America disproportionate power in the selection of the President.

Based on their writings and the actual content of Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 in the Constitution, the Founders’ central intention regarding the EC was straightforward: Its outcome — the election of a President — must be viewed as legitimate by the people.

Hamilton and Madison did not view the direct election of the President as a requisite condition for such legitimacy. Why would they? Popular sentiment in 1789 easily could have supported the ascension by decree of General George Washington as a life-time monarch.

There is also no evidence that either Hamilton or Madison (or any other participant in the Constitutional Convention of 1787) anticipated the EC results and a popular vote tally could be compared within an election. The debate within the old Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia was over what type of system to use, not running two systems simultaneously and hope both always agree as to the outcome.

Their final decision, Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the Constitution, opted for letting the states choose their electors — by a means of their own choosing — and allocating each state’s number of electors based on their numerical representation in the Congress:

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: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

By using the U.S. House in the elector allocation formula, the Founders were attendant to the importance of population representativeness (despite their willingness to count almost 18 percent of the population as only three-fifths of a person). What they did not do is create a system where it would be easy for a cabal of small states, representing a minority of Americans, to wrest the presidency from the large-population states.

In the second presidential election (1792), the first presidential election with the participation by all states, 68 electoral votes were necessary to win the presidency (out of 132). If the smaller (mostly rural) states had joined in coalition, they nevertheless would have needed New York or North Carolina’s 12 electoral votes to win the presidency (see Figure 1). That can hardly be called a rural, small-state bias. In contrast, Virginia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and New York alone — representing 46 percent of the total U.S. population at the time — could, as a bloc, determine the outcome of a presidential election.

Figure 1: The U.S. Population and Electoral College by State in 1792

Source: U.S. Census

If Hamilton or Madison could engage Ocasio-Cortez regarding the EC, they might address her concerns — particularly her third third point (“the Electoral College provides ‘fairness’ to rural Americans” at the presumed detriment to other groups) — with this response: There was never an intention by the Founders to give rural America disproportionate power in the selection of the President. Quite the opposite, the Electoral College was designed by elites for elites to elect other elites. Their objectives were focused on placing an additional layer of protection between the presidency and the common, easily manipulated tastes of the general masses.

From the Founders’ mindset, the election of Donald Trump was a failure of the nomination process, not the Electoral College.

  • K.R.K.

Send comments and constitutional amendment proposals to: