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Editorial: Iowa should adopt popular vote plan

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | APRIL 21, 2014 5:00 AM

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This past week the United States made some small but significant progress toward becoming the democracy that it always claims to be: Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that will bind his state to the National Popular Vote interstate compact.

The compact, which now includes 11 states after New York’s entrance, acts as a pledge by state legislatures to assign their Electoral College votes in presidential elections to the candidate who wins the national popular vote, rather than who wins the popular vote in a respective state. When a group of states representing 270 electoral votes signs on to the compact, the Electoral College will essentially be dead. With New York now on board, 11 states representing 165 electoral votes are pledged to the new plan.

We believe that Iowa should sign on to the compact, which will destroy the ineffective and undemocratic Electoral College system without the hassle of changing the Constitution in time for the next presidential election.

It’s clear that the Electoral College is a system designed to stymie the popular will of the American people. It was founded to assuage the elitist, oligarchical tendencies of the Founding Fathers who believed democracy would put too much power in the hands of American citizens. Looking through the quotes left by the founders on the matter is an exercise that should drown in ice-cold water the notion that they were men committed to the ideals of democracy. Thomas Jefferson regarded democracy as “mob rule.” Alexander Hamilton called democracy a “deformity.”

In addition to its theoretical roots in suppressing the power of average Americans, in practice, the Electoral College has upended the idea of electoral democracy on many occasions. Winning the popular vote does not guarantee one a seat in the Oval Office, as we learned in 1876, 1888, and 2000.

Consequently this system depresses voter turnout, because voters in single-party dominated states that belong to the marginalized opposition party see no reason to vote — their state will just assign their electoral votes to the candidate of the majority party. There’s no compelling, practical reason for a Republican in California or a Democrat in Texas to vote in the national presidential election under the current system.

At the same time, disproportionate political power is given to swing states such as Florida and Ohio in which there is a pretty even balance of power between the two parties. In a sense, Americans do not decide who becomes the president of their country. Floridians, Ohioans, and Virginians do.

Sure, Iowa might lose some of its current influence as a swing state, but that's a small price to pay for a better functioning electoral scheme.

In contrast to this discriminatory system, the national-vote compact would force presidential candidates to run up popular vote tallies in every state, not just the small handful where the outcome isn’t predetermined years before Election Day, breaking the swing state monopoly. With more motivations to vote, America’s embarrassingly low turnout rate, where a little over half the country votes, would surely increase. And never again would the country be forced to accept a president that the majority of its voters had rejected.

While it would be more desirable for Congress and the states to amend the Constitution and rid ourselves of the Electoral College, our inefficient constitutional amendment process makes that option extremely unlikely in the near future. The national compact, however, faces no such problems. 

It is way past time for the United States to abolish an election system that exhibits utter contempt for the franchise rights of its citizens. We strongly urge the Legislature of Iowa, and all states, to adopt this simple solution to a problem that has plagued this country since its very inception.


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