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Thursday, May 18, 2006

The "Amar Plan" Lives

Posted by DavidNYC

Well I'll be. When I wrote about the so-called "Amar Plan" for electoral college reform over a year ago, I called it "viable," but I meant it only on a relative basis. I figure there's no way we're going to eliminate the electoral college at the Constitutional level, so I figured this was a pretty clever end-run. I never expected it to come close to seeing the light of day.

But whaddya know - there is some life to this puppy, quite a bit more than I ever imagined. Turns out there's a group devoted to implementing this reform, called the National Popular Vote. Their "advisory committee" has some serious names, including John Anderson and Birch Bayh, so they look legit. But more importantly - far more importantly - they've actually succeeded in getting legislation moving in a number of states so far.

In a nutshell, this is how the plan is suppose to work:

Nationwide popular election of the President can be implemented if the states join together to pass identical state laws awarding all of their electoral votes to the presidential candidate receiving the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The proposed state legislation would only come into effect only when it has been enacted, in identical form, by enough states to elect a President—that is, by states possessing a majority (270) of the 538 electoral votes.

If this legislation ever does make serious headway in multiple states, you can bet the small states will start howling like mad. I also think that citizens of states where this passes will express anger and confusion that their electoral votes might go to a candidate that the state didn't vote for. Nonetheless, I still think this plan is compelling and worth pursuing.

Posted at 12:00 PM in General | Technorati

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One thing that always confused me about these plans: if you can pass it in enough states to make it work, why can't you pass a Constitutional amendment?

Posted by: njwatcher [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 18, 2006 01:07 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

In theory, you need only 11 states for this plan to work - you can do it with just CA, TX, NY, FL, IL, PA, OH, MI, NJ, NC & GA. Even if you can't get all of the very biggest, you can certainly do it with 20 or fewer.

To pass an amendment, you need three quarters of the states to agree, or 35. That would be incredibly hard to pull off, as you'd need a lot of smallish states, who would hate to see a switch to this system.

Posted by: DavidNYC [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 18, 2006 01:10 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

I'm still leaning towards this idea.

If one candidate recieves a majority of all votes, he is elected.

If no one recieves a majority, then go to a proportional split of the 'house-equiv' votes. Which means, 436 votes total. And they are split proportionally. Candidates without half of one vote have their totals 'muted' and the candidates who meet the 1/2 of one vote threshold will get the votes. There would be something for 'second ballots' and so on. Don't worry, that system appears to not go against the popular vote leader, unless there's an extreme circumstance.

I think there's an additional hitch to such an idea.

I don't quite like the idea of giving out the win to the candidate who just wins a plurality.

In the scheme of things, making the people in 'safe states' feel like their vote will mean more will help raise turnout.

As for the idea of "The electoral college is necessary because big states will decide it all without an electoral college".. why don't any of those people propose electoral colleges for state elections in their states? Clearly the big cities would decide elections in those states, right?

The Electoral College should be modified.

Posted by: RBH [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 18, 2006 03:21 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

David, you're wrong about the truly small states, at least. When's the last time a Presidential candidate traveled to Montana? Wyoming? the Dakotas? Vermont? Alaska?

The only small swing state is New Hampshire.

Of course, the current system does weight our vote a bit more than this does. But that's really only if you're into crunching the numbers.

I'm not saying it's like to pass. But Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Florida all have a lot more to lose than the small states.

Posted by: Left in the West [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 18, 2006 11:17 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

Matt, of course. I meant the "smallish" states - potentially swingy states like NV, NM, IA, CO. Those states would get largely hosed by this plan, though major population centers would still get plenty of attention.

Posted by: DavidNYC [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 18, 2006 11:27 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

It might also be possible to decide the election by the National Instant Runoff Vote, without an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Again, it would only require the consent of the 11 largest states.

The procedure for putting the system in place would as follows:
1) Attorneys draft an interstate compact (a binding contract among two or more states).
2) States begin joining the compact, and as soon as the member states together comprise at least 270 electoral votes (a majority of the 538 votes in the Electoral College), the compact goes into effect.
3) The compact's provisions begin applying to member states' presidential elections.

Suppose that Virginia is a member state. The Virginia Chief Election Official would be required to follow this procedure:
1) Conduct a presidential election using IRV ballots, in which voters list their first choice, second choice, third choice, etc.
2) Transmit copies (or spreadsheets) of all ballots cast in Virginia to the chief election official of each of the other member states.
3) Receive copies (or spreadsheets) of all the IRV ballots cast in all the other member states from the chief election officials of those states.
4) Determine the vote count for each of the non-member states using public records. Plurality ballots cast in non-member states would be treated as if they were IRV ballots with only a first choice selected.
5) Merge the ballots from the non-member states, the other member states, and Virginia, into one big stack representing all ballots cast in the United States of America.
6) Tabulate the ballots using IRV and determine the national instant runoff vote winner.
7) Certify the appointment of the winning candidate's elector slate.

Thus, all of Virginia''s electors would go to the candidate winning the nationwide instant runoff vote. The other member states would follow an identical procedure, and the end result would be that 270+ electoral votes would be cast for the national IRV winner.

Note that this is different from having each state determine its own statewide IRV winner based only on the ballots cast in that state. Each state would be determining the national IRV winner based on the ballots cast in all states, including states outside the compact that still use plurality (see step 4, above).

Much of the compact could be modeled after the proposed Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote, which is currently pending in several state legislatures. That compact contains many terms designed to prevent abuses. It provides, for instance, that states may withdraw from the compact except during the time period beginning six months before the end of the current President's term and ending when a President has been qualified for the next term. See http://www.nationalpopularvote.com/npv/files/TAATS/Virginia-TAATS-Bill-2006-6-15-NOTED.pdf

In reference to the constitutionality of such a compact, I encourage you to read chapters 5 and 8 of Every Vote Counts: A State-Based Plan For Electing The President By National Popular Vote. They have analyzed the legal issues in great detail. See http://www.every-vote-equal.com/

Posted by: Nathan Larson [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 24, 2006 05:04 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment